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Ranting from Washington

By Steve Hammond

We interrupt your regular column for this special rant. Rantings expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the NewsWire or VEsoft. Your regular column will resume when the author recovers.

Oy! Such a year I’m having! I thought 2000 was going to go down as a bad year for me — four surgeries, a kidney infection, two re-orgs at work. But 2001 has 2000 beat by a long shot — the obvious terrorism issues, along with attending what is mostly likely my last HP World, made for a dismal personal third quarter for me. But then came the Mauling from Mountain View! The Chaos from Cupertino! The Sacrilege from Sunnyvale! HP announced its divorce from the e3000 and MPE. We all thought the Boston Massacre at the 1990 Interex show was something, but that was nothing compared to what we had last month.

MPE is the operating system I cut my teeth on, so I feel like I am losing an old friend. I find Unix so counter-intuitive that I end up arguing with people over simple functions. Call me an MPE snob, but that’s because MPE is so far superior to any flavor of Unix I’ve seen that it is almost laughable. There have been many times that we needed to do something with a file on one of our Unix servers and we could not do it. Easiest solution — move the file to our 987 and do it there. Never fails.

HP tells us that the 3000’s “ecosystem” is eroding and management felt it made business sense to jettison the line of hardware and the operating system that has let must of us sleep uninterrupted nights for many, many years now. Having moved slowly into other platforms, I understand the IT ecosystem has changed. But has it changed for the better?

I see perfectly rational individuals not think twice when a Unix server halts with no warning and, worse yet, no reason. (I blow a fuse.) I see hardware shipped with multiple bad components and have service reps tell me, “Oh, yeah, this happens a lot. Nothing to be concerned about.” (I scream at innocent salesmen on the phone for shoddy merchandise.) I see companies ship software with significant bugs and the only way I can get a fix is to spend 50 percent of my purchase price for an upgrade. (You don’t even want to know my reaction.)

Yes, the ecosystem has changed, and the change is that tech-using companies are too often willing to settle for something less than total reliability and dependability. Unfortunately, we, the consumers, are willing to accept the mediocrity in reliability which in turn fuels the management decisions to ship imperfect products. Life is truly becoming a Dilbert cartoon with the PHB caring little about quality. HP had a quality product in the e3000 and MPE, so what do they do? Fold up the tents and move into the world of “Mediocre is fine with us.”

I sometimes think Windows and all its offspring have immunized us to caring about reliability — we take the Blue Screen of Death (why didn’t Microsoft copyright that phrase?) for granted and accept the need to reboot. We accept it without question when a powerful, helpful feature that was there in version X is gone from X+1.

I am heartened that most of the third-party vendors in the e3000 world have indicated that they will continue to work with the user community and to support the platform. One can only hope that this door closing opens many doors for the third parties. Please rush through those doors and set up shop with them.

I guess what I am feeling by now is neither rage or sorrow. It is betrayal. I always felt HP was different. It had the soul that so many big corporations now lack. I bought stock in HP. I always bought HP and aside from a Pavilion PC, have had nothing but good experiences. I currently own four different HP printers — my most recent purchase is a LaserJet 1200, but I still can’t break my LaserJet IIIP!

Yet I as I sit here at my keyboard the thought that keeps returning is, “How could they do this to us? How could they do this to me?” Yes, I feel betrayed. And I now know the feeling of helplessness, on a smaller scale, that so many Americans felt over the past few months.

It’s worth asking again — of HP, Carly and Winston — how could you do this to us, some of the most loyal customers you have? Has the ecosystem really changed? Have you asked the e3000 community? Or are we no longer part of the ecosystem?

Steve Hammond works for a trade association in Washington, DC and has built his IT career on MPE. He promises he will be back to dispensing VEsoft and MPEX tips next month.

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