Long ago -- in the distant past of a computer so storied that it has a distant past -- 4GLs promised extra hours on the clock and extra days on the calendar. Although HP tried for a foothold in 4th Generation Languages, only two companies made a 3000 business of it. Both Cognos and Speedware products still drive 3000s today, 28 years after the ad above appeared in Interact magazine.
Speedware didn't use its product name to indentify the company back then. Starting this week, it will once again have a name that differs from its established 4GL. It was Infocentre back then, a company with a word in its name spelled differently. Now it's Fresche Legacy, but it's still supporting the same 4GL that it was selling three decades ago.
Fresche Legacy's president and CEO Andy Kulakowski said this week that Speedware, the 4GL, remains in place on the new company's price list. He even promised there will be enhancements, some to the version of the 4GL that runs on 3000s -- if customers demand them. The ISV Softvoyage, for example, still builds its travel-business apps on a bedrock of Speedware.
"As they need new features in the wide variety of operating systems they support," Kulakowski said, "we continue to evolve Speedware to support them. That will continue based on customer demand. We feel very loyal to those customers. We still have resources in house that are continuing to make changes to those products. There are a couple of enhancements that were made over the course of this year for the 4GL."
Several other products at Fresche Legacy have HP 3000 connections, but they relate to the ability to migrate or alternative-host MPE/iX applications and data. Kulakowski said those products have a future in the new company business plan, too.
"We continue to invest in the Speedware software tools," he said in the re-branding interview last week. "Our customers are still on active support contracts.We don’t have any plans to decline our interests anywhere. This is a growth story, this isn’t a replacement story."
New sales of 4GLs on MPE/iX are a long-shot at best, for both Cognos as well as Fresche Legacy. The president acknowledged that customers who want new Speedware features, for example, are much more likely to deploy them on non-MPE versions of what are now called Advanced Development Tools (ADT).
"We see much less demand from the 3000 customer, but we’ll evolve the [ADT] product to meet their needs," the company's president said. "With MPE being in the state that it’s in, if customers have environments where applications are evolving, growing or critical to the business, it’s quite likely that they’re looking to migrate and transform that onto a lower-risk platform."
Kulakowski was speaking of a Speedware platform. The company says it's been migrating 3000 sites for 15 years, farther back than the HP exit announcement -- because a migration before 2002 was likely to be from one platform of Speedware to another.
That experience in 3000 migrations gave Speedware a road into the future. Activant purchased the company to capitalize on the newer application-based customers which Speedware Ltd. acquired in the post-HP-exit years. But Activant only cared about the migration business at Speedware because it was high-profit, Kulakowski explained.
"In that era, having been owned by Activant Solutions, they were not interested in sustaining this business for very long," he said. "They didn’t know the HP 3000 migration community, and they were somewhat indifferent to it. Because we were a very solid business, they were very interested in the operating margins we generated with it."
Migration skills can be transferred between markets, however, if a company can locate and acquire the human resource and tools for a fresh market. In the MPE world the tool AMXW, purchased from Neartek in 2003, powered many of the Speedware migrations. Over the past year its legacy modernization business has been in the IBM marketplace. Speedware has acquired software tools there, as well as skills in the OS 400 and mainframe Series Z technologies. Kulakowski says the IBM success in 2011 reduced the element of risk in buying itself back from Activant in 2010.
"This year we got a lot of validation on how to sustain our business," he said, "and why we were anxious to buy our business from the previous owners. We got validation on the kind of skills we have and how leveragable they are in other markets. With our ability to provide new skills there, we reduced a lot of risk in that original [repurchase] investment."
So while software will remain a part of business at Fresche Legacy, newer opportunities beckon from outside an era where a product which cut code faster than COBOL development was the engine for company growth. Moving customers gave Speedware a way to move itself, even while its software remains in place.
"While we were developing our expertise in HP 3000 migration, we were sitting back and looking at this in self defense," Kulakowski said of the other platform skills. "We have expanded beyond the HP 3000 community to something larger than only the 3000 space. Especially after this year, we can say confidently we got a lot validation in those new markets. But we have abolutely no plans on sunsetting enhancements to the Speedware family of products."