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Ashton-Tate Programs Its Hopes on dBase IV

February 17, 1988|CARLA LAZZARESCHI | Times Staff Writer

Ashton-Tate Chairman Edward Esber doesn't want anyone to miss his message: The Torrance software house best known for its popular dBase personal computer program wants to regain its reputation as a technological pacesetter among software developers.

So this morning, when he formally unveils the company's latest version of dBase, dBase IV, Esber says he will be standing near an 8-foot-high blowup of its package, a sleek box complete with a shiny, technologically-savvy hologram.

dBase IV Lauded

"The hologram is to set us apart from the rest," Esber says "We want to support and reinforce the notion that this company is a leader technologically."

Ashton-Tate's latest drive is coming none too soon, analysts say.

After wowing the personal computer industry in 1981 with the original dBase, a revolutionary system for sorting and compiling tiny slices of information with a simple desktop computer, Ashton-Tate in recent years has been slow to maintain its edge with exciting updates and new products.

As a result, the company's share of the data management software business has slipped to nearly 60% from as much as 67% of the market, according to Esber's own estimates. Further, dBase has remained the single largest source of Ashton-Tate's sales, accounting for a whopping 80% of its estimated $250 million in revenue last year.

But, no more, Esber vows.

Ashton-Tate unveiled three new non-dBASE products last week. And dBase IV, which should be ready for retail sale by late July, already is being touted as 10 times faster than its predecessor, far more useful for generating reports and considerably more accommodating to several simultaneous users than its competitors.

In addition, the new program will run on the OS/2, the state of the art operating system developed to direct the internal information flow for the latest generation of personal computers from International Business Machines, Compaq and others.

(In a separate announcement today, Compaq is expected to say that it is beginning deliveries of its line of computers using OS-2.)

Analysts given advance peeks at dBase IV praised it and generally proclaimed a successful first step in the company's quest to regain its momentum and fend off challenges from such competitors as Borland International Inc., Microrim Inc. and Oracle Corp.

"dBase IV is Ashton-Tate coming out of the gate with both guns blazing," said William Langnes, an analyst with Creative Strategies, a Santa Clara, Calif., high-tech consulting firm. "It's a major rewrite for a whole new generation of personal computers."

All the Right Moves

A simple version of the product, which replaces an update released in January, 1986, is expected to retail for $795. A companion version, aimed at software developers needing additional power and capabilities, will sell for $1,295.

And dBase is not the whole picture of what's going on at Ashton-Tate.

Earlier this year, in a move unanimously approved by analysts, Ashton-Tate announced an agreement with Microsoft, the personal computer industry's leading software publisher, and Sybase, a hot start-up in Berkeley, to develop a new program to tie dBase IV to larger computers, such as mainframes.

"This is the exciting part of the market in the long run," says Esther Dyson, publisher of Release 1.0, a software newsletter.

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