Micro software companies find prospects for business in Comecon – but piracy is rifeAs the barriers to trade with the Comecon countries crumble like the crude clinker blocks that made up the Berlin Wall, computer companies are looking eastwards with growing optimism. Ashton-Tate Corp has announced a joint marketing agreement with the Leningrad Institute of […]
Micro software companies find prospects for business in Comecon – but piracy is rifeAs the barriers to trade with the Comecon countries crumble like the crude clinker blocks that made up the Berlin Wall, computer companies are looking eastwards with growing optimism. Ashton-Tate Corp has announced a joint marketing agreement with the Leningrad Institute of Informatics and Automation, under which it will bundle its Framework II business software with Informantage II, an original Russian application for micros. When the two products are installed together they enable the user to switch between Russian and English word processing, spreadsheet, database, graphics and telecommunications functionality. Users can thus select either English or Russian menus with context-sensitive help, access full search and sort capabilities within each language, as well as combining the Cyrillic and Roman alphabets in a single document. Bruce Marquart, manager of Eastern Europe for Ashton-Tate, believes that Framework and Informantage will become standard packages for any company doing business with the Soviet Union. This is because administration in the Soviet Union is conducted in Russian, but most programmers speak English, as this is now informally regarded throughout the world as the language of science. Framework II and Informantage II will be available in January from Ashton-Tate’s authorised distributor SFINCS in Leningrad, and from Ashton-Tate subsidiaries in Europe. Pricing is in the local currency of the country of purchase, but is based on the retail price for Framework II. Ashton-Tate sees Eastern Europe as its largest growth area, and says it has been selling millions of pounds worth of software in the past six or seven months in the Comecon countries. It is a market ripe for growth because although it is just beginning in information technology, it is scientifically literate and has a European culture. However, Marquart was adamant that Western companies cannot just steam in to Eastern Europe and sell, they have to start up training and dealership programmes. They also, if they are software companies, need to attack piracy and safeguard intellectual property rights. For example dBase and Framework are popular in the Soviet Union where there are estimated to be between 100,000 and 200,000 copies, but Ashton-Tate has sold very few licences there. Similarly in Hungary, Borland’s Sidekick product is very popular, but it has been pirated to the extent that there is no market share left for licensed copies. Furthermore, computer viruses are a big problem in the Soviet Union, since as there are no legal intellectual property rights, programmers build viruses into their programs as a form of copyright. In response to these problems Western and Soviet high technology delegates met in June at Pereslavi-Zalessky to draft proposals for a change in Soviet law and combat software piracy.
Software development as seen from Leningrad
According to Sasha Barilov, a software developer from the Leningrad Institute for Informatics & Automation who developed Informantage II, about 80% of programmers in the Soviet Union use personal computers rather than mainframes. They mostly use Assembler and C languages on IBM XTs, although some IBM 360s and 370s are to be found in the USSR, as are DEC PDP-11s and VAXs. Barilov is clearly frustrated at having to work with old equipment, but is proud of the innovative approach Soviet programmers had developed to their work. While he finds the lack of manuals in his country a problem, entailing the slow unravelling of programs to find out how they work, he appears a little disconcerted at the Western laughter in response to his salary of 250 roubles a month (which works out at UKP25 a month on the black market exchange rate). He is happy to be based in Leningrad because it is somewhat removed from the bureaucracy associated with Moscow – in his words it is a place for doing things. It is also close to Finland and, therefore, has good telecommunications links with the West. Despite the evident pitfalls to program
ming in the USSR prior to Gorbachev, Barilov does seem a little despondent that the non-competitive uncommercial atmosphere in which he had worked was disappearing. Instead his future lies in developing programs to sell to the West. Only then will Soviet programmers be in a position to check the implementation of their software and test it on modern computers. In the short term Barilov will continue to work on similar projects as that which produced Informantage; in the long term he dreams of being in a position to carry on experimenting with object-oriented techniques, developing an integrated package with a new type of user interface. For him the Soviet dilemma is clearly how to do something useful and sell it. But the balance between basic and applied research is a problem for which the West still has no answer.
Novotrade, distributing for Ashton-Tate in Hungary, needs development kits
Novotrade Plc is a leading software distributor and developer for the micro market in Hungary and has proved instrumental to Ashton-tate as its sole distributor there. It is held by a mix of private and state shareholders, employs 200 people – 60 of which are programmers, and has a subsidiary in Palo Alto, California. It is consequently no surprise that its employees have a Western gloss and speak exceedingly good English. Gabor Renyi, the company’s chief executive, said that Novotrade had the skills to develop any application software but that it desparately needs to import developers kits – indeed at this point he would probably have said so that we don’t need to reinvent the wheel, but fortunately his grasp of English does not yet stretch to such marketing cliches. Novotrade imports and distributes package software from companies such as Ashton-Tate, Borland, Microsoft, DEC, Micro Focus and Rank Xerox, since it is less expensive to import these products than to develop similar ones. Apparently Hungary is very much an IBM outpost, having no Apple or Amiga micros. Since 1989, however, life has got easier for Hungarians trying to get hold of personal computers as they have become fully liberalised products which can be purchased legally by foreign trade companies. In terms of mainframes, Hungary does have the odd ICL and Honeywell machine, but IBM 360s, 370s and 4300s predominate, while in the minicomputer stakes DEC PDP-11 clones are prevalent, manufactured by a company called KFKI. DEC itself moved out of Hungary in 1979 following the invasion of Afghanistan, but according to Dr Janos Muth, head of Novotrade’s software import-export department, DEC is planning to return. IBM, on the other hand, has had a permanent presence in Budapest for half a decade through its 50 year old office. Muth added that Hungarians would prefer to move from the personal computer market to minis and mainframes, but everything hinges on the Comecon attitude. Nevertheless, Novotrade has just legally imported the first 100 Macs into Hungary, and 80386 machines are trickling in from Taiwan and Singapore so micros will remain the focus for developers in the near future. In this sector, prices are going down dramatically, so that, for example, a small XT with 256Kb of memory which cost UKP2.5m a few years ago, is now available for around UKP400. As for chips, Hungary imports most of them from the US – from Intel. However, there are (still) big plans for chip manufacture in both East Germany and Bulgaria. Is Paradox a near rival to dBase in Hungary? No. – Katy Ring