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A Steady Link to 3000 Knowledge

You announced a few months ago the FAQ file was undergoing an update. What kind of new information is going into it, and how’s the project proceeding? What’s the newest technical resource available on the 3kassociates.com site?

The 3kassociates.com website has three major areas I’ve been working on, and will continue to work on as long as there’s interest.

1. The “FAQ” area is one of the top draws. It contains a consolidation of over 10 years worth of questions and answers provided by the HP 3000 community at large. I continue to accumulate useful questions and answers for inclusion in the FAQ and currently have a backlog of over 100 new topics I need to edit and get posted. I’ve recently split out all the topics however, and added a site search capability to the Web site, so individual topics can be located much more easily. See www.3kassociates.com/index_faq.html

2. Another popular feature on the website is the accumulation of papers and articles on HP 3000 related topics. In addition to many articles hosted on our servers, you’ll also find links to dozens of other papers all over the Internet; all indexed in an easy to browse format. Articles are grouped by topics, including new sections on “Porting and Migration” topics, and a group of “System Administration” articles. (See www.3kassociates.com/index_publications.html)

3. The third area I’m focusing on is the collection of public domain software for the HP 3000. We’ve had an extensive collection of programs for many years – along with a variety of other online sources. I’m noticing that some of these other sources are silently dropping offline (especially end-user supported repositories) as people’s jobs migrate away from daily HP 3000 activities. I’d like to try and capture as much of the public domain software out there as possible before much of it is lost forever. We’ll make sure the software is made available for as long as there’s a demand, and will work with some other organizations to mirror the repository on other servers. I want to ensure that the wealth of developed solutions for the platform continues to be available – for free – to the HP 3000 user community.

We recently took over Tim Ericson’s excellent collection of HP 3000 command files and UDCs, and have incorporated that collection into the site already. I’ve picked up a few other contributions from authors still monitoring the HP 3000-L, but we’ve got a long way to go. I’m hoping anyone out there that still has some useful utilities will send them on, so we can preserve them and make them available to the community. Find them all at www.3kassociates.com/index_software.html

How important is HP’s licensing of the MPE source to a third party? Will anybody put new versions of MPE/iX software on systems now, or has the installed base become fossilized?

I think HP successfully dragged their feet long enough on this issue that it’s too late to mount any kind of revival. I believe that was their goal from the beginning (at least the higher management and their lawyers); to put off saying “no” long enough that fewer people would complain loudly by now. They knew there was no revenue in making it easier for customers to not move away from the platform. They weren’t going to sell those customers HP-UX or Linux servers. Unfortunately, they seem to have long lost the value of customer loyalty, and “good will” is too hard to quantify on that quarterly report.

Most HP 3000 customers I dealt with (prior to 11/2001) were fiercely loyal “HP” customers. Their shops were full of HP branded equipment – not just HP 3000s. Nowadays a lot of them go out of their way to avoid buying anything with an HP logo on it. HP could have prevented that; even with the discontinuation of the HP 3000. A quick and decisive “good will” gesture to those customers who bet their businesses on that HP platform could have kept a lot of loyal shops buying HP. Offering a middle ground to those many smaller businesses - between spending millions of dollars rewriting business critical systems, and “giving up” and living with whatever you can afford to keep working. Unfortunately by now, HP’s done a pretty thorough job of trashing that opportunity.

What’s the most important thing OpenMPE could accomplish for the HP 3000 customer who will be on the system past 2006?

I think the biggest value of OpenMPE is simply having an HP 3000 focused user group/community again. The HP 3000 community really hasn’t had an organized global users group focused on it for several years now.

Is a freeware solution like Fedora as viable as a vendor-supported release of an operating environment?

Of my two main Web servers, one is an HP 3000; the other is a Linux Fedora box. If I need to bring in any more servers, Linux will be my first choice for the platform.

It was a breeze to setup (even utilizing RAID’ed discs for redundancy). Any software platform I’m interested in loads and installs effortlessly. Automatic updates let me pick any package I want updated, then pulls and installs the updates for me. The Apache web server, PHP/Perl/etc, MySQL dbms, phpBB forums, mailman mailing list software, Amanda (networked tape backup system), a powerful kernel-based firewall, and on and on. All install with a single command. Though my Solaris and HP-UX platforms can install and run these as well, the “proprietary” differences in the platforms require a better memory (or more man page referencing) to get around. Once you know where things live in Linux, you can bounce around from box to box just “getting it don.e.”

I’ve worked at sites with “premier” level Microsoft support. I still prefer the “supportability” of Linux and its user community, not to mention the cost difference!

Is sendmail on the 3000 stable and full-featured enough to use in production environments?

Sendmail is a powerful and complicated package. I’ve had to configure it on a couple Unix servers in recent months and it wasn’t an easy task. With the new macro parser front-end to it’s configuration process, even if you used to be comfortable setting it up, the new software changes all the rules.

I haven’t had reason to try it on an HP 3000 yet – not being a glutton for punishment.

Since sendmail on the 3000 lives exclusively in the Posix environment, traditional HP 3000/MPE users need to also be willing to make the plunge into Posix apps on their systems; including dealing with bytestream file conversions, using ‘vi’ or a similar Unix file editor to maintain and configure the package, and since Posix apps don’t support things like MPE filecodes, you have to find ways to work with (or convert) your existing MPE filespace files.

What’s the biggest security problem you see in the 3000 community?

I think the tendency to integrate all the nice new Posix applications that increase your system’s accessibility – without taking the time to understand the security ramifications – is probably the biggest security problem today.

More sites are trying out Samba/iX, the new FTP server features, and telnet. These packages can increase the usefulness and reachability of you HP 3000 tremendously; you just have to remember that there are those whom you REALLY don’t want to have that access. There is value to the data on your system (or you wouldn’t be using it). That means there is someone out there that could gain value for themselves, either by stealing your data, damaging it, or preventing you from using it. DDOS attacks nowadays incorporate tens of THOUSANDS of rogue systems and can bring ANYONE down. Open telnet access to your system means anyone on the Internet can have a hand at trying to guess your passwords. Samba access, if not carefully secured, can open up direct file access to your data.

Most HP 3000s are behind firewalls, and that’s good. At the same time however, your system is only as secure as the OTHER systems behind your firewall. If a spyware program that was downloaded by a rogue Web site compromises an admin user’s desktop on your internal network, is your HP 3000 still secure?

What’s the risk in trusting your computing future to the market leaders like Microsoft?

I’ve never considered myself a Microsoft “basher” – though they’ve personally made my life significantly more difficult ;-). I still use Windows as my workstation of choice, but at 3k I run a mix of HP 3000, HP9000, Linux, Solaris, and Microsoft servers. For server reliability, security, and cost/benefit, I MUCH prefer the other platforms over Microsoft. If I have any choice, I won’t bring up another Microsoft server – any new servers I might need will most likely be Linux based.

The multitude of security malware/virus/spyware problems plaguing Microsoft is going to continue pushing business users to Linux for their back-end servers. Microsoft still has the desktop market. The Linux desktops are closing though. As a desktop “power user” Linux just isn’t quite there for me yet in usability and features – there are still lots of little things that just aren’t quite there. But Microsoft has reason to be very worried. Linux improves almost as fast as the spy-ware does on Windows. I suspect that by the time Longhorn really hits the streets, Linux will be there and Linux workstation users will issue a collective “so what?”

What kind of information does the 3000 community most need now, in this time of making transitions away from HP or away from MPE/iX?

A lot of the older HP 3000 talent has already moved on, and there is a new generation of managers showing up and discovering HP 3000 boxes humming quietly in the corner. People that often never heard of the system, and likely will only need to handle the system if something fails, will need a resource where they can get a quick primer on how to run the box. Even online lists list HP 3000-L are “less traveled” these days, so finding help in a hurry is getting harder. It’ll be handy to have all those “frequently asked questions” that HP 3000 system managers have been dealing with for the past 25 years online and only a Google search away.

In addition, there’s a lot of hype about migration floating around. Some real world advice on what to expect, and what tools are worthwhile can help a lot of those shops still struggling with their options. It’s often not an easy process, and can jeopardize the business if not handled well.

What’s more timely and useful by now — printed technical information, or that in electronic format?

Google is your friend. I have complete sets of MPE manuals (somewhere), but I haven’t cracked one of them open in years. It’s gotten so that I rarely bother opening (much less reading) anything more than an “intro” manual nowadays. When I run into an issue, I hit Google. I’m convinced that even given a manual in hand, I could find my answers quicker on-line than I could searching through the hardcopy.

And who has the shelf space anymore for hundreds of computer manuals?