Is it curtains for Clipper 5.X now that Computer Associates has won Nantucket? It was part of the plan that Barry ReBell would sell eventually, so says George Fletcher, managing director of Nantucket UK Ltd. ReBell is the founder and was the 100% shareholder in the company who sold Nantucket to Computer Associates International Inc […]
Is it curtains for Clipper 5.X now that Computer Associates has won Nantucket?
It was part of the plan that Barry ReBell would sell eventually, so says George Fletcher, managing director of Nantucket UK Ltd. ReBell is the founder and was the 100% shareholder in the company who sold Nantucket to Computer Associates International Inc at the beginning of May (CI No 1,916). The surprise was that the company didn’t expect to be sold so soon – it was expected that Nantucket would come out with its Windows products before it fell into the arms of an admirer. It was also a surprise that Computer Associates was the buyer, Fletcher always thought that Microsoft Corp would buy the company as the development strategies of the two are close in the application and database tools markets. However, that was no longer a possibility once Microsoft announced its acquisition of Fox Software Inc in March (CI No 1,888). Computer Associates had not been part of the picture because it doesn’t have a huge presence in the MS-DOS market, but apparently it intends to hold its own against Microsoft at IBM Corp sites and that is why it finds Nantucket interesting. Of course Computer Associates is not known for its tact and diplomacy in personnel issues after buying a company, but Fletcher is adamant that Nantucket was acquired for its technology and expertise and so most of its technical and marketing staff will be retained. He argues that it is not feasible for Computer Associates to remove the majority of Nantucket employees as its personal computer division is not much bigger than Nantucket – it would be foolish to handle a new and developing product set with the people they already have. When Computer Associates announced the acquisition, it mentioned its CA-dBFast product and suggested that the Nantucket products would complement this product. CA-dBFast takes a dBase program and enables it to be converted to run under Windows; Clipper meanwhile is a development environment that has come from the dBase background, is not compatible with dBase IV and has no Windows availability yet. Fitting the two products together won’t be easy but what Computer Associates wants is a development environment for Windows and this will produce some conflict between CA-dBFast and Clipper that has to be resolved. Nantucket has been very public about the development of a Windows product – we are talking here, of course, about its Aspen project. Aspen, you will remember, is being developed to support user in terfaces and optimise the use of object-oriented programming techniques for the Clipper community. It will not be compatible with Clipper but will share syntax for the classes. Nantucket’s strategy was to continue developing Clipper for the character-based developer and offer Aspen for Windows application development. However, according to Fletcher, users were happy with Clipper 5.1 as it is compatible with the Summer’87 version of Clipper but had reservations about the continuation of a separate character-based product – they just wanted a Windows version.
Graphical user interface
The decision is now with Computer Associates as to whether it just goes for a Windows version or provides an interim stepping stone to take procedural Clipper developers to the object-oriented paradigm. The core architecture for Aspen is now pretty much finished – it just needs optimising for different graphical user interfaces. The first to be supported will be Windows and now that Computer Associates owns the technology it is a sure bet that a Unix version of a Nantucket product will follow. As for how the acquisition will effect distribution and support, Fletcher says that there is an exact fit in the UK market between Computer Associates and Nantucket as they both use Merisel Inc, Frontline Distribution Ltd and Ingram Micro Inc.
Xbase standards, a Microsoft ploy
With the concentration of the dBase market in the hands of the very large independent software vendors – Ashton-Tate with Borland International Inc, Fox with Microsoft and now Nantucket with Computer Associates – mov
es are afoot to push the various versions of dBase to conform to one ANSI Xbase standard (CI No 1,918). As a veteran of the Xbase market, what does Fletcher think about these moves? He begins by explaining that the standardisation issue is an old chestnut that has resurfaced regularly over the past five years. He thinks that the Xbase language is something that should be developed according to the needs of the users. Nantucket has never wanted to get involved as the company felt that standardising would lose Clipper its competitive advantage in the market. He believes that from the user’s point of view there is commonality enough between the languages as they are all based on dBase so a dBase developer has a rough idea on how you start writing with Clipper. Nantucket, for example, has user-defined commands and functions in Clipper, as well as Replaceable Database Drivers, which differentiate it from other Xbase products. Also, he argues standardisation may be more important for the Fox and Ashton-Tate products as they are for the end-user market whereas Clipper is for the developer. Where Microsoft and Borland will find it easier to sell thousands of user licences into a company if they can claim their products are standard, Nantucket is selling into the developer community where standardisation doesn’t have the same market appeal. Furthermore, Fletcher thinks Microsoft may well have ulterior motives in pushing for Xbase standardisation as it is, in his words, taking its first teetering step into the Xbase arena. He believes the Xbase community is sceptical and expects Microsoft to make initial mistakes and so it makes sense for it to pledge allegiance to standards. After all he adds, people may think that Microsoft will take the language off into a C-type manifestation. He is surprised that Borland is playing ball by supporting standardisation as if there is a an Xbase standard, Microsoft will have a clear advantage over its competitors with a Windows version. Doesn’t this line of thought throw a shadow over Aspen? Fletcher replies that Nantucket always knew the Windows product had to be really good to make headway, let’s hope Computer Associates gives Aspen the run it deserves. – Katy Ring