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Fragments of The History

Lisa Slater Nicholls

"Brought from a message posted in a Google thread, in 1997"

Fox Software was a small company started by Dr. Dave Fulton and a bunch of his graduate students in Ohio, who were doing custom computer consulting on the side, I think. They figured they could write a better dBASE than dBASE. And they convinced other people they had done it, by going to a dBASE convention and asking people to run their own PRGs and applications under the FoxBase environment, where the code immediately ran faster. No code changes, just better technology underlying the same Xbase language features.

They improved FoxBase, but mostly kept it as a dBASE clone, until somebody convinced Dr. Dave to put out a Mac version. I think he wasn't very enthusiastic at first. I think he did it to prove that it was a "trivial exercise" .

But the Mac environment intrigued him. By the time he was finished with FoxBase Mac, which probably took longer than he'd expected, he'd seen the advantages of the Mac UI, and he'd resolved to create a new FoxBase -- which became FoxPro 1.0 -- which would have a lot of the features of the Mac interface but would not be a GUI environment.

If you've wondered why Fox had a Puzzle and other DA's, or why the menu bar in Fox DOS was System File Edit, now you know: these are Mac conventions < s >. FoxPro DOS was born from FoxBase Mac -- not its language, but the assumptions of how it should work and look. To Dr. Dave and the Fox team, whether you expressed those assumptions in graphics or characters was irrelevant.

Unlike dBASE III and FoxBase, windows weren't an afterthought in FoxPro 1; they were part of how you worked, just as they were on the Mac. Other things stayed just as they were in FoxBase DOS; FoxPro 1 kept Fox's deserved reputation for running quickly. Although it took more resources than FoxBase, its improved ability to produce a finished inteface deserved those resources, and its data handling was still without peer.

But the Fox team knew that this wasn't the whole story. People were using tools such as templates and screen painters. FoxCode/FoxView were included with FoxPro 1 but never really caught on; I used something called SCRIMMAGE, written by Russell Freeland, which was a generic Xbase tool. But these tools needed tighter integration with the language and the Fox style of working.

We already had a Report Writer -- pretty similar to the one available in dBASE -- so that "positioning" in output was less of an obsession than it had been, in hand-coded reports. FoxPro 2 offered additional tools in which you painted Screens and Menus, and out of which code was generated for you, again to eliminate some details of positioning and put the focus on design. The Project Manager offered you a chance to focus on application design -- the way your files were supposed to work together -- rather than the mechanics of compiling and file management.

At the same time, SQL and the idea of optimized data access through new index types (Rushmore optimization) entered the language. This was how Fox 2 kept breaking new ground in the speed/efficiency dept.

There were many heroes in the original team, including Amy Fulton, Dr. Dave's wife and the original architect of the RQBE (the visual tool that was intended to do for the SQL additions to the language what the other tools did for Screens, Reports, Projects and Menus) and Dave McClanahan, who did a lot of the original SQL work, and Walt Kennamer, who wrote FoxDoc as Snap! before he joined Fox as COO. I'd have to mention Janet Walker, who guided just about every facet of the development, from what I can reckon.

Outside Fox Software, people like Tom Rettig and Alan Schwartz (although there are actually no people *like* Tom Rettig and Alan Schwartz < s >) helped grow the community. The two were interfaced by a thriving set of CompuServe Fox Forums, hosted by the company but enlivened by the efforts of many thousands of committed Fox developers, who built additional tools and stretched every ounce of capacity out of the Fox language and data format. Both "in" and "out" of the community was Glenn Hart, who served as a consultant to the company and spearheaded the community effort on CompuServe.

Glenn's sudden passing was a shock to us all, and serves me as a sort of watershed date in the history of Fox. A few months later, the Fox-MS merger was announced, at a "breakfast press meeting" on the first morning of dbExpo. Dr. Dave and Bill G made the announcement jointly. I remember thinking that it was difficult for any more effective underminding of Philippe Kahn's keynote speech to have been planned, by anybody < s >.

FoxPro 2.5 DOS and Windows were under development at the time. I believe that the development team (most of whom were going to Redmond) had a committment to get these products ready for release before the final merger. I'm afraid that the timing of RTM for these products had something to do with people wanting to be settled into their new Seattle digs before their children started school .

There are lots of people who can take the story from this point.

I have so many personal memories it would be hard to know what to share first. Many of them are from the Forums, and would sound like clique-ish in-jokes out of context, I'm afraid. There are DevCon stories (I hold a record, I believe, for most times luggage was lost flying to Toledo!) and there are really exciting things that have happened through the friendships and relationships that form in all parts of this community, including the regional conferences.

Um... for my part... I flew Down Under to teach some Fox classes and to meet with a particularly excellent group of Fox programmers. I was editing _FoxTalk_ at the time, this group had been bombarding me with really good article submissions, and I couldn't believe that such whiz-kids were all working in one remote place, doing some of the finest Fox work in the world (and writing relatively literate English, for developers ). Unfortunately, I was terminally intrigued; one of them was *such* a fine Fox programmer that I had to marry him to keep it in the family . I live in Auckland now .

The best person I can think of to ask for pictures of the original Fox Software team is Pat Adams, who has affectionate memories of all the folks I have mentioned and many of the other people involved besides.

See also: People That Helped FoxPro to Become a Legend: Lisa Slater Nicholls

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Lisa Slater Nicholls

"Brought from a message posted in a Google thread, in 1997"

After FoxBase Plus for DOS, Dr. Dave decided to port to the Macintosh. At first, he didn't think much of the Mac, it was just a "challenge" that somebody proposed and he wanted to overcome, I think.

However, when he looked closely at the Mac's philosophy, and how this was expressed in its event-handling and visual interfaces, he grew much more interested.

Dr. Dave has said, more than once, that it was the Mac's features and abilities that stimulated him and his team to create the FoxPro 1 interface (both development environment and runtime capabilities of FoxPro 1 applications).

Although FoxPro 1 was character-based it did a pretty good job of having the same windowing look and feel, and all the functionality, of what we like about all the GUI interfaces today.

He figured out "what made the Mac a Mac", in other words, and he applied that set of principles to a completely different problem. I think this was a stroke of sheer genius on their part.

See also: People That Helped FoxPro to Become a Legend: Lisa Slater Nicholls

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