dBASE Mac revisited

By Greg Raven
Volume 6 no. 11 (November 1988), page 21

With the roll-out of Full Impact, Ashton-Tate has finally become a full-time player the Mac software arena. Oh, sure, FullWrite Professional works as a Mac word processor, but the RAM requirements, speed, and newness of the program have so far kept it from garnering the accolades it needs to unseat Microsoft Word 3.0x, let alone Word 4.0 (when it arrives).

Not that Full Impact is perfect; there are some problems with a few of the features (or lack thereof). But users and reviewers alike have expressed their pleasure at its power and flexibility. It remains to be seen whether Full Impact will be the financial success Ashton-Tate would like it to be, but at the very least, spreadsheets for the Mac will never be same again.

Ashton-Tate is clearly attempting to develop a foundation of Mac software, which for all intents and purposes consists of a coterie of products that any major software house would offer for any serious computer. Full Impact holds up its end as a spreadsheet, and FullWrite Professional could be considered (by Mac II users, presumably) to be an adequate word processor. It makes sense that once the foundation is firmly in place, Ashton-Tate will use it as a launch pad for other Macintosh software products.

The foundation is far from solid, however, and the biggest reason is still their cornerstone: dBASE Mac. As a premiere product from the premier data base software house, dBASE Mac was and continues to be a disappointment in both performance and sales. With the commitment that Ashton-Tate has made to the Mac market, it is clear that this situation will not be allowed to last indefinitely.

The idea behind dBASE Mac is sound: give users a high-end data base package that makes extensive use of the Macintosh interface. In other words, come into the market with enough features to shame Filemaker but with enough ease-of-use to lure the average high-end user away from 4th Dimension.

We all know the results, and in the months since the release of dBASE Mac, Acius has vastly changed 4th Dimension to give it a friendlier face. Ashton-Tate is far from being out of the woods with dBASE Mac.

Although no update to dBASE Mac has been announced, it is evident that Ashton-Tate must address two big problems in their next release. First, Ashton-Tate needs to take a page from Microsoft’s book and make the program smaller. All of Ashton-Tate’s programs seem overweight, even given the features they incorporate. Big programs take up more room on disks, take longer to launch, and are more sluggish to run. This last element of program size is also the second important problem with dBASE Mac: Speed. If dBASE Mac can’t be made to run faster, it might as well not even show up at the track.

This is not to say that there is no hope for dBASE Mac — or for Ashton-Tate, for that matter. They now have gained considerable experience in bringing Macintosh software to market (albeit at an enormous cost), and tricks learned on one project are bound to be applied to others.

More important, however, Ashton-Tate has taken steps to prove their dedication to the Macintosh. After the release of dBASE Mac, Apple told Ashton-Tate that if they intended to stay afloat in the Macintosh market, they had better get serious and move their Mac programming department closer to Apple headquarters.

That is exactly what Ashton-Tate has done. Not only have they moved Mac operations to Silicone Valley, they actually bought property there — highly significant considering that virtually all of Ashton-Tate’s other office space is leased.

Finally, Ashton-Tate’s previously unchallenged leadership in the DOS world has been under heavy attack for some time now. Ashton-Tate recently responded with a lawsuit, hoping to protect whatever is left of the long-delayed and still unreleased dBASE IV program.

A lawsuit is a poor reply to increased competition, however, a fact with which Ashton-Tate must be keenly aware. In order to stay in business, Ashton-Tate must bring out more and better software than anyone else, including programs for Macintosh users. Bigger companies have certainly faltered on bigger issues, but the odds are good that Ashton-Tate will do whatever it takes to make dBASE Mac the program it needs to be.

They have to. They are running out of options.

See also: Ashton-Tate’s dBASE Mac (1987)