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Late Breaking News: Report from DB/EXPO

Lisa Slater Nicholls

Published in FoxTalk April 1992

[ NB: the product codenamed "Cirrus" was released as "Access". >L< 2001 ]

On March 24 1992, in San Francisco, Microsoft and Fox Software jointly announced their intent to merge. On June 30th or before, Fox Software products will become Microsoft products.

On March 24 1992, in San Francisco, Microsoft and Fox Software jointly announced their intent to merge. On June 30th or before, Fox Software products will become Microsoft products.

The accounting of this exchange is described as a "pooling of interests". Whatever the legal and technical import of this term to Wall Street and the Department of Justice, its wider connotations are much more significant to FoxTalk readers.

Microsoft is aware of, and intends to preserve, the special qualities of Fox products, along with the rising market share and recognition that Fox Pro 2.0 has gained. Fox will enjoy access to far greater resources with which to bring their database technology to the rest of the world than ever before.

The Fox development group will be moving to Redmond intact, and they will continue to work as a unified team. As Database Architect of Microsoft's new Database and Development Tools division, Dr. Fulton will coordinate FoxPro's development within Microsoft, but he will also bring his unique vision and perspective to bear on the direction of the entire Microsoft dbms product line.

In making the announcement, Bill Gates stressed his admiration and concern for the brain trust that Microsoft is acquiring. Microsoft staff members reiterated this sentiment, while fielding the usual peppery questions, at a special Bay area users' group meeting on the following evening.

On Fox's behalf, Dr. Fulton jokingly expressed the development team's satisfaction at the thought of working in the Microsoft corporate culture, by remarking that the two companies "have the same dress code". But when he began to speak in earnest, it was clear that the real compatibility between the companies' working styles is their mutual respect for creative ideas and the pursuit of excellence. Dr. Dave is genuinely eager for this opportunity to produce the best possible FoxPro.

Microsoft expects FoxPro to continue its role as the performance and power leader in xBASE. The company recognizes the value of the established pool of xBASE talent in the developer community as well as the broad base of xBASE installed applications. Gates said that Fox "complements our forthcoming database for Windows (codenamed Cirrus), the Microsoft SQL Server transaction processing database server, and our Open Database Connectivity (ODBC) technology." Bringing Fox into the family is Microsoft's strategy for participating in the future of xBASE.

Cirrus, by contrast, does not include any elements of xBASE; it will be positioned to compete with Paradox. Although neither company would comment explicitly on Cirrus' features, Dr. Fulton was enthusiastic about its interface, as well as some internal database attributes he termed "astonishing". Eventually, FoxPro will include some of these desirable attributes and Cirrus will gain from Rushmore technology and other Fox advantages.

ODBC is expected to encourage what Microsoft calls "language freedom of choice". Ultimately, it shouldn't matter whether you choose to examine or create your data using Cirrus, xBASE, or C++ commands; the data should remain equally accessible on all fronts. Fox's commitment to cross-platform compatibility provides its key role in this future. Gates noted that "Fox offers the best database development environment for desktop database applications across multiple platforms."

The importance of cross-platform compatibility was echoed by many developers at DB/EXPO, although 100% backwards compatibility appeared to be less vital to many attendees than a feature-rich language and superior performance.

Fox's inclusion of the Mac among its supported platforms is especially appreciated at Microsoft, and stands in marked contrast to Borland's current strategy, as expressed by Philippe Kahn in a conference keynote address. Kahn never once mentioned the Macintosh or Apple Computers in any way.

What happens next

Fox will continue its simultaneous development of FoxPro windows, Mac, and UNIX along with FoxPro 2.5 for DOS upon a common code base. As Janet Walker demonstrated at the users' group meeting, code or an .APP written for one version can run unchanged under another.

Of course, there will be some platform-specific areas; for example, the Windows version will have standard Windows font support for both screens and printing, and FoxPro Mac will have its XCMD capability (probably enhanced) instead of FoxPro DOS's API. Syntax that is platform-specific will be ignored where inappropriate.

What's in it for us

There's no doubt that financial considerations played a role. (Fox's chairman and co-founder Dick LaValley, who negotiated for the company, looked for all the world as though he had swallowed 1.36 million Microsoft-stock-certificate-shaped canaries.) But there's also no reason for Fox developers to feel abandoned, or even threatened, because of this change.

Key aspects of tech support will be retained, enhanced by Microsoft's own policy of support and nurturing third part developers through their developer relations and co-marketing programs, as well as technical seminars. Additional, diversified support will be available for end-users of Microsoft's database products.

Dr. Fulton indicated that Fox's development schedule may be accelerated, as his developers are spurred by the thought of presenting the most attractive "calling card" when they make their Redmond debut. Moreover, access to Microsoft knowledge and talent can only enhance the new Windows product, as Fox incorporates features such as DDE and support for multimedia DLLs into FoxPro.

No pricing or upgrade strategies have been announced, although Microsoft expressed a commitment to Fox's policy of royalty-free runtime distribution. Separate environments will require separate Distribution Kits, but this necessity is in no way influenced by the merger.

The Fox future looks brighter than ever. If you want to face it wearing the Fox Boutique trademark Fox Software shades, you should hustle to get your pair; they'll soon be collectors' items. But nothing else we know and love about Fox is likely to fade off into the sunset any time soon.

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

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