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December 2004

Death opens the doors of life after

NewsWire Editorial

I have read obituaries for the HP 3000 for the last 10 years. Even though I worked for three small-town newspapers before I came to the 3000 community, I’ve written fewer obits than the number of 3000 death announcements I’ve seen. We grew our newsletter in the shadow of stories about demise.

Face it: everything dies. The only mystery about death is when it will arrive. People were stunned when HP announced the death of its 3000 business. (The 3000 market is far healthier than HP’s 3000 business.) But the truth is that death stands somewhere on every path. It has a habit of taking us by surprise when it arrives before old age sets in.

Danny Compton was 40 years old when he died last month, an age that few of us consider old. 40 seemed old to most of us when we were 9 or 14, the ages when Compton was starting a coffee business or learning the printing trade. On the warm afternoon when I learned that the CEO of ROC Software had died after a successful heart surgery, my own heart was still racing just after a windswept bike ride. My partner Abby passed on the word that had arrived from ROC while I was out, news that Danny had failed to beat back an infection after finally having a pacemaker installed for his heart. Ours felt heavy while we looked each other in the eye, wishing we had known Danny better.

Death has a way of pushing wishes to the surface. If we’re lucky, we have time to prepare for such loss. Some in the HP 3000 community have compared the loss of the computer’s creators — perhaps akin to dying — to the Kubler-Ross stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Danny never denied the reality in his life, begun with a serious congenital heart defect. He must have known every day could be a gift, because he lived out loud during the part of his life when we knew him.

He started ROC with his wife and another couple, a business arrangement Abby and I know well. Family businesses, such companies are called, sometimes run with emotion and passion hard to find in more corporate settings.

Losing a husband and a partner like Danny is more grave than losing a computer you’ve grown to admire and love. But that fundamental feeling of grief is similar. It’s a feeling that makes survivors reach out to life’s possibilities at the same time the loved one slips from their grasp.

At the moment, it looks like the HP 3000 community has started to embrace possibilities, even before it slips away. Maybe it has gotten a pacemaker installed to extend its life. Companies with loose partnerships now want to work in close concert. Competition can be healthy. But at some point in our lives cooperation comes to the fore. One of Danny Compton’s last big deals was a merger, taking new employees into the ROC family.

Abby and I only had two other points of reference to death in the 3000 market before Danny’s. In our first year Marion Guerin died suddenly from heart failure. He was a sponsor of our newsletter and ran Cosmosoft, makers of a 3000 database utility. Then veteran Interex reporter Dick Kranz passed on in 2002. Dicky-Bird, as he liked to call himself, was at the close of a long life. Marion’s departure was unexpected. Death at an early age startles us, makes us consider our own mortality and what really matters in a life.

For some of our readers, what matters the most in their business lives is breaking ground and staying up to date. Their management has chosen a path away from this system, and so for those companies, the HP 3000 is dying, or already dead. Many need expert care to make this transition into the next life of their computing operations.

Others in this community are hanging onto their 3000 lives, because stability and efficiency matter the most to them. Their 3000 doesn’t have to change to make their companies’ lives better. In fact, it’s better if it doesn’t change, because what’s in place works well.

Three years ago we started calling these customers homesteaders, a word I chose because we needed to call those who were staying something — and homesteader was a positive term for staying put in the face of challenges. Maybe things are changing here in this verse of the 3000’s song, “It Was a Very Good Year.” Perhaps now, with an emulator project now in design and more support than ever available from outside HP, those homesteaders can think of themselves as something more fundamental: 3000 users with more resources to carry on than some had three years ago.

The 3000 won’t last forever. Nothing will. But some obituaries are a little ahead of their time. Fans of Apple Computer now track these obits about their vendor; the current count is 43 as the stock hit a record high. These early reports of demise counter-balance the obituaries that arrive too soon, like Danny Compton’s. Knowing you could die soon can drive you to a greater love of being alive. That love of life is what we saw in Danny during the too-few years we knew him.

Migration tools like those around PowerHouse and MPE, emulation of processors or operating environments, third-party support — these all play a part in a computer’s lifespan, as well as its afterlife. When something is as loved as spouses, fathers, or founders, however, the actions of a lifetime can stand as the bedrock for a life after, instead of an afterlife. Whether your HP 3000 is going on, or going away, you can to ensure that what it represents will live on in the hearts and minds of those who love it. That kind of passion can fuel the strength to build a life after, no matter when the end might arrive.

— Ron Seybold

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