20 January 2008

When compatibility is keeping you afloat

Interesting article by an engineer who worked on dBASE, drawing parallels between that product and Windows Vista:

There were some brilliant people at Ashton-Tate, and I was fortunate to know many of them. When talking about dBASE, they were proud of their product, and it was the size of the customer base that was the de facto definition of why dBASE was a good product. This is part of the pattern. We are number one! Our product clearly must be the reason.

As I got to know people during that project, eventually there was more trust. Engineers at Ashton-Tate knew something was wrong. There was almost a sadness in discussions about how to fix it, as if they knew it was unfixable.

By 1989, dBASE's market share dropped to 43%. That's a 20% drop in just one year. When Microsoft Access came out in 1992, dBASE was dead. Crashed to the ground in no more than 4 years.

Compatibility. That's what killed them.

dBASE had to be upward compatible at any cost, even if it meant creating extremely bloated and arcane features to support such compatibility. Why? Because of the market. The market was all Ashton-Tate had.

[...] The flawed belief that compatibility will assure market share has been disproven time and time again.

What happened to dBASE was a lot more dramatic than what will happen to Windows (at least anytime soon), but Microsoft certainly realizes that it does have to change the way it develops Windows.

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