The New Generation
Is Ready to Dance

One of the advantages of using a 26-year-old computer is seeing a new generation discover its riches. My own epiphany on this came to me on a crowded, throbbing floor of a music club this month, as I watched 26-year-olds jump to the beat of 60-year-old swing music. I took my teenage son Nick and my partner Dottie to see Big Bad Voodoo Daddy here in Austin’s August heat, as much at Nick’s request as from any desire of my own. The Voodoo Daddy is one of the more popular examples of today’s resurgence of swing music, enjoyed with as much passion by today’s youth as by kids of the 1930s.

I felt like I’d stepped into a time machine when the lights went up on eight men wearing fedoras, snap-brim hats and heavy suits with ties. We knew they had to love what they were doing on that Friday night, because the club’s modest air conditioners were making a valiant attempt to fight off weather in the 90s with humidity to match. Some kids dressed in the clothes of their grandparents — saddle shoes, poodle skirts, narrow ties and suspenders on zoot-suit pants. One fellow in an outrageous all-yellow suit would have been well-placed in a Dick Tracy cartoon.

In the midst of the tight-packed crowd, dancers opened up space and stepped off in daring jitterbug steps, swinging partners low, floating on the urgent blowing from the four-piece horn section. The sight made me wonder who could have predicted that a generation of piercing and tattoos would embrace music written when radio was new technology. It was as unlikely as believing HP 3000s would last long enough to embrace their latest generation.

Computer generations run shorter than those of the people using them. Far shorter, in instances like application software, which sometimes can’t outlast the decade it was written in. But operating systems in our business tend to run in cycles of 15 years or less, unless they’ve got lasting value. Like the music of Count Basie, Cab Calloway and Benny Goodman, things that last in this industry get rediscovered. The new generation takes up the passion for something that the prior generation couldn’t value.

The HP 3000 division realizes this now. At the HP World conference, Harry Sterling led off his talk with a sales photo of a 3000 in its earliest days. The picture included platform shoes and lots of unnatural fabrics in the fashions. There’s probably a few parents among people in the division who have shopped with their kids at the mall, watching them buy polyester pants and rayon faux-silk shirts, then ambled to the shoe store for sandals on three-inch platforms. We put these clothes far back into our closets more than a decade ago, when we put natural fibers on our back. Now they’re back on the racks. I don’t know about you, but now I don’t feel as silly about wearing them in discos and business meetings of the 70s.

In the same way, businesses aren’t feeling as silly about sticking with the computer platforms of several tech generations ago. Like Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, the HP 3000 is revitalizing its original concept — superior integration and conservation of resource — for a new generation of users and companies. But like the basic swing steps, the fundamentals are back in demand. Now it’s time to teach what you know about MPE, IMAGE and the 3000, to pass on the legacy of the system to the fresh customers and resurgent IT departments.

It’s a little easier to understand the value in this mission by thinking of business computing as a kind of art. It attempts to capture the state of relationships between companies, comparing the past and projecting the future. Art grows, assimilates the world that exists around it over time. This is what’s happened to the HP 3000, the secret to its richness. Consider yourself blessed if you’ve been using the computer long enough to own a big chunk of that experience and history. And if you do feel rich in experience, we’d like to encourage you to share it.

As the HP 3000 continues on its renaissance, a community just discovering it needs wisdom born from experience. Watching HP offer new 3000 courses because of improvements to MPE and growth in the market, I feel proud to have written about this computer for 14 years this week. I have been lucky to learn what little a writer can know from generous teachers. To each of them — every one who ever wrote an article or took time to explain the 3000’s richness — I say thank you. The value you helped me share with readers in that time is evident in the durability of the system. When times were bad, there was always the experience of the community to comfort us. Now that the 3000 renaissance is moving like jitterbug kids on a late-90s dance floor, that experience is more important than ever.

We’d like to encourage you to teach what you know, somehow. This community has always been a group of professionals with big hearts, people happy to explain what they have learned and gently school the newcomers. Those of you with many years on this dance floor know who you are. Those of you more recently arrived — but full of passion about what you’ve learned — can step lively too. You can start small, with an answer to a question posted on the Internet. Or a paper delivered at a conference, or an article written for publication.

Publication still suggests print, but it’s a lot more than that by now. The Web lets your teaching live a lot longer than when I started asking no-duh questions in the 80s. Back then you needed paper in hand to learn, or be present in a class. Vast access over worldwide networks has changed all that. It’s a great time to be alive and know something that a new generation desires. The 3000’s new generation is seeing the lights come up on those fedoras, hearing the horns blare. Share what you know, and give something back for the next generation. It’s a back beat they need, so they can teach those steps, too.

– Ron Seybold