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Pushing an
Application Initiative
for the HP 3000

Doug Greenup is in the wings when lots of HP 3000s meet their new owners. As co founder of Minisoft, Greenup was introduced to the 3000 when he and partner Joe Grimm developed a word processing application for the system – back in the days when PCs weren’t the automatic answer for office automation. Although their Miniword claimed its share of the MPE office automation market, it wasn’t until Minisoft introduced a 3000 terminal emulator for PCs that the company began to leave a bigger footprint in MPE fields. The company’s experience in adapting Miniword to a growing array of 3000 terminals led to the development of what’s now called MS92, the lower cost alternative to WRQ’s ubiquitous Reflection for 3000 connectivity. When companies makes a commitment to a 3000 for the first time they often need such connectivity. That can make Minisoft a party to many of the 3000’s introductions – especially in places where high percentages of desktops need to be linked at first.

After several years of pursuing WRQ’s three-year lead in technology by developing its own niche with MS92, Minisoft began breaking ground for 3000 technology. Grimm and Minisoft’s engineers developed MiddleMan, a set of Application Programming Interfaces that ties HP 3000 data and applications to desktops via middleware. Later the company used MiddleMan to leverage its FrontMan tool suite, which offers easy Windows interfaces for older 3000 programs. MiddleMan was also the basic building block for ODBC/32, one of the earliest standalone IMAGE connectivity tools for 32-bit PC applications. But in 1997, Minisoft stepped from its profile of a company at first following another supplier’s lead, then later offering new tools at the same time as others, into a leading role. Greenup and his firm have become promoters of Java-based 3000 technology in Javelin, the first Java-based MPE/iX connectivity solution.

Recently Greenup has begun to match his evolution of Minisoft with a growing promotion of the 3000 as an application engine – not a popular viewpoint in a world where NT is offered as the ultimate business solution. He’s got an NT solution of his own in FrontMan Webpage Server, but his preference lies in selling tools that let the 3000 supply the application logic and data – a legacy from his first days with the 3000 selling Cognos solutions in the early 1980s, when the Canadian company was called Quasar. Greenup is now beating the drum with Javelin, well before much of the market is ready to accept Java as a tool to be used with 3000s. Carrying alternative ideas must have gotten comfortable for him, because he’s recently raised his voice about how HP’s renaissance of the 3000 must include new applications, especially those from large software houses. As HP looks at how to spark application development for MPE/iX, we asked Greenup to draw from his varied product experience to outline what HP, its customers and partners need to ride today’s renaissance to a secure point beyond the Year 2000.

You have followed with 3000 product offerings, and now you’re leading with Javelin. What do you see as the advantages of being first with a technology for MPE/iX?

We’re having some success with the HP Java product, starting to sell some reasonable numbers of it in the last couple of months. The advantages are that if you are in sync with the market, if it’s ready like you’re offering, you get to set the tone and conditions and feature set, expectations and pricing points. The first product into a market usually gets to command a higher price point, and hence a higher margin. It gets the installed base, and it’s tough to dislodge somebody if it’s a good product. WRQ built a good package, and they’re much more expensive than us, but they work – and it’s tough to displace something that works.

What if the market isn’t ready for you?

If you’re early, you kind of flounder a little bit. Products don’t sell to your expectations. Building products are tough things to do. We’ll sell a lot of Javelin in time, but I think we were early. We’ve had to do a lot of educating and explaining, about where Javelin runs, and how, and what about security. Something we’ve learned is that Javelin needs to be functionally close to our Windows product.

Why do you think Java-based clients need to track Windows features?

People won’t just buy it because it’s Java. They want the functionality they’ve been getting in Windows or they won’t buy it. That’s what the Corel guys found out when they tried to come out with a Java word processor. They pulled it from the market, saying that having it in Java wasn’t a compelling enough reason to buy it.

Do you think that a 3000 network computer application is by definition going to have to function a lot like a client-server application? And what are the implications for pricing?

I think it will. We’ve priced our Java product below our Windows product. The marketplace is dictating that. You’re not going to be able to get as much money, and yet you need to deliver the same kind of functionality.

Since you’re early on this curve, how do you plan to resolve that formula to keep products on the market? It looks like the customers won’t stand for less features.

It’s software, and once the investment has been made in development, what is the cost? We’re going to try to deliver the Java product with thinner printed documentation, and it will be mostly online. We’ll try to cut down on the expense of delivering it. How are people going to make money? We’re going to be able to, but support costs and documentation costs will have to be kept to a minimum. Setting prices against costs to support and deliver products is very difficult. I will say this – connectivity software has been priced higher than other products, so there’s some fat there.

Are 3000 sites going for all-Java or all-Windows connectivity?

Many of our sales are turning out to be people who are getting Windows versions and Java versions. There’s not displacement going on, there’s bolting on and opening up more uses for the legacy applications. One customer said he’s got users who are very casual, maybe accessing the 3000 once a day. He said it was hard to justify getting them a Windows-based emulator. He’ll just give those users a URL, and they’ll connect casually.

What are the things that have been important to you in offering one of the first Java-based solutions for the 3000?

I can’t believe anybody can price a Java product anywhere near a Windows product. And we’re delivering full functionality; the only thing we don’t do is our command language. We do it in a 75K applet, including NS/VT and Telnet. The Java applet is small, so it downloads quickly. People will not put up with 1-Mb downloads. They won’t put up with the network traffic and they won’t put up with the delay. They want their Java applets to download and come up in the time it takes to load a complex Web page.

Do you think Java has potential to bring some applications to the 3000?

Absolutely. The 3000 is reliable and powerful. It has the Java Virtual Machine on it, and Mike Yawn and the guys at HP seem committed to bringing JDBC over to it. HP has been positioning the 3000 as an intranet, e-commerce machine, which is what IBM is doing for the AS/400. HP is already strong in the mail order business. Look at the Smith Gardner stuff, doing Web orders right now. Speedware’s Autobahn does this. Intuit Software is doing orders over the Internet using an HP 3000. There’s already a lot of evidence of sites doing this thing, all with Java. That’s one of the ways that HP can keep the 3000 alive into the 21st century.

What do you think makes the 3000 a good fit for all this Internet work?

It’s so wonderful at transaction processing, and that’s what the Internet is about. I think you’ll see a lot of stuff in the Internet/intranet area happening for the machine.

If you were starting out with an application venture for the 3000 right now, where do you think the ripest territory would be in terms of a vertical solution?

We don’t have any experience in building a vertical application. We would love to be in some vertical area. Would I develop an application for the 3000 as it stands today? I think we’d have to do it to offer a solution that would run on the 3000, NT and Unix.

Do you see Java as a way to offer that kind of cross-platform capability with a little more reasonable support curve?

That’s the promise of it. Javelin, my only reference point, was developed for Windows 95 and ran right out of the box on Windows 3.1, Macs and Suns. It ran on any workstation that had Netscape’s Communicator or Internet Explorer without any modifications. It truly was platform-independent, and it was fast. But that’s not some complex application, it’s just an emulation thing. If I can write for one and it runs on all, then maybe that is something that helps the platform a great deal.

There’s been talk: Alfredo [Rego] about a dental package, and a school district system. Our problem is that our company has been a tools and connectivity company. The most vertical we might be is positioning our FrontMan Web Page Server for Internet commerce. You just can’t go out and say I’m gonna build something.

If not a new application, what other possibilities are there for 3000 apps?

We’ve been looking around for an existing 3000 application that’s been around awhile and has been a sound solution but has grown tired. Its interface has been neglected, but it’s a very effective solution in other ways. If we could find such an application out there, we might want to take it and run with it, do some client-server izing, Web enabling. Maybe we practice what we preach, and apply our tools. Vertical is where it’s at. In the tools business, HP can come out with something and you’re dead.

You’ve seen some of that pressure from shareware, too?

There is a segment that seems to feel that freeware and shareware benefits this market and other markets. Vendors practice this in lots of ways. Microsoft gives away a browser, for example.

What’s the harm in that?

It’s gonna happen, and there’s nothing we can do about it. We just have to try to do a better job with our products because we’re charging money for our products. We have to offer tremendous support, and the product needs to continue to evolve and grown. HP gave away a network printing product in 1997, and the last few months have been the best ever for our NetPrint product. I was very depressed when I heard that HP was coming out with a network printing feature for MPE/iX. We were doing a great business, and I thought “Boy, that’s dead.” It did hurt for a few months, as the market absorbed what the free product was all about. Then the limitations appeared. Sometimes free helps, like with the HP ODBC driver.

There’s gonna be freeware from the vendors and shareware from people in the community. As a tools vendor, that’s our challenge. As an vertical provider, you have a different problem – you have to sell the vendor’s platform. But in the end it’s the solution that makes the sale. It’s the solution that sells them, and the solution that keeps them.

What about the lock-in with all the data being in IMAGE?

IMAGE is a wonderful database, but IMAGE itself isn’t going to save the 3000. Neither is freeware or shareware. We have to find really good vertical solutions, and I’d love to be able to develop one. To develop one from scratch is going to take many years. We’ve been working on an ODBC driver for two years – and we’re still not done. It works great, and there’s a lot of happy users, but we’re not where we want to be. That’s just a driver. Imagine what an Amisys, Open Skies or Smith Gardner takes.

So what’s the solution if time is short?

I can take something and put a pretty face on it in a fraction of the time it would take to build something right from scratch. They’re out there, but then it’s a question of supporting a vertical application.

What do you think it takes to attract somebody who’s already offering a vertical application to come over to the 3000?

That’s a toughie. Do you throw money at the vendor? [If] you throw me money you may get my attention, but what’s my commitment? The AS/400 has 10 times the installed base of the 3000. We’ve been asked by IBM to port our FrontMan tools there. It’s like they gave me money, because they gave me a box. But I don’t have anybody on staff that knows the AS/400 very well. It’s not a high priority. I don’t have any AS/400 talent, so maybe if IBM got me some, or put me onto some, we’d be more inclined to go.

Is that a possibility to help leverage 3000 development – making MPE experience available to companies?

Maybe it could. There’s a lot of people around who know a lot about the machine. Maybe HP could put together some kind of package deal for three or four vendors. SAP almost got there. Where did the commitment end, and who dropped the ball? There’s no reason why SAP can’t run on the 3000 and run well. There’s no reason why Baan couldn’t go over onto the 3000. There’s no reason why a lot of these solutions that are on Unix couldn’t come over to the 3000. It has to be some kind of a joint venture with HP. HP could be a great facilitator. If you succeeded every year at bringing two or three significant vendors to the platform, think what a difference that could mean. If you could bring a Smith Gardner and a Summit and an Amisys every year to the platform five years running, the future would be bright indeed.

Do you believe that CSY can pull this kind of application-attract project off?

I know they have enough resources in CSY; they’ve got the people and some budget. They’ve also got a great machine and a great database – and that’s free. They’ve got still got some wonderful supporting vendors. There’s still some opportunity there, but eventually it’s still going to get down to what solutions are there. Find the vendors and go after them.

Do you think there’s a serious roadblock to that effort because there’s a relative shortage of people who know it well?

There’s a shortage of people in general, and a shortage of people who know the 3000. But I don’t think it’s holding it back like you’d think it would. The core group is still in place, and people can learn the machine. That core, a powerful core, is still there on the platform. Time is wasting. I know they’re a big company, but HP needs to get on it.

Why hasn’t Oracle made more of a difference in bringing applications to the platform?

Oracle is a fine product and a great database, but IMAGE is the 3000, what this market knows, and it’s free. If a product is free and great, that’s tough to beat. If HP would’ve put the energy they put into Oracle into vertical solution vendors, they might have had a better payoff. All the advertising in general publications is fine, but it’s not going to sell a lot of new boxes. The challenge is how do we package up a combination of services, support, product and advertising – the whole package – to attract two or three key vendors a year to the platform. That’s the biggest challenge for CSY. If they start to get some wins, it reverberates in so many ways. The community is excited. The faithful are rejuvenated. You get other vendors’ attention.

Now, we are better today that we were four years ago. HP isn’t trying to kill the system. HP recognizes it’s a significant enough customer base that they have to be committed to it for at least the next decade. And there have been incremental improvements, like b-trees, network printing, ODBC. The position of HP itself recognizes the 3000 is going to be here, and that’s okay. But that’s not going far enough.

If you had a way to focus all your company’s energies on the 3000, would you do it?

I love the 3000. I’d love to be a 3000-only vendor forever. We know it and we’re human – we don’t like change. We’ve got many customers we call friends on the platform. It’s a community that shares. My experience with the IBM market is colder. It’s bigger, but not as much fun. We’re a company that has to grow, so right now we have to hedge our bets.

Doug Greenup



Copyright 1998 The 3000 NewsWire. All rights reserved