Perl moves PDF files onto 3000
School learns to substitute for its paper reports
A school district thats relied on an HP 3000
for its business processing has learned new skills, giving the
organization a low-cost solution for saving time and paper.
The newest application at the Great Falls, Mont. ISD
runs on the HP 3000 using perl, the ubiquitous open source language
thats been ported to nearly every computer platform. The HP
3000 gained such a port several years ago, opening the door to
applications first written for other computer systems.
HP took steps toward languages such as perl and Java
for the HP 3000 when the vendor wanted to connect the platform with
common open source software. The project at Great Falls Public
Schools shows how even HP 3000s that are destined for migration can
be extended using open source solutions and the support power of a
seasoned community of IT managers.
Even though perl isnt officially supported by
HP on the 3000, the language is well-supported throughout the world.
IT manager Bob McGregor at the school district said he got ample
support from the 3000 community in order to implementing txt2pdf, a
perl application from Sanface Software (www.sanface.com). The
district wanted to reduce its paper consumption and eliminate archive
issues associated with storing reports from the business system.
We are very satisfied with how things are
working, McGregor said. We are automatically moving PDF
files to a Windows server, and e-mailing the requester that its
Getting perl installed and working on his HP 3000
system turned out to be the first lesson for McGregor and his IT
staff. I got lots of help for that from the 3000-L [mailing
list and newsgroup], he said.
Great Falls downloaded perl from the Web site at
bixby.org, operated by HP engineer Mark Bixby, whos been
working at the heart of the 3000 open source movement for years. Then
he needed to modify a COBOL program he downloaded from beechglen.com,
sf2html, which modifies the carriage control directives for
converting the form feed to the proper size for page settings.
McGregor needed to make some changes to sf2html.
They sent me the COBOL source and I changed it to take out the
HTML tags they embedded and then had some more subtle changes
for line feed controls that our software used. I also had an issue
with form feeds on page one that did not work quite right for
McGregor needed the Pro version of txt2pdf to set his
top left margin on his reports. But even the more expensive version
of the software for the HP 3000 only cost $990.
The school districts overall process is
controlled by a batch job that runs constantly to check a pseudo
print device for items that need to be processed. The job runs items
through McGregors modified sf2html process, then through
txt2pdf Pro, then finally FTPs them to a Windows server. The
3000 then e-mails the reports requester that the file is
The spoolfiles are kept on the spooler so they can be
print or re-sent during the day. After midnight, they are deleted
after being written to that days backup tape.
While the PDF solution saves paper, McGregor said the
chief benefit of the system is saving time.
We would pull the paper off our printer and
walk it to our business office, he said. Now our staffer
doesnt have to walk as much and spends more time on task. And
we get the reports out a lot quicker.
McGregor also updated an e-mail command file,
so we can e-mail a spoolfile that will convert it with to PDF
and then e-mail it for the one-time reports. This was a bit tricky
and took awhile. It would not send correctly until it was uuencoded
as a bytestream file.
Great Falls didnt have much perl experience on
its staff and that didnt matter. McGregor said he got
help from Ken Hirsh, whos been using perl on the 3000, and
Terry Simpkins, over the 3000-L mailing list. And the vendor Sanface
knew what modules I needed, and Ken and Terry assisted in
installing. To use txt2pdf Pro, I did not need to know perl, only get
it loaded with appropriate add-ins.
The HP 3000 has a finite future at Great Falls, but
that didnt prevent McGregor from improving the services from
the Series 9x7 server. The PDFs even simulate green-bar 8.5 x 14 inch
line printer paper for the reports, so they can follow the
lines on them a little easier.
That 3000 arrived as a used system six years ago, and
Great Falls Schools self-maintains with several extra 9x7 servers in
reserve for parts, as well as spare disk drives. The district has
begun software research for migrating to Windows solutions. The
Student Information Systems and all business related software run on
the 3000; McGregor said he plans to transition to another SIS
solution, and then take on the tasks of all business systems.
The direction for our district is
Windows-based, so well look there for our solutions, he
said. This overall migration we think will probably take the
next five years to complete. Well get the SIS piece done and
then tackle the business processes.
In the meantime, the districts HP 3000 is
serving PDF files instead of large books of paper, all at a cost of
less than $1,000 and a couple of days of coding and testing. By
adding search capabilities for the 3000s reports, and pulling
stacks of paper off managers desks, our folks have been
thrilled with this solution. Its always nice when you implement
something new that they actually like.