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Net.digest summarizes helpful technical discussions on the HP 3000 Internet newsgroup and mailing list. Advice here is offered on a best-effort, Good Samaritan basis. Test these concepts for yourself before applying them to your HP 3000s.

Edited by John Burke

In September, net.digest traveled to the heart of Beautiful SE Pennsylvania (BSEPA), Philadelphia, for HP World 2000. As usual, HP World was a week of manic depression for me, full of both highs and lows. This month’s topics come from threads either directly or indirectly started by something that occurred at HP World.

First, some notes on the show’s keynote speakers. In her taped remarks prior to Ann Livermore’s keynote, Carly Fiorina, Grand High Exalted Ruler of Hewlett-Packard, had some very nice remarks about MPE and the HP e3000. Unfortunately, she has had numerous occasions to mention the HP e3000 and MPE/iX since the show, but appears to have reverted to past form. There she was, two days into HP World, espousing the same old “HP-UX, NT and Linux” mantra at the Superdome introduction in, not Philadelphia, but New York. I stood on the show floor at the HP booth watching this presentation on one of the many large screens set up for the purpose. Maybe it was my imagination, but I thought I heard an audible groan when she delivered the mantra, absent MPE.

A week later during her talk on HP’s “ Always-On Internet Infrastructure” vision at NETWORLD + INTEROP in Atlanta, it was the same thing: “therefore NT, HP-UX and Linux all receive mission-critical levels of support.”

I will say it again. It costs nothing but two seconds’ time to add MPE/iX to any recitation of strategic operating systems. Would it be so bad if an analyst or member of the press asked, “What’s this MPE/iX”? Think free marketing opportunity. This is constructive criticism, by the way, not whining (more on that later).

Ann Livermore followed Carly Fiorina at HP World with her keynote and did just fine in her mentions of MPE until she ad libbed a little and, in my opinion, stubbed her toe. I admit that of the people I talked to afterwards, there was an even division about whether her comments were positive or negative. [See “HP top execs give 3000 airtime” in this month’s issue for full text of Livermore’s keynote comments.] I guess I’m just a sensitive kind of guy. (Okay, this is probably whining.)

Speaking of which, I’m going to give Donna Garverick of Long’s Drugs credit for bringing up the topic of whining, how it is counterproductive and a waste of energy, yet has been developed to a fine art on 3000-L. Others may have said similar things, but Donna, as Chair of SIGSYSMAN, made this a part of the SIG’s agenda. She led the group on a discussion of positive steps we can take to channel our energy productively to help ensure the continued success and viability of the HP e3000. Duane Percox of QSS has also written eloquently and responsibly on 3000-L about ways to partner with CSY and has also spoken out against wasteful whining.

As always, I would like to hear from readers of net.digest and Hidden Value. Even negative comments are welcome. If you think I’m full of it or goofed, or a horse’s behind, let me know at john.burke@paccoast.com.

No whining here, just good business

Ted Ashton, in the last of several excellent commentaries on HP World 2000 that he posted to 3000-L, said this about the 3000 Roundtable:

“They got asked about Wall Street Journal advertising. A good laugh was had when Christine Martino from Marketing asked, ‘do you know how much a Wall Street Journal ad costs?’ [A full report on the roundtable will appear in the November 3000 NewsWire.]

Ashton continued, “The upshot was that CSY does not feel the return from an ‘awareness’ campaign is very much compared to the return from campaigns aimed at actually getting boxes into businesses. Christine said that new businesses are bringing up 3000s every month. If only we could know about it! The big push is vertical markets and evidently that’s been pretty successful. I think that 3000 survival may well depend on its ceasing to be sold as other operating systems are, by name, but rather as the core of solutions. Neil Harvey, could you give us a quick summary how you succeeded in no longer having to defend the platform?”

Harvey, of 3000 channel partner Neil Harvey Associates in South Africa, had commented earlier on the list that his company had moved away from trying to defend the 3000 platform and instead was concentrating on selling solutions, not the OS.]

Neil replied to Ashton’s question as follows (I’m quoting him in full because this is a great example of how an ISV can approach “selling” the HP e3000):

“We used to spend 45 minutes of the one-hour sales cycle defending the platform against misguided IT bigotry.

“We moved to an ASP (application service provider) model. We sell our software, as always, and bundle in the hardware and support required to make it run.

“We have two basic flavors: Application Software and Software support; and the above plus Hardware, Operating System and Support.

“Our model 2 includes the provision and maintenance of all the hardware and software required to run our solution successfully — i.e. from desktops through to servers (MPE/iX and NT), all network stuff etc.

“Our software is Health Care Administration software, and our customers measure their efficiency and size on a per-insured-family and dependent basis, so we charge accordingly — a per-member per-month fee.

“This focuses us on growing the client’s capacity to increase membership, while reducing the IT required to achieve and sustain this growth.

“The HP e3000 and MPE/iX are perfectly suited to this model. And, since under model 2 we provide all IT required, we have full control over the network, desktop and NT platforms. We have a great deal of control over the overall efficiency of the platforms, and, therefore, the availability of our application software.”

Ted and Neil are of course correct. Solutions will sell future HP e3000s. This is where CSY and us customers need to work together to support existing solution providers, and help nurture new solution providers.

In this vein, from Duane Percox:

“I think our energy and dollars can be more wisely spent developing new systems and solutions for our favorite platform. Let CSY fight the battle internal at HP for mind share.

“Oh yeah, one last thing, continue to write good systems that your customers want so they will continue to buy/upgrade to new HP e3000 boxes as they become available.”

This last from Duane applies equally for those developing/maintaining in-house written systems. Remember that you have to compete with management by magazine now. You have to continually market internally to your own organization.

The new (civilized) language wars and another good news story

A modern version of the old time language wars was started when Joe Geiser, who presented a day long seminar on “Building Web Sites and Applications Using Your HP e3000” at HP World, was quoted on 3000-L as saying: “Cold Fusion is the way to go for Webifying your applications. Although the same work can be done with Apache/iX and CGI scripts, what takes six to nine months in Apache/iX and CGI takes only two to three weeks in Cold Fusion.” Whether the quote was accurate or not is unimportant.

What is important is the thread it generated: a great discussion of the potential tools for Webifying HP 3000 applications (here extensively edited, with apologies to all the authors). [Editor’s note: JSP = Java Server Pages; CF = Cold Fusion; ASP = Microsoft’s Active Server Pages]

Cortlandt Wilson: I think a far more relevant comparison would be the time difference between Java Server Pages on Apache/iX and Cold Fusion.

Michael Gueterman: I’m not about to say that CF is the “be all, end all’ language. It is not. Trying to compare development times between JSP/CF/ASP/etc. is not really germane to deciding what the appropriate technology is for a particular application. That said, developing a Web based application with CF is probably quicker than a similar application in many other languages, though two to three weeks versus six to nine months seems too optimistic. That still doesn’t make it the right choice or every Web-based application (for example, if you need to have a totally e3000 platform solution, then CF doesn’t fit the bill whereas JSP can).

Here are the pros and cons for CF. Pros:

Simple. CF is a “tag” based language that is very similar in appearance to HTML. People who know HTML can quickly pick it up and become proficient in a short amount of time.

Powerful. The CF tags and functions that make up the language allow for a wide variety of applications to be developed.

Extensible. If the base language doesn’t offer what you need, you can use COM/DCOM objects that may already be available elsewhere, or write your own in C++ or Java.

Scalable. If you need more power than a single box can offer, you can use the Enterprise version to add additional servers into a cluster.

The Cons:

CF does not natively run on the e3000. And CF cannot (easily) interface with an existing host-based application.

I’ve personally chosen CF as my “Web application” language of choice, but there may be times when I would choose something else. So, I can’t give you a single comparison that you can use to make a decision as to which technology is best for a given purpose. CF is but one of many and happens to be what I prefer.

Shawn Gordon: Let me take a moment to cloud the issue even further. Consider PHP. Mark Bixby has ported it to the HP e3000. It works with Apache, runs almost everywhere and has great database connectivity built into it. While there isn’t a plug-in for IMAGE, it probably wouldn’t be a big deal for someone to write. See www.php.net

That said, I’m also becoming a huge fan of Python. While PHP is more tag based, like Cold Fusion, Python is a full server-side scripting language.

Peter Osborne: Agreed, I’m hooked on PHP. I’m currently investigating the best way for more direct IMAGE access than calling CGIs through PHP. It is very powerful and runs completely on the e3000 so stability is not an issue. The documentation from php.net is incredible. You do not need to buy anything to get into PHP. Because PHP actually runs as a module under Apache, there is no start time overhead to call it (same idea as mod_jserv & mod_perl).

Cortlandt Wilson: JSP is also a “tag based” language. I think CF has a number of pre-defined functions/classes that are very useful. In Java you have to buy, borrow, or write your own.

One advantage to Java, in my opinion, over these other languages is its generality. It can be used for a number of tasks including server-side programming, client-side programming, and general applications. So instead of having to learn several languages, a programmer need only be proficient in one, Java. Borland’s very popular JBuilder environment for instance is now written in Java. Java is also object oriented and is considered a well-designed language.

Problems for Java are its speed, and that powerful tools like JSP and Enterprise Java are fairly new and only beginning to penetrate the marketplace.

Glenn Cole: I’m not entirely convinced that Java has this generality where others do not. Personally, I’ve become a huge fan of Perl. It even allows for a platform-independent GUI (through Perl/Tk), though I’ve not tried this. Part of Perl’s power lies in the readily available modules for specific tasks (like Base64 encoding).

Others find Python best suited for rapid prototyping. I’ve not spent much time with this, but I know that Bruce Eckel (author of Thinking in Java) is a strong proponent of this. I know also that he is not particularly fond of Perl (though I’ve forgotten why).

Bottom line, some “modern” language, be it Perl, Python, Java, or ?, seems imperative for programmer productivity today. But personally I’m not convinced there ever will be just one language that’s “good enough” to know, with disregard for all others.

Mark Wilkinson: I agree PHP deserves a look. It is packed with features and extensions and is easy to learn for someone with a Perl background. It has classes (OO), support for most major RDBMs, is commercially robust and seems to be extremely fast.

Cortlandt Wilson: By “generality” I was thinking in part of the very wide support for Java applets by Web browsers. A single language, Java, can be used to program both the Web client and the server.

I can rephrase my initial idea as a question. If one is starting out today to learn Web and e-commerce programming, where does one start? Given a blank slate, what language or languages does it make the most sense to learn first? Obviously, first some HTML. I propose that Java has become or most likely will become a very good second.

Glenn Cole: In general, I would still go with Perl as the second language (after HTML), with Java (for Java Server Pages) as the third.

On the e3000, though, it’s not as clear, since, unless I missed an announcement somewhere, Perl cannot access an IMAGE database (at least, not through the standard DBI/DBD interface). In this case, there are several choices, though Java may be best for future career growth, and it would allow the use of JSP.

For more on CGI programming, and coincidentally, an introduction to Perl, see www.cgi101.com. For an “empirical comparison” of scripting languages (Perl, Python, Tcl, Rexx), C/C++, and Java, not of the language features, but how the resulting programs compare in development and in execution, see www.ipd.ira.uka.de/ ~prechelt/Biblio/jccpprtTR.pdf

Editor’s note: In the end, of Java, Perl, PHP, CF, ASP and Python, no one approach stands out as the choice for all situations. But isn’t it nice to have so many choices that either can run wholly on the HP e3000 or at least work cooperatively? The HP e3000 has come a long way in a very short time, and that is something to be truly excited about. 

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