Making your 3000
speak the future

Learning new things, even those which can help you, has built-in roadblocks. How many of you have a new piece of software somewhere within reach that promises better productivity – but you haven’t gotten around to using yet? Today’s answer is almost everybody reading this newsletter. That’s because the HP 3000 division (CSY) is including Java in its operating system, the first language bundled with 3000s in more than two decades.

There probably hasn’t been a phenomenon with more hype than Java has had since its entry on the computing scene two years ago. Hype can keep us from embracing these kinds of phenomenons. You won’t find me at any screenings of Titanic now that its swell of support has turned to a tidal wave, crushing all reasonable review of the movie. I saw it once, found it worthy of three hours of my life and little more. The hype keeps me out of theaters for a return engagement – that, and the fact that the film is as poor in characters as it is rich in visual spectacle.

For those of you who are holding Java at such arm’s length, our advice is to embrace it this year. CSY has just anointed the environment as an official supported development tool for HP 3000s. More importantly, Java will bring to the 3000 many of the things the computer needs to stay in step with the rest of the movement towards the next decade. Support for object-oriented productivity boosts, CORBA object standards for savvy information distribution, GUI-based development tools, Web capabilities and platform independence lead the list. It’s been a long time since the 3000 has been in the front ranks of a technology movement other than database transaction processing prowess. Java puts it there.

The object orientation of the language could well be holding back 3000 developers’ adoption of Java. Procedural languages like COBOL still rule the roost in MPE/iX lands, language as common in 3000 shops as English is on Internet Web sites. Thinking in a language like Pascal, C or COBOL is an entirely different exchange than thinking in Java. But among those developers who have made the plunge, talk circulates of building programs once and reusing them often in other projects, of leveraging code with far less effort, debugged and tested, than reusing COBOL or C.

To me, it feels like our attempt to learn French last year. Dot and I had worked hard for a European vacation last year that included a week in France, and we planned to learn enough French to better enjoy our travels. French, we found, stands some fundamentals of language on its head that are relied upon in English. Like the idea that nouns can have a gender, or that verbs can have more than one. Or the process of dropping some letters in those words while speaking, letters we’d usually pronounce in English.

I admit I’m not as young as they recommend to learn a language easily. We all have a powerful facility for language in our youth that wanes with age. French was more work than we expected, and in the busy season of last fall there was always something more important to do than work with our tapes and textbooks. We didn’t give it the time it needed, so we learned little before our trip. We could order crepes – but couldn’t reply to the waiters when they asked us if we wanted powdered sugar or jam with them.

I imagine HP 3000 developers might be having the same kind of struggle with Java/iX. You could argue there’s always something more important to do than learn a new language, especially when there’s so much maintenance to be done in the old ones. It might make you wish you could wake up one day bi-lingual, able to speak in either tongue the way children born in Quebec might do. Now, just imagine that if you spoke French you could work a 4-hour day, or have every weekend off no matter what, never getting a beeper page in the small hours of the night. Object orientation holds that promise for people who program, better realized for you because CSY is making this tool a supported part of your 3000.

It was a historic move. Graybeards in the 3000 community had to scratch their chins for awhile to recall the last time a language was included with MPE. The operating system was, for a short while, bundled with SPL. That stands for Systems Programming Language, the language MPE itself was composed in. Java brings much more to the 3000, but you have to know it’s not going to feel like COBOL at all.

With the Java movement raging all around us, it’s not like you’re going to be hunting for help. Java textbooks are something of a cottage industry for technical publishers. Once you take the plunge into Java you’ll find plenty of company, a place to share your misery and ecstasy, in the Special Interest Group for Java (SIG-Java) of Interex. (Send an empty e-mail message with the subject SUBSCRIBE to to join the group’s mailing list.)

There have been sound reasons to avoid this adventure until now. The language itself was young and full of holes. Most of them are not only filled, but contain stable tools. Java wasn’t a part of HP’s supported toolset for the 3000. Once MPE/iX 6.0 ships this summer, that roadblock will be out of your way. There hasn’t been much of a facility for exchanging data with TurboIMAGE. But Real Soon Now there will be a set of HP 3000 Java Beans from a third party, while the HP-supplied class library for TurboIMAGE is bigger and better than ever. And over the next year you’ll see JDBC tools emerge for IMAGE, help from third parties to link your data with Java.

I think what I like best about this Java movement is the way it takes the HP 3000 into the mainstream again. HP is bringing Java to the IA-64 systems it’s creating, which means applications you write in Java for the 3000 will run on those IA-64 systems. By the time those systems actually get delivered, you might even be able to run the applications without any debugging.

Since it’s more fun to learn things together, I have a proposition. Dot and I will get busy with our French while you get busy with your Java. The 3000 is already adept at speaking in legacies, preserving the data and productivity of the past. Now the system is ready to speak the future. Download the language from CSY’s Jazz Web site, sign on for the SIG-Java mailing list, and make your favorite system ready to talk tomorrow. I’m betting that learning new tricks is something that can make us older dogs feel young again.

– Ron Seybold