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DBASIC Post Mortem

Letter to Micro Cornucopia # 44,
November-December 1988

I thought you might like to know what happened to the great DBASIC experiment. In two words: it flopped.

DBASIC worked very well. Even the reviewer who least liked it rated it above all the other BASICs for speed and for being bug-free. So it was an artistic success but a marketing disaster. I sold 70 copies at $40 each during its first four months on the market, and there was no evidence of growth at the end of those four months. What happened? A lot of things.

Giving a lot of copies to user groups backfired. DBASIC became known as the free BASIC. I'm still getting letters asking for free copies. I was charging $40 for single copies but giving 10-copy sets free to user groups (to get the software out). Unfortunately, single users were claiming to be user groups.

The other free BASIC, the one that comes with the ST, was awful. But most ST types don't program very often, so that's the one they use. Free BASIC competing with another "free" BASIC is a very tough way to make a living.

When the ST first came out, a lot of techies were buying it -- just the right market for DBASIC. While I was busy turning DBASIC into a commercial product, those sales stopped and a new buyer came along: the drooling rock-shooter. Rock-shooters don't write programs.

DBASIC had a command line interface, just like MS-DOS and the older CP/M and Apple II machines. ST folk, like the Macintosh folk, are dedicated mouse/icon freaks and refuse to use a command line interface.

The biggest problem is that the ST, in the U.S., is a toy computer. DBASIC was intended to be a useful BASIC. That's why it had double-precision floating point and transcendentals.

There were lots of reasons why DBASIC failed; all of them were my fault; I did not correctly identify a market before blindly charging ahead. A market is a group of folks who are able and willing to buy a product or service. For instance, I can't stand the typical ST magazines. And yet, the magazines which support a computer tell you a lot about those who own it.

Early in December I filed for dissolution of DTACK Grounded Inc. and packed my bags. I left New Mexico at the end of the year and am now in Silicon Valley. DTACK did not go bankrupt; all the bills were paid. But it was obvious that the company could not survive, even with just one employee. I still get about one check a week for DBASIC. I send the checks back. I don't have a business license or manuals -- most of them are in Santa Fe's municipal land fill.

Hal W. Hardenbergh
1111 W El Camino Real Ste 109-406
Sunnyvale, CA 94087