Editorial: Big market, small world

Big market,
small world

NewsWire Editorial

Travel has become a special commodity at the end of this century. An experience once reserved only for the rich or those fighting wars, travel is now within reach for much of the world's middle-class. Our parents worked an entire career to travel globally -- after they retired. Now many of us give ourselves the experience long before our working days have ended.

We travel to experience things more completely than any multimedia treatment or printed account can reveal them to us. But no matter how widely you travel in the land you live, your ability to experience new viewpoints pales compared to the differences you witness overseas. A change of continent guarantees a change of viewpoint.

What is changing about that experience -- and is worth noting as HP 3000 customers -- is the familiar, leavened through the differences of culture and commerce. Travel and keep your eyes open and you'll see a global economy taking hold. This is a very good thing for the HP 3000, a product whose market might appear limited from a single geographic vantage point. The next time anyone asks how big the 3000's market is, be sure to say it's worldwide.

It's possible that those differences now scarcely outweigh the similarities in Europe. We've returned from a fortnight's holiday there, hard on the heels of a working trip to the HP 3000 birthday celebration in Germany. The time overseas expanded our outlook on the world, as travel is supposed to do. But it also expanded our view of the HP 3000 community, our concept of the size of this specialized marketplace. It's bigger than we imagine from our offices and companies here in the US. Once you factor in the 3000's distinct capability to grow outside of North American business, the system's potential is as broad as the spans of the Eiffel Tower, as strong as the cogs carrying rail cars up Swiss peaks, and as everlasting as English tradition.

We visited all those countries and more in our journeys, and found much that was familiar planted in the gardens of differences. The American multinationals are everywhere, with Ford and McDonald's logos as commonplace as Opel or Nestle. IBM and HP are cheek-by-jowl in the suburbs of Stuttgart, not far from Siemens. For a traveller searching for signs of home, corporate logos are the signposts of a commerce that follows you wherever electricity powers electrons through aluminum to deliver answers.

In the software business they call the engines that provide those answers solutions. We think it's important to remember that solutions have gone global along with the rest of the economy. Finding a solution outside of your home continent isn't as daring as it was even a few years ago. The barriers of time and language keep dropping as we develop our global village into a networked town.

Cultural differences remain, and thank goodness for them. The start of the workday is as different between Paris and London as it is between San Francisco and New York. Those kinds of fundamental differences harbor strategies that can be allies for alternative resources like the HP 3000. In Germany many companies still rely on small suppliers of manufacturing software to run operations with more than a century of service. The small manufacturing market is still healthy for HP 3000s there. We heard of one firm that's in its third generation of family ownership, running off a 918 after 17 years of MPE success. The company believes in its products enough to offer a 30-year warranty. And in all that time the owner, who does the nightly backups, can't recall ever having to recover a damaged database or revive operations from a failed HP 3000.

We've heard similar stories of North American companies with such successes. But like John Travolta said in the film Pulp Fiction, "it's the little differences" over in Europe that you notice. That firm is a third-generation family-owned company over there, one that started in 1925. In the US that kind of company is getting rare indeed, with public ownership so popular in North America. Private ownership in Europe seems less concerned with the popular solution -- and more devoted to proven platforms that scale well and stay online for years at a time.

The lesson that Europe seems to be ready to teach those of us in North America is to value our differences. So many languages and customs are packed into such a small part of the world there that such differences are held with pride, rather than explained away as "legacies." In Switzerland the youth of the country is mad for English, so much so that the government's anti-drug billboards are written in that language to capture the youthful attention span. But the country is also home to four different languages, including a tiny slice of people who speak a variation of Latin. That might be the ultimate definition of a legacy solution for communication.

One of the merits that a global economy brings to the HP 3000 are these differences. No, we didn't find a part of the world where Microsoft isn't the dominant software company. We didn't locate any mountain streams among the Alps where water runs uphill, either. But take smoking and hard cheese, for example. In the US the former is considered a habit unfit for public places, while the latter is reserved for wine tasting parties. In Europe smoking is accepted in every public place, even onstage during a singer's concert. Hard cheese, meanwhile, is a staple in the European breakfasts we sampled. And people who are convinced that smoking is in ultimate decline in the world should dine out in the cafes of Nice before jumping to that conclusion.

Our world is big enough to harbor lots of diversity, and it's that accommodation that holds so much hope for the HP 3000. The next time someone tries to tell you that NT or Unix or something else will ultimately eliminate the HP 3000, remind them we're all in a global market with plenty of diversity -- even if Microsoft is spelled the same everywhere. Being in lockstep for platforms doesn't buy you as much once you learn to value distinctive points of view.

When you hear there are no solutions for a particular business process on the HP 3000, learn to ask "none, anywhere in the world?" While Over There we heard of a cross-platform development tool from Compuware, Polyserver, that works with the HP 3000. Compuware advertises in the US, but HP 3000 compatibility isn't part of its message. Perhaps it's part of the company's fundamental assumption that such diversity will be supported. Not surprisingly, the company is based in Europe. Like breakfast breads on the eastern side of the Atlantic, travel lets us taste a more leavened loaf than we usually set on our tables. We found ample evidence that the HP 3000 is a hearty slice of such healthy differences.

-- Ron Seybold

Copyright 1997, The 3000 NewsWire. All rights reserved.