While the first Ashton-Tate Corp user show was going on in the main halls of Kensington Town Hall in London, Ed Esber, president of the Torrance, California dBase developer, was upstairs talking about past mistakes, future strategies, and the state of the software industry in general. Ashton-Tate’s difficulties, he argued, have been largely brought about […]
While the first Ashton-Tate Corp user show was going on in the main halls of Kensington Town Hall in London, Ed Esber, president of the Torrance, California dBase developer, was upstairs talking about past mistakes, future strategies, and the state of the software industry in general. Ashton-Tate’s difficulties, he argued, have been largely brought about by miscalculation in the timing and relationships between new products: instead of going all out for what Esber called pie-in-the-sky product announcements every few years, in future Ashton-Tate will be aiming at a more regular flow of new products following an evolutionary pattern. Having said that, no release date has been issued for Version 1.1 of dBase IV, which has been in tests since July: it was admitted that Version 1.0 had failed to live up to expections – but then, asked Esber, what product does? – and partly as a result, Ashton-Tate is being a real stickler on 1.1, which has been split into two because the original 640Kb environment was found to be insufficient. Citing Lotus’ success despite delays in delivery of its products, Esber remains confident that the size of existing investment in dBase products among customers provides a sound base for future Ashton-Tate products, which will have immediate impact. Excessive costs have been a major factor in the lack of profitability, and apart from the 300 redundancies announced across the board last month (CI No 1,242) – no more are foreseen in the near future – Ashton-Tate’s estimated $1m a year research and development budget has become considerably more modest, and some projects have had to be cancelled although not any of the dBase projects. Esber declared himself disappointed with the impact, or rather lack of it, made by OS/2, but contends that much of the blame must lie with software houses for not supporting what he sees as a potentially popular product – it is this failure to get into sync with users that has left the software industry lagging behind the hardware sector, a situation Esber does not see changing. As far as OS/2 is concerned, Ashton-Tate is showing an interest, partly because the vicious circle that has led to both applications developers and users shying away from OS/2 is expected to be broken, and partly because any project associated with IBM packs punch: although, conversely, Esber pointed out that customers no longer buy simply because they see the three letters IBM. For the future, Esber is optimistic that the Big Three of software houses – Microsoft, Lotus and Ashton-Tate – will retain their dominance, with relations between Microsoft improved after last year’s squabble. And Esber stressed that Ashton-Tate was not for sale and no approaches had been made.