Web Informant #364, 30 March 2004: Running on HP




Last week HP's major partners gathered together in downtown Los Angeles to chart their future course together. (See Heather Clancy's CRN story here: http://www.crn.com/sections/coverstory/coverstory.asp?ArticleID=48965)


It got me thinking about how during the past 25 years of computing, HP products have played an important and sometimes pivotal role in my life. Here is a very idiosyncratic look down memory lane at some of the more interesting moments to which HP has laid claim.


HP 19C Calculator (1978)


This was the first scientific calculator that I ever owned, and carried me through engineering grad school back in the days just at the dawn of the personal computer. It had a tiny thermal printer and a 100-register programmable memory (don't ask me how I remember this stuff) that once upon a time I actually wrote programs to help solve my operations research coursework. Now you can run linear programs from within Excel spreadsheets, such is progress. The HP line of calculators were notable for their "reverse polish notation" whereby you entered the operator (plus or times) after the number, rather than in between as most calculators require. This probably kept the HP calculators out of the mainstream although I didn't mind the RPN. Those of you that want to see other early HP calculators, see David Hicks' fabulous www.hpmuseum.org catalog.


HP 85 portable computer (1980)


This was probably my first business PC. It had a six inch CRT screen, a cassette tape drive (that could hold a whopping 200 kilobytes of programs!) and a small printer. The two applications that I ran back in the early 1980s were Basic and Visicalc. I built several mathematical models on this computer that were used for economic policy analysis when I worked at the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment, an agency that, alas, is no longer with us. Watching those spreadsheets load from tape was agony, but at least it beat storing them on punch cards and have the readers jam on the last card in the deck.


Compaq transportable (1983)


Also fondly called "luggable." Weighing in at nearly 30 pounds, I remember hefting this baby up into the overhead bins and hoping that it would stay there during the duration of the flight. This is where Compaq got its start, and differentiated itself from IBM by having all the components: floppy drives, screen, and keyboard, all in a single unit. It ran an 8086 CPU, it had 640 kilobytes of RAM, and it was a monochrome green character-only screen, but it was a beautiful machine. Compaq was one of the first companies to reverse-engineer the IBM BIOS and I spent a great deal of time at Transamerica Occidental Life's computer support center testing them to make sure that all of our IBM software ran without any hitches on them. We had a fight on our hands when our bosses wanted to recommend the IBM portable: we knew the Compaqs were better machines. Ultimately, we prevailed, and in time to buy them with the first 10-MB hard drives. In later years I ran many Compaq PCs as network servers: They were just the best and most dependable PCs around.


LaserJet 5 and JetDirect Print Server (1996)


I have had many HP laser printers in my personal and professional life throughout the years. The most notable is the LJ5. I bought this printer for my home use eight years ago, and while it doesn't get a lot of use lately, it still runs like a top, is relatively cheap to operate, and just performs with little attention or bother. Connecting it up to an HP JetDirect network print server has extended its usefulness, and the drivers to operate it are included in every version of Windows and Mac OS that I have connected up to it. (There is something to be said for setting up a new PC on my home network to print within a few seconds, without having to download drivers or fish around for the install CDs.) The printer is solid with plenty of metal to bear the abuse that it has gotten being moved around, and, unlike some of the newer LaserJets, the paper path is relatively simple and the parts more durable.


HP network hubs/switches (1990s)


Some version of an HP network hub has been running my network since I started my own business back in 1992, and in my test labs today. They are tanks, they are reliable, and they are heavy enough that if I bang them about they still deliver the goods. Oh yeah, and they perform real good too. The latest one that I use in my lab today is the 2708, which is an 8 port 10/100/1000 auto-sensing switch. All of this is ironic, considering the 100-VG products that HP once had. This was an early (1991) attempt to corner the 100 megabit market, but used twice as many wires and didn't fly, only to be eclipsed by the 100-Base-T standard that is now just about in every Ethernet adapter around the world.


Looking over this collection of gear, it is clear that HP has always been a technology -- if not a marketing -- leader, and in so many different tech areas too. I wonder what my next HP product will be. If you have some of your own favorites, do share them with me.


Entire contents copyright 2004 by David Strom, Inc.

David Strom, dstrom@cmp.com, +1 (516) 562-7151

Port Washington NY 11050

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