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November 2004

Classics are often long-running affairs

NewsWire Editorial

It was dark in our bedroom but not quiet, not even at 1 AM. Abby and I were restless and had turned on the TV, rolling away from it and closing our eyes, ready to let its old movie dialogue lull us to sleep. But the story that unreeled made me think instead of slumber. See, that was a very old movie, a classic in the truest sense of the word. I found myself following its story beyond my bedtime because its style was special. You might be doing the same thing over the next few years with your HP 3000. Some of you are doing this even while you’re leaving that classic computer behind. What it does for your company is so special it can’t be replaced, at least not easily.

It’s a good thing to cherish classics. The term is overused these days, applied to everything from soft drinks crowded out by newer flavors to baseball games that ended less than 24 hours ago, like ESPN’s Instant Classic broadcasts. Classics don’t happen in an instant, of course. Time has to confirm them. Sometimes it takes decades to do so, time when tastes and customs change in a profound way.

In the dark of that night, I heard a movie story that was written before the enforced morals of the Hayes Production Code had descended on movie creativity. Pre-Code, these films are called. Enjoying their charms isn’t as easy as taking in the latest CGI blockbuster. Abby’s a movie lover whose passion for the movie story trumps mine, so she’s a big fan of Pre-Code. Lately, I’ve come to think that Pre-Code movies require a more seasoned appreciation of film, an understanding of that medium’s potential and elegance.

By this fall, starting the third decade that I’ve been writing about the HP 3000, I’ve come to think of the computer in the same way. It’s something to be appreciated for its distinctions. Yes, there are parts of the HP 3000’s design that look dated to the blockbuster audience, just like the sound and the photography of Pre-Code movies looks antique. But a Pre-Code movie can take you to places in the human story you don’t expect from a film, not even in movies of the current day. “They just don’t make them like that anymore, even today,” I said to Abby in the dark. Honesty and realism in drama wasn’t unique in the Pre-Code era. Seeing the unexpected drama of life’s stories was expected, at least until the summer of 1934.

“They look like Hollywood cinema,” says Thomas Doherty in his book Pre-Code Hollywood. “But the moral terrain is so off-kilter they seem imported from a parallel universe.” Compared to commodity computing, the 3000 seems the same way.

A typical Pre-Code story line is 1932’s “Skyscraper Souls.” A secretary has an affair with her boss who’s married. After years of loyalty to him, waiting for the divorce that never quite shows up, things go badly. She learns her lover is going to take the secretary’s beautiful young protégé on a cruise. She shoots him to stop the trip, and a mutual friend immediately gives the police a plausible alibi for her act. Then comes the Pre-Code flourish: She jumps out of the skyscraper where she shot her lover, killing herself when she’s overcome with remorse.

We saw that together and said, “Whoa. Didn’t see that coming.” We’ve been accustomed to tamer tales in classic pictures. Pre-Code has a different standard, just like the HP 3000’s design. I like to think of it as Pre-Commodity.

A Pre-Commodity computer has a community that cherishes its distinctions. These unique elements, like a stunning plot twist, cement devotees and IT pros to the system. This month we surveyed the community and found both reaction and retraction among 3000 users after 36 months of Transition. Much of the community is moving away, but not at anything close to the speed HP predicted three years ago this month. Now, corporations are coming together to serve the slow-moving customer’s needs. Applications that cannot be replaced remain stubbornly on servers built in 1990s and earlier.

Many of you love your Pre-Commodity computer choice. Some parts of it are so unique they have been ported to other environments. MPE’s Query has had a long run on the business computing screen. Now it looks like it will be preserved as a classic on the other HP platforms, simply because you’ve learned to rely on it.

Query may be unique, and even antique, but its premise of value remains up to date. The entry-level reporting tool was included free with HP 3000s, which makes it like utilities such as the Common Unix Printing System. CUPS is a cross-platform printing solution that’s free on every Unix environment. Based on the Internet Printing Protocol, it provides complete printing services to most PostScript and raster printers. Yesterday we tapped it here at the NewsWire, to help us track the outbound faxes our new Mac G5 sends for us.

The HP 3000 can’t track faxes without third-party help. But it has a batch job facility that most customers are finding hard to replace. Roll up your sleeves or get out your checkbook to replace JCL if you’re migrating.

Things like JCL and Query don’t show up in modern pictures of computing, unless somebody works to port them there. This is the work that continues for the HP 3000 customer, work that will take months and years to complete. You seem to understand this Transition work will take a long time. America just saw an inspiring example of long-term achievement, though. The Boston Red Sox won a World Series last month that made many weep tears of relief. The Sox had last won a title nine years before movies became talkies. Transition won’t take that long for this community. But it’s good to know you have a Pre-Commodity computer to curl around while you wait and work for the next classic.

— Ron Seybold

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