By Janos Gereben

As featured in the 451,
Reprinted here with permission.

San Francisco - Even as Inprise/Borland is becoming part of Canada's Corel (while fighting IONA Technologies in court), it is spinning off a new company, InterBase Software Corporation (IBSC) to provide what it calls “the first open-source embedded relational database” – InterBase 6.0.

Shown at the Software Development 2000 in San Jose, InterBase – still in beta, and due for release this summer – runs on multiple platforms, including Windows NT, Solaris, and the focus of Corel's development work: Linux. Such companies as Nokia, Societe Generale, and Deutsche Telekom will use current and future versions of InterBase.

James Starkey, who will be architectural advisor for the new spin-off, designed the original InterBase, launched in 1984 and later acquired by Ashton Tate. Ann Harrison (coming from the original developer of the database architecture which became InterBase) will be president, Paul Beach (former general manager of InterBase at Inprise) is vice president of sales and marketing.

Harrison considers the timing for the move into the Linux market to be "exactly at the right moment. Linux is going to emerge as a considerable force in the commercial market with proprietary applications built on open source foundations. One foundation for applications that handle data is a database. We're going to be there," she said.

IBSC's entrance is into a shrinking database market for smaller applications. Microsoft's Access – and, less, FoxPro – dominates, with Sybase and Informix hanging in there. New development work is going on in Europe, especially Germany. InterBase, predictably, is trying to position its product in-between: "We're a big step above Access and FoxPro," Harrison says, "in terms of our ability to handle multi-user highly concurrent applications."

Size, of course, has always been relative, and the issue is becoming even more blurred with faster and more powerful PCs. Historically, the mini computer was the master at controlling peripherals (controlled, in turn, by mainframes), but it also managed masses of data. As of now, what was on minis is now on PCs and, I some cases, what was on mainframes is now on PC networks, but Unix, Netware and NT run the networks.

Beach sees an increase in small-database applications: "With the appearance of fully functional relational databases at the low end, such as InterBase, Watcom [now Anywhere,] SQL from Sybase, and Personal Oracle, many developers have realized the benefits of replacing their Paradox, dBase, Access and similar applications with real database applications, whether single-user or multi-user. We have many customers who develop small applications which can run independently on a laptop, for example, but scale to full servers supporting hundreds of users."

Given proper scalability and portability, open source databases, according to Beach, can outclass the dBASE-Paradox-Access structure, which "lack functionality and run out of steam." Beach also takes issue with the jaundiced view of small-scale database applications: "If this is a dead area, why did Microsoft announce a cut-down version of SQL Server when it launched SQL Server 7.0 as a replacement for Access? Microsoft may not be the fastest moving company in the world, but they are not stupid," Beach said.

A key condition for InterBase to be successful with IB 6.0 – or any other business in the field – is to find a niche in the enterprise model: large, distributed databases served on a network connected via LAN, WAN and Internet to clients with controlled access.

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Janos Gereben