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December 2003

Wakes drive 3000 memories to surface

Customers celebrate system lore while national notice emerges

No day could have been more appropriate, said one user. Halloween, a holiday that invokes spirits, called up the spirit of the HP 3000’s success at dozens of parties on four continents. Called a World Wide Wake by organizer Alan Yeo, the parties that marked HP’s end of sales celebrated a death that had not yet occurred, and sparked memories of a lively history of computing.

In Austin, Texas, more than a dozen people gathered under the oak trees behind the Support Group, inc., a supplier of consulting and software for HP 3000 ERP users. Many such small companies have Friday picnics, but the one on Oct. 31 was different everywhere, including Austin.

Company employees chatted with several MANMAN customers under the oaks, along with a few visitors from the local 3000 community. Winston Krieger, whose experience with the 3000 goes back to the system’s roots and even further, into its HP 2100 predecessor, brought several thick notebook binders with vintage brochures, documentation, technical papers and news clippings.

Questions only such veterans could answer were in the air under those oaks. “When did the core memory leave the HP 2100,” someone asked about the 3000’s immediate predecessor. Soon the talk was about even older computers, all long gone, like the RCA System 45, described as “six refrigerators deep.” A 3000 maintenance console, the size of a small picnic table, was remembered. The HP brochure showed a long-haired blond in go-go boots at the helm of such a console, both relics of the 1970s.

“The CX was the model that actually worked,” Krieger said. Later on, “you could get source code for MPE back then for $500, no questions asked.”

Terry Floyd, founder of the Support Group, showed off his IMAGE Internals Course certificate from 1974, part of a display that included photos, HP sales material and giveaways. People at the Austin wake had brought such relics to leave at an altar of sorts.

Nearly everyone at the Austin gathering had plans to pursue other computer challenges beyond the HP 3000. But the novelty of HP’s first business computer offering wasn’t lost in the hopes for new futures. Krieger, whose 3000 development and consulting jobs and engagements included work at Houston Instruments, Tymlabs and O’Pin Systems, said HP sold him on the system because it was faster than anything Data General or DEC could offer. The winning combination was marketing and technology.

“They had the brochures and the best instruction set, and beautiful ladies at the console. They had great marketing in those days,” he said. “That’s why I bought the darn thing.”

Talk turned to innovations like a TypeAhead Engine that first arrived in a wooden case, and an accidental sale of the MPE III source code to Floyd. Looking to create a driver to hook up a TI printer, he’d gotten HP to send him the IOTERM source code. “I learned what I needed by reading it,” Floyd said. I asked Winston what the rest of the code around it was, and he said, ‘It looks like the rest of the source code for MPE III.’ ”

The wakes drew notices from Computerworld, the Wall Street Journal and an ABC News Web site, perhaps the best weekly round of publicity the system has enjoyed in more than a decade. More than 50 sites hosted hundreds of attendees. In Cupertino two wakes on separate days were attended by HP’s 3000 engineers and managers, because many had trick-or-treat duties on the 31st.

One 3000 ISV, eXegeSys, used the wake as an event to announce two new products. While gathering 38 people in Salt Lake City, the company said in its notes on the World Wide Wake Web site it was ”celebrating the birth of our next-generation Customizer Technology (eXsyst Anywhere), and also the birth of our customizable next-generation Asset Management application (built on eXsyst Anywhere). Both have their roots in the HP 3000. But both extend far beyond the capabilities of their forefathers. These two new products are born to carry the memory of the HP 3000 on into the future.”

The future looked less certain from the notes at some sites. The gathering in the Houston area was identified as “NOT AN HP SPONSORED EVENT.” Gary Stead of the UK added that he would be “looking for a job on the 1st of November.” And one wake locale, in New York City, was scheduled to take place at the site of the former World Trade Center towers.

Despite the potential for gallows humor, those who celebrated were unwilling to bury their connection with the system. In Chesterville, Ontario, employees at MB Foster had a cookout, while the company’s founder noted later on that “wake” might not be the best term to describe the community’s affections.

“I think the wake was premature,” said Birket Foster, an HP Platinum migration partner whose firm also sells data management tools for the 3000. “The patient’s not dead yet, but we did pass a milestone.”


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