Sunday, August 17, 2008

Is DBI going the way of Ashton-Tate, Is dBASE dying a second death?

I have just read an article about the supposed demise of Vista, and in particular Microsoft. The author goes on to say the the demise of Vista would be due to its continual hold on compatibility. He says that the OS is bloated, they have added and added functionality and not taken any out. He compared this with the demise of Ashton-Tate and dBASE, and mentions that this too was as a result of continued bloating of the software due to compatibility.

In 1988, dBASE had 63% market share of the database market.  Not only the PC database market, but apparently the entire database market.  Ashton-Tate was on top of the world, and knew it. What happened to the beloved dBASE? How did the Big Giant fall? By 1989, dBASE's market share dropped to 43%.   A 20% drop in just one year.  When Microsoft Access came out in 1992, they took over the world, especially in the desktop database arena, dBASE and many xBASE depravities were dead or dying.  dBASE Crashed to the ground. In less than four years it was no longer heard of, except in legacy and niche markets. dBASE tried to regain what it once had. Eventually releasing a windows version. Also a 32bit windows version made it to the shelves. But it was like trying to blow up a deflated balloon with a thousand holes in it.

Doing a small keyword analysis. I found that the term dBASE returns only 153 daily searches on Google. I would venture to say that probably a large majority of people using the search term are using it and meaning “Database”. Where as something like “Visual Basic”  return  over 2300 daily searches, and “.NET” close to 3000. Although this is not conclusive, it does make a point

Trying to keep their compatibility with the old, i.e. DOS, and trying not to loose their DOS based Customers is what eventually killed dBASE.

dBASE had to be Backward compatible at any cost. Ashton-Tate created extremely bloated and arcane features added it to the product in order to support such compatibility.   Ashton-Tate believed the effort to switch would remain higher than the effort to keep using the product. In some cases it was true, in many, not. People across the world switch to windows based software, and along with it to software packages that supported the new OS, like Access.

Today we are sitting at .NET 3.5 CLR. Window 7 (Vista’s Successor) has been announced. The world is moving to .NET. Everything is .NET, ADO.NET. Borland, previous owners of dBASE, has switched over as well, many other xBASE products have made the leap. They have left the com32 compatibility boat behind.

Yet for some reason, DBI and dBASE have chosen not to go the .NET route but instead have decided to be backward compatible with cm32 applications and the com32 market. Is this  history repeating itself. Has DBI not learned from pas mistakes about compatibility. When we are so many versions and so many years away from com32, dBASE still keeps compatibility with that historical and dying market.

It is probably too far now do make the huge jump over to .NET3.5 and the only thing going for dBASE and DBI is probably their small market and their faithful following.

As I look and frequent the dBASE news groups, I do not see the activity I once saw, even though it was then still very low, when compared to other competing software news groups. I do not see some of the old names there any more. Where have they gone? To me, it seems that the dBASE market is still dropping. How far will the drop go until all give up and there is a mass exit.

I believe that the eminent demise of dBASE will be as a result of their stubbornness to keep their product compatible with the com32 market and their faithful few. Yes, it would have been a cost to start the journey down the road and follow the rest of the world. It would have been a cost to go the .NET group. But now the cost is so much more, that you are almost forced to stay were you are. I believe dBASE could have benefited from going the .NET route. Because of the way the CLR is constructed, I believe that dBASE would have gained a significant increase in their market share. Because of the CLR, a lot of functions that are well known in either the likes of VB and C# would have been the same in dBASE, thereby bringing comfort to millions.

Yes, DBI is starting to look at .NET, or at least some part of it. But I think that the horse has bolted and that now its a bridge too far.

What do you think? Do you think that dBASE is on its last breath struggling to survive? Do you think that it should go .NET? (Vote on the side bar). Do you think many more faithful will leave, or do you think that dBASE has what it takes to gain more market share?

Oh how I had wished and hoped that dBASE would one day rise again. How I wished that I could boast again of this great software. How I longed to compete with the rest of the world. But alas it was not so. If dBASE had learnt from its own history, I believe they would have had much more market share than what they now have, including me.

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