The History of HPC:Factor
History: It's not a myth, but it almost wasn't
HPC:Factor is the culmination of and subsequent evolution of seven years of work in the Windows CE community by its founders.
The not for profit organisation was founded on 3rd March 2003 after the signing of a collaboration agreement between two constituent groups from the Windows CE Handheld PC community, the non-executive staff of SimplyHPC (consisting of Sean Fernstrum, Clinton Fitch, John Ruber and Jeff Townsley) and the entirety of the legacy H/PC support site ce320.
SimplyHPC, originally Simply720 was setup in 1999 to provide support for the fledgling Hewlett Packard Jornada 720 community by William Beehner, John Rubier and Jeff Townsley. By 2001 the site had changed names to SimplyHPC, expanding its scope of support to a far broader range of Windows CE class devices, and adding an off-shoot division to cover the virgining Tablet PC market place which was largely dominated by embedded platforms at the time. Clinton Fitch had also joined the team as a writer, offering the 'Fitch Perspective' for the first time to the Jornada 720 community.
On the 11th September 2000, Chris Tilley founded the site ce320 to provide support and resources for the already undermined Windows CE 1.0 community, which after 4 years had all but vanished. Within nine months the site had expanded to include support for Windows CE 2.0 based Handheld PC devices, both areas of the Handheld PC that were not being actively covered anywhere else on-line.
In Q3 2002, sensing the need to provide more community centric support, and having been unable to appeal to the legacy community SimplyHPC approached ce320 to begin merger talks which would see both site sharing hosting to minimise cost while a gradual merger of content from ce320 into SimplyHPC took place over an extended period. All domains and trade mark assets from ce320 were transferred into SimplyHPC's control as part of the merger.
The merger operation continued, with work to build upon the SimplyHPC user community increasing as more services were brought on-line. The project continued until the week of the 17th February 2003 when unexpectedly both SimplyHPC and ce320 vanished from the Internet along with every other site and hosted through the S|HPC Internet Services division.
Neither site would ever return to users screens again.
It transpired in the next few weeks that SimplyHPC as an organisation stood with severe financial deficits and a string of creditors in arrears. Senior editor and owner of the Simply Network William Beehner chose not to follow through on his commitments to the site or staff group and abandoned his responsibilities during the final days of the organisations up-time. His absence during the events which transpired in the following weeks led to the complete loss of both sites and trade-names from operational use, and the permanent loss of the masters for the SimplyHPC site.
A Conversation (The founding of HPC:Factor)
On the 27th of February 2003 the primary, non-executive staff from the SimplyHPC team met together as a group for the very first time. At this meeting the truth of the state of the organisation became common knowledge as the situation was discussed and the events that had transpired surrounding the groups finance revealed.
At the end of the meeting it was agreed that a new site would be created, under a new team and a completely different modus operandi to that of SimplyHPC.
Behind a Name
Seeking a similarly catchy identity to the marketability of SimplyHPC and its various iterations (S|HPC, Simply720, S|720, S|MAD etc), HPC:Factor was christened on the 3rd March 2003 by the unanimous approval of all five members of the staff.
HPC:Factor, is a play on 'H/PC' the shorthand representation for the Microsoft 'Handheld PC' trademark, with Factor being a nod towards the site being a constituent part of a large community of Windows CE and Windows CE related Internet resources, not just being an island amongst them - a key aspect of the new sites mantra.
The name HPC:Factor was suggested not by chance by Chris Tilley, who had planned to use the name, be it in its uncondensed form as "Handheld Factor" in a separate project in association with MobileCubed Software's owner Julio Ortiz. The project never went ahead, leaving the name and preliminary groundwork on test logo designs (which had already been completed) available for the new site.
The initial version of HPC:Factor went live to the public on the 10th March 2003 and the process of salvaging works from SimplyHPC under the rights of the author began. Fortunately large parts of ce320 were readily available to introduce onto the site after a period of extensive reworking, meaning that for the most part, all existing content from ce320 was reintroduced onto HPC:Factor, conversely, only around 5% of content from SimplyHPC could be salvaged for use on the new site.
As a result of the disparity between the authors of the site content, as the dominant contributor, Chris Tilley - with the largest contribution - assumed the role of the sites senior editor.
HPC:Factor version 1 adopted an evolutionary approach to the site's development. The interface and presentation changes that were introduced slowly over the course of v1's life were largely due to the formation of operational policies that were formed, largely due to Clinton Fitch's adoption of a print-publication editorial stance.
In an informal capacity, v1 went through 4 design adjustments v1.0, v1.2, 1.3 and 1.4. Each added a small set of interface changes, and cleaned up the presentation. v1.2 being the most significant as it properly introduced a higher level of coding standard onto the site, and perhaps most significantly was the first version to introduce the HPC:Factor Delta, that has remained a synonymous part of the site (be it in a very subtle way under v2) ever since.
HPC:Factor v2.0 was the first full redesign of HPC:Factor since its launch.
As with v1.0, all systems at work on the site were written in-house as a closed source web application with the exception of the kernel for the forum/BBS system. v2.0 introduced a new design, upgraded site services, updated forum system and new back-end servers.
The v2 site engine is written using a modular schema, with central service management for the site being dynamically generated completely ad-hoc by the web servers. Part of the requirements specification for v2 was that the 'site' as the user would see it and the 'site' as the content author sees it were separated. The content, navigation and the user interface of the site are completely unrelated to each other. Even the often contentious decision over what content is displayed using constrained widths, and what content is displayed using 100% of the browser window's available width is performed operationally when the page is loaded (compare this page to the HCL or the Community Forums).
For better or for worse the v2.0 project took 9 months from planning to programming, implementation and eventual completion.
v2.0 even has its own themes engine, although it has not yet been used on the live-site and there are no current plans to offer the themes system as a public service. A teaser is shown below.
HPC:Factor 2.0 Live! in Maroon (Taken: 10th November 2006)
In mid 2009 work began on updating the site engine to v2.5, at release on 10th October the changes to the site were predominantly behind the interface with a completely rewritten kernel, new theme and template engine and a new set of APIs. Modifications were also made to the sites main vs-v2.5-green theme to improve bandwidth efficiency, transaction time and load time on PDA devices.
It was decided not to redesign the main UI completely at this time given that the dynamics of the community couldn't justify the time commitment, so the 2.5 update was one of efficiency in terms of the user experience and cost. the success of the change was almost immediate with significant reductions in page load times due to the cumulative effects of better optimised browser code and images, a heavier use on XHTML and CSS and the full (rather than partial) introduction of GZip/Deflate for all page connections due to the change to IIS 6.0.
HPC:Factor 2.5 (Taken: 5th June 2010)
HPC:Factor's primary server was brought online 20th March 2010 after our first (and to-date only) fundraising exercise, it replaced the UK development server which was hastily converted into the main server after the transfer back to the UK in January of that year.
The server runs on the latest Intel 45nm Lynnfield HT enabled 'Nehalem' processors and has 8GB of DDR3. The server runs a full 64-bit architecture although as of writing the primary httpd server is running in 32-bit isolation due to compatibility and the downtime requirement to perform a conversion that at this time isn't mission critical.
Our database server runs fully 64-bit Microsoft SQL Server 2008 on Windows Server 2008 while our Linux e-mail server remains hosted in Florida.
Although Chris holds the title Editor-in-Chief and operationally manages HPC:Factor, the sites ownership and strategic decision making are made on a mutual level between the owners group and not at the editorial level.
Chris Tilley remains the Editor-in-Chief of the site, undertaking the largest role in the nurturing and development of the organisation. Along with day-to-day management of the organisation, Chris is responsible for both the user experience having designed and developed both the cosmetic aspect of the v1.0 and v2.0 HPC:Factor sites, as well as the programming for HPC:Factor's back-end and application services (for example the Hardware Compatibility List).
Clinton Fitch assumed the editorial role as Chief Reviews Editor, and has subsequently, through his efforts on HPC:Factor and across the Windows CE world become a widely known and trusted face in the Microsoft Embedded devices community. Clinton is a leading voice in both the Handheld PC and Pocket PC communities, having established Clinton Fitch (dot) Com! in 2003 to cover his activities in the Pocket PC and Smartphone community.
John Rubier remains the force behind HPC:Factor. As a self-hosted entity, John is responsible for the management of the site's servers and services. In no uncertain terms, without John Rubier, HPC:Factor not only wouldn't exist, but couldn't exist as the site would not be a viable non-commercial entity. His talents also extend into programming as the most experienced developer on the team in both high and low level languages.
Sean Fernstrum and Jeff Townsley are no longer actively involved in the running and management of HPC:Factor, although both still maintain links with the site and carry a lot of respect in the Handheld PC community.