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June 1999

3000’s legacy a family history

NewsWire Editorial

It isn’t often we think of families as fundamentals in computing. But the collection of parents and children that constitutes a family serves as a container for so much that’s important. It’s an absolute metaphor for the HP 3000, a computer that’s been successful long enough to nurture a family with a second generation.

Longevity doesn’t get respect in our society. We live in an era where the new is celebrated while the old is scrutinized. There’s value in anything that’s been around long enough to establish a legacy, if we can focus enough to recognize it. Even the creators of Star Wars grappled with this perception this month. Those of us who shared Episode I with our children, after growing up with the glory of the original story, were certain of the new film’s value. Others, now numb to the legacy of the tale, simply scrutinized box office receipts.

The flush of conception is attractive. HP is making much this year of its new e-services strategy, and trying to keep the IA-64 chip project in the news by taking the wraps off the architecture. Despite all the excitement, these newest members of the HP family are beloved because they are infants brimming with promise. They are also without disappointment, like any infant.

I’ve been lucky enough to love an infant, but it’s nothing compared to the adulation a young adult child can release from your heart. When my son Nick was small I loved him fiercely, because he was a reflection of me. Now, 16 years later, I love him for what he has accomplished in creating his own image. Like a rich brandy, the relationship has steeped in the many years we’ve shared.

As a new father I once marvelled at an early word my young boy said to me. He picked up a pair of his footwear, looked me straight in the eyes and said “shoes.” He about stopped my heart with pride with his little word, clear and needing no parent to translate it. I wrote, “I can hardly wait until that little voice makes sentences, or puts together questions. Vocabulary has such a long learning curve. I want to give him all of the 150,000 words I know.”

This month he’s written a full-page roundup of the summer movies for his high school paper. Nick is blooming as a writer. We spend time cracking each other up with jokes, what I consider the master’s thesis of language. It’s more than I could have dreamed for on that morning I celebrated “shoes.”

This is what family brings that nothing else can top. The reward of the lengthy effort, the setbacks and then the rebound, the promise and then the reward for the patience. In the past few months I’ve become more aware of the families blooming in the HP 3000 community. Fathers — and yes, mothers — are passing the torch to their children, the flame of business that lights the way for the HP 3000. Listening to them describe their offsprings’ accomplishments, I could hear the heat of another generation rising. The admiration is overlaid with pride: “This I helped to grow; this can be better at the start of its career than I was at my peak.”

The idea of a computer with a generation-long legacy of success is still novel today. With the exception of the IBM 390 mainframe line, replete with migrations, nothing else in the business has the pedigree or longevity of the HP 3000. Family is this product’s hidden advantage, a way to revitalize its success and ensure its survival alongside our love affairs with the new.

HP is beginning to appreciate this product in a way that it’s never embraced anything it built. Technology companies get caught up in conception, convinced the newest initiatives have the greatest lure. It’s like thinking a baby is the most beautiful kind of person. It’s easy to love a baby’s looks, to be sure. The deeper drink of love comes from the eyes of someone you’ve loved and watched mature for a decade or more. That’s the kind of legacy that inspires loyalty — even in the face of neglect, something any parent can stumble through.

Watching HP take steps to clean its used computer market, it feels to us like the company is shaking off its neglect of this system. Families have falling-outs, usually places where respect gets lost and communication runs thin. They sometimes crest these hurdles with a burst of memory, remembering when their children were small and new, full of promise. Those memories are alive in 3000 customers’ minds, recollections of the long strings of years with few worries about their computer systems. Even when HP forgot about this, the customers remembered.

Now this 3000 division is writing a new chapter in the family history, teaching a 60-year-old company that mature products can be as successful on the balance sheet as they are in customers’ companies. HP seems to be reclaiming more of the value of the HP 3000 by extending its family out into the used marketplace, giving its resellers authorized systems to sell. This could be HP’s amends to its customers for that neglect. The health of the HP 3000 resellers and software vendors is the key to a continuing renaissance. The wavering over NT was important to get it started: the idea that no single operating environment would ever dominate, not even Unix. The advent of the Year 2000 was essential to buying more time for the 3000 market to rebound. Nobody wants to make major changes until well past Y2K.

But when that tunnel of safety fades in 2001, it will be the job of the HP 3000 reseller to keep the family together. These are the companies that introduce the system to new prospects. These are the family-run businesses that gamble on adapting the newest technology for a very mature computer. Anything that helps them stay profitable and growing is essential to the rest of the family. And if that means prices stabilize in the used marketplace, well, that’s just in line with the value of this most stable of systems.

Families and fathers in this market bring one more gift for companies using HP 3000s. They carry the knowledge that a computer platform still does matter, because they have been in the game long enough to make comparisons. No, it’s not difficult to find computer users who don’t see the distinction one platform holds over another. They are companies hopping from one relationship to the next, usually complaining about unkept promises. Not everybody sees the value in family ties, the ones that last longest. Remembering what makes someone special is a trait that’s often practiced in families. The HP 3000, with more than 26 years of that practice, is reaping the reward by watching sons and daughters become second generation advocates.

— Ron Seybold 


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