Sow seeds to grow the 3000

Plant some applications if you really want to improve your platform's future

We enter the 26th year of HP 3000 success with ample optimism for the platform’s future. Our own vision for this computer system tracks closely with the opinions of our panel of experts in this month’s Q&A Vision Pages. Development of software for the 3000 is moving at a faster clip than at any other time since we began publishing the NewsWire. HP will be extending MPE to 64-bit capabilities. Quotas are being broken.

Good news isn’t hard to find. New applications for the 3000 are, however. In the eye of this storm of renaissance is the relative calm of commercial application development. We’d like to see some of the current zephyr that’s creating utilities, middleware and connectivity begin to blow software in that will sell new HP 3000s.

HP will be doing its part in the next month, shipping out a low-cost development 3000 loaded with the software needed to create just about anything. There’s ample third-party support for the idea, too. Some of the best developer tools will be shipping with the system, virtually free.

More middleware, umpteen utilities, and cheap connectivity all dance around the central need for the 3000’s continued health: applications to drive system sales to new companies.
What’s missing is the promise that will lure software development companies of all sizes into MPE – that new systems will be sold because new applications run on them, meeting business needs. It would be a lost opportunity if all that Series 918DX bounty went only into building more helper software for existing 3000 applications.

There’s ample activity all around this core requirement for the 3000’s continued health. We count three different ODBC driver solutions for sale from third parties. A pair of Java-based terminal emulators are either delivered (Minisoft’s) or in beta test (WRQ’s). Java itself is being fine-tuned by CSY to deliver cross-platform development capabilities. Internet readers are even hearing about a free offering in the terminal emulation arena, created by a well-regarded software company.

I wonder if what the 3000 market really needs is a free version of something that’s contributing significantly to the revenues of two other firms – or even three ODBC offerings. We’d be the last ones to discourage anybody from cutting more code that runs on HP 3000s and offering it to the marketplace. But more middleware, umpteen utilities, and cheap connectivity all dance around the central need for the 3000’s continued health: applications to drive system sales to new companies.

We expose in this issue evidence of some of that growth. Open Skies, Performing Technologies, Amisys/HBO and Distribution Resources Company are placing HP 3000s in sites where the system never served before. To some extent, an offering like AICS Research’s QueryCalc can be an engine for new HP 3000s, given a company’s willingness to use it in place of PC solutions for billing and accounting. And solutions like Mitchell Humphrey’s FMS II often make an HP 3000 that’s already doing shop floor work absolutely vital to a company’s bottom line by controlling financials. Our hats are off to all these MPE application suppliers.

We need more of that kind of code, and soon. It’s a marvelous thing to have Year 2000 tools and utilities to keep HP 3000s productive and running through the millennium shift. Lots of people agree that the HP 3000s out there are going to enjoy a protected path during the century change. It’s a much harder course to be migrating critical business processes to a new platform at the same time you’re making sure your data’s dates are straight. We’ll probably see fewer HP 3000’s shut down during the next two years than any other time in the latter half of the decade.

But that respite won’t last too long beyond 2001. HP, its channel partners and resellers who care about the 3000, and people like you, need to take advantage of this two-year tunnel to build new business solutions. Solutions for sale to others. Or at the least, overhaul older applications which could benefit from things like Web access and client-server integration.

This is daring work for a company to do. Creating market demand for a platform is a byproduct of building a business solution, software that lets a company get to work. You offer something like a symphony management package or an airline reservation system without even mentioning what computer it runs on. In the early going, nobody even asks. They just want something to keep the seats full, whether they’re on a 737 jetliner or in a concert auditorium. Down the line in the sales process, somebody may ask what kind of computer is keeping track of the seats. That’s when the developer has to screw up their pride and say, “An HP 3000, of course. We wanted a platform that was always online.”

By contrast, it’s easier to sell software that already knows where it’s going – the installed base of HP 3000s. These utility solutions are important to lots of companies, just as vital to business success as any application. But they’re not the seeds of growth for the platform. And as more than a few of our Vision experts have noted, that growth is essential.

There’s only so much any utility, programming language, middleware or connectivity tool can do to keep the HP 3000’s place at the table. Even advances like 64 bit MPE and b-tree indices only help nurture existing systems. It takes application developers to put the seeds in the ground.

It’s not like the alternatives to HP 3000s for application development are really any better. Creating applications to run on NT and Unix platforms – or even on big, wooly PC LANs – really only delivers one serious advantage to a developer. That’s right, it’s market size. At the same time they approach those big troughs, so do dozens of other companies, all hungry for the same customers. Then there are database complexity, scalability and systems administration problems aplenty in all those alternatives. These issues are solved for companies that can be sold a new HP 3000.

HP itself is now willing to sell the 3000 as a business solution to companies with business needs but no 3000s onsite. It wasn’t always the case, but the new “sell any OS” business practice from HP is giving the 3000 a chance to use HP’s channels. But the channel can’t deliver a flood of new 3000 systems without applications to open the gates.

Outside the windows of many of our readers’ offices, the ground is hard and cold. Sunlight is scarce. But if you want a lush garden of applications, you need to plan your planting months before the frost breaks. You open the seed catalog and dream, and order up visions. We’d like to encourage the capable wizards reading our pages to grow new HP 3000s, and make more customers appear, with application efforts. Think of us as the Smith & Hawkins of HP 3000 development, the place to find the implements. Use the tools we review and examine on our pages to prepare the soil. Plant an application, or create a tool, where one didn’t exist. The business seedbed is rich in opportunity for a system with more than 25 years of success.

– Ron Seybold
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