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Tony Furnivall
Advocating Advances for MPE

NewsWire Q&A

Tony Furnivall has been a redoubtable advocate for the HP 3000 for more than eight years. The consultant and COBOL expert has volunteered his time freely to help organize and poll the user community. As chairman of the Special Interest Group for MPE, he's soon to be one of the advisors to HP on its upcoming strategic announcement on the future roadmap of the HP 3000. The focus will feel familiar, since Furnivall chaired the highly-charged Proposition 3000 discussion at this year's IPROF meeting, too.

Furnivall says his advocacy volunteering through Interex and its Special Interest Groups stems from a belief that "you get back from something only what you put in." Furnivall began by being a member of the System Improvement Committee in 1988. Later, Furnivall was persuaded that the place he could be most effective was leading SIG-MPE, and so moved to take over that responsibility. This year he'll be taking on the responsibility for putting together the MPE System Improvement Ballot, the roadmap HP's Solution Teams use to decide what gets funded in for R&D work inside the 3000 division. As the keeper of the preferences for technical enhancements to MPE/IX, Furnivall is well qualified to look over the state of the operating system with an eye toward its future.

Why does MPE/iX need a Special Interest Group? Is it somehow a sign that the HP 3000 environment needs special advocacy?

Any group of people who get together with a common interest can legitimately regard that common interest as a special interest, in small letters. So no, I don't think that the presence of SIG-MPE is a sign that MPE needs special advocacy. On the other hand, as the group develops cares and concerns, the SIG becomes a good way of clarifying those issues, and working with HP to resolve them.

Advocacy is an important aspect of the SIG's activities, but it is not the only one! The sharing of information and other experiences is just as important. Human beings are social animals, and it is important not to underestimate the need for simple association with others who share the same interests and problems. Despite the ease with which we can communicate electronically, face-to-face encounters are still important for our human needs.

I like to think that one of the greatest benefits of SIG-MPE involvement is that it humanizes the platform -- we can see the people who create or use the product, and realize that they too are people.

Would you like to see HP's R&D funding model for MPE/iX change, and if so, how?

I'm not going to comment on any of the "how" aspects of this question, but I will offer some thoughts on the end-results. I really don't care too much how a particular result is achieved as long as it is achieved! If it is important to HP for MPE to continue to be a strongly supported platform, then it seems to me that it should be equally important that the R&D effort necessary to maintain that strong support should remain uncompromised. This means of course uncompromised by funding levels, staffing levels or in any other way.

Can you compare HP's response to SIG-MPE advocacy to response from any other systems supplier? Or even compare it to HP's GSY response to SIG-UNIX? Does the customer base have CSY's ear?

We are very fortunate in having a very responsive relationship with the folks in CSY. I don't have any recent experience with other divisions, but I would note that in the past it has not always been easy even to find the right person in other divisions, let alone to convince them of the value and validity of our input! I believe that the customer base does have CSY's ear, as you put it.

I am a little perturbed that this seems to be the only portion of their corporate anatomy which we are grasping! I'd like to see us clasping hands and moving forward together rather than standing behind them whispering -- or perhaps shouting -- what we'd like to see them do next! Someone expressed it very well at the recent HP World conference: that HP seems to be customer-led rather than customer-driven.

In a few months HP is going to show its five-year roadmap for the HP 3000. What are the critical destinations for the HP 3000 that need to be on that map?

I wish I knew! It seems to me that interoperability with other systems is of paramount importance. As more and more computing platforms strut their stuff on the stage of open systems, it is critical that MPE be considered a star player, and not be relegated to walk-on parts. Likewise, in terms of application development, I would like to see a continued thrust towards making the most effective tools available on the 3000 as well as the 9000. And indeed, to making some of the tools available on the 3000 available elsewhere, when appropriate.

We have made much over the past year of the need to gain mind-share in the corporate market-place. This requires an effort not only on the part of HP, but also every user of the HP 3000. I think sometimes we tend to shove off all the responsibility onto HP's shoulders, but the magnitude of the task is such that they can't do it alone!

One of the things that SIG-MPE is going to be doing this year is attending the teleconference, and then spending some time with the leadership of CSY discussing the ramifications and implications of this roadmap. We expect to have something to report on it at the IPROF conference, in March 1997.

Is there a significant group of customers who are unconcerned about the future of the HP 3000, and if so, why aren't they concerned?

Of course there is -- it's the people who bought AS/400s, VAX clusters or other platforms! Of course, if you meant is there a group of HP 3000 customers who are unconcerned, I'd have to say yes again. However, this group is the group who are using the HP 3000 in a way that it is intended to be used - as a hidden, silent partner who works tirelessly on their behalf.

There is a problem, though. If these people are not reminded periodically of the virtues and strengths of their chosen platform, they won't be in a position to ask their software vendors to move applications onto that platform. It is a truism that people who gripe and complain are the people who get attention, and the silent and diligent types often get overlooked.

Which technology holds more long-term promise for MPE/iX: Java, or client-server using ODBC connectivity in the Microsoft environments?

Both, and why not? The quality of a tool is measured in the extent to which it meets its design goals. Why would we want to limit these goals to a single technology? I personally believe that while the Java concept is interesting it is largely a re-working of ideas that held promise in the past, but failed to deliver significantly on their promise. However, it may well be that the technological constraints which have been removed since then are no longer relevant.

How do you rate the state of HP 3000 compilers as they exist today? What kind of experience do you personally call upon when sizing up the state of HP 3000 development tools?

Well, they get the job done, and that's a very important thing to remember. However, we must remember that a compiler serves two functions. First it must deliver a syntactical interface to the application developer. This is the programming language, be it COBOL, Pascal, C++ or whatever. Second, it delivers a low-level interface to the hardware. This is by far the more important task of the two.

If the hardware changes, and the compiler doesn't keep track, then it is of limited use. While I would like to see extensions to the language processing capabilities of HP compilers, to keep them up to date with new advances, I think it is more important to keep them up to date with new capabilities on the underlying hardware platforms.

Does HP need to embrace another third-party COBOL compiler, such as Fujitsu's, to get COBOL97 standards capability for HP 3000s?

Only to the extent that the code output capability is not jeopardized. I'd generally sooner have the old compiler able to exploit the newer hardware than the other way around. Of course, COBOL97 does have some fascinating features...

This spring IPROF featured a discussion you called "Further Down the Road," while some called it "Proposition 3000." What's the difference in your opinion, and how has HP's response measured up with your expectations and hopes?

My expectations for that presentation were actually rather modest - just to get people talking. I think to that extent we succeeded. HP has certainly adopted some of the ideas and terms which got bandied around - such as the neat little Prop 3k buttons at HP World, and the reproductions of the MPE poster, in the recent copy of the Advisor. All I really wanted to do was to make certain that people who had an opinion got a chance to voice it.

I think along the way we uncovered a mother lode of energy which is there to be tapped. Wirt Atmar and his team pulled off a feat in Anaheim which would have been inconceivable a few years ago, simply in terms of logistics, let alone in terms of technology. The loyalty to and affection for the HP 3000 is a phenomenon which is pretty well unique in the industry. And it looks as though the upper echelons of HP are beginning to realize this, too!

What's the broadest-reaching improvement to MPE/iX that HP can develop in the coming year?

The 12 month time-frame is a bit of a limit! However, I'd say that the whole concept of Posix smoothing, (which we seem to be revisiting, recently), is probably the most important improvement. This concept says that all MPE sub-systems, tools, etc are fully interoperable between the MPE namespace and the Posix namespace. Programs would be truly "name-space-blind" and able to operate within and between either environment. Obviously a 100% integration would be a very expensive task, and certainly not achievable within the time-limit that you are imposing. However, there is still a long way to go in this area. We have heard that the project is considered complete, but a few recent postings on 3000-L seem to be sending a different message. I hope that this is something that HP can reconsider!

How do you rate the performance of the SST group in WCSO, the group charged with the upkeep of products such as OpenDesk and Transact? Do some of those products need to return to CSY?

I really can't comment on that. Even though I prefer to form an opinion based on results, I don't know enough about how the relationship between CSY and SST is structured to offer a useful comment.

It's getting close to Christmas. Without any concern for costs, what one enhancement would you like to see under your tree that could help improve the MPE community?

I'd like to see the proofs for the 4-color double-truck spread that HP will be taking out in the top 100 newspaper markets for the day after Superbowl 1997, along with a VCR tape of their new 60 second ads which will air during that telecast, all extolling the benefits of the HP 3000 when you need a platform which delivers solid, predictable results and uncompromising value.

Copyright 1996, The 3000 NewsWire. All rights reserved.