30 Years Ago: The Rise, Fall and Survival of Ashton-Tate's dBASE
eWEEK 30: Ashton-Tate’s dBASE dominated the early PC database market until competitors stepped in to deliver follow-on products with enhanced features users were looking for.Ashton-Tate's dBASE was one of the most popular early PC applications, as the Swiss Army Knife of databases when it first hit the market back in 1980. Ashton-Tate began distributing the widely popular dBASE database management system (DBMS) for the CP/M operating system in 1980. Very quickly dBASE grew in popularity because of its simplicity and ease of use. It featured a database engine, query system, forms engine and a programming language—the dBASE language. When IBM started shipping its PC in volume in 1982, Ashton-Tate responded by quickly porting dBASE to the platform and it became one of the few early professional programs for the PC, which only enhanced its popularity. In short, dBASE was another one of those killer apps that demonstrated the effectiveness of the IBM PC. Typical of many high-tech startups of the time, Ashton-Tate started as a garage-based operation and grew to become one of the top three PC application software producers of its time, next to Lotus and WordPerfect—with Microsoft in the mix, as well.
Founded in 1980 by George Tate and Hal Lashlee, Ashton-Tate took what had been developed as a simple program to run an office football pool and parlayed it into a multimillion-dollar, multinational company. Ashton-Tate licensed the rights to a database program called Vulcan from its author Wayne Ratliff, who was an employee at the NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Vulcan ran on CP/M and was based on JPL/DIS, a public domain program at JPL. Besides CP/M and IBM/MS-DOS, dBASE was also ported to the Apple II.