Despite having some good software and a fair degree of capital, Four Seasons Software Inc is still relatively unknown in the application development market, reports our sister publication Software Futures. Four Seasons is originally a Dutch company, with its co-founders having experience in commercial Unix applications software development stretching back to the early 1980s. The software that was later named SuperNova comes from the 1988-timeframe work on a ‘virtual engine’ approach to fourth generation languages; the team developed a completely system- independent, recompilable, portable environment. This tool, however, was not just radically system-independent. To aid productivity, object orientation and traditional procedural features were added, enabling the developer to use whichever approach they prefer. One of the biggest guns in SuperNova’s feature armory, of course, is the fact that it has been able to do what we now call application partitioning since 1991. SuperNova is widely hailed as a terrific piece of software engineering. Sister publication Client Server Tools Bulletin summed it up nicely in October 1996: SuperNova is a brilliant piece of software: cleanly designed, based on profound insights into the working of client/server systems, and loaded with exciting and useful features. Its application partitioning support is more powerful and far easier to use than that offered by Forte Software Inc and Dynasty Technologies Inc. It runs on just about every computer system you could ask for apart from mainframes – and it can even access mainframe data sources if necessary. Just as much as Java or Magic, and more so than Smalltalk, a SuperNova application is completely portable with respect to hardware, operating system, user interface, data access, and networking. The product scales from small applications to huge ones with thousands of clients, 500 application servers, and mainframes in the background. And it doesn’t even cost very much considering the power and flexibility that it delivers.
Competitors imprinted like logic
Yet in a way none of this matters: for the hot application development environment vendors’ names imprinted like logic in an EPROM in the delegates’ brains at shows like DB/Expo are: Forte Software Inc, Dynasty Technologies Inc and Seer Technologies Inc. Four Seasons is invisible out there. Thus, the company has realized that it must raise its profile and is experimenting with various forms of marketing. Last year, the circa $9m company won $5m venture capital funding from a clutch of European and US investment fund groups, to expand and strengthen its worldwide marketing efforts, particularly those in the United States. Ron Heusdens, Four Seasons’ director of business development, has been leading some of that work. He knows the challenge. You’d be surprised how small a part of the market really understands what three-tiered is, he laments – and hence, what his tool could do for them in that context, or even with the Web. But the answer isn’t to say ‘We can do everything’. The question is how to build mind share in a niche first. His current tack is to try and build on what he laughs is somewhat boring, the promise of extension of the lifetime of legacy applications. The company has won a prestigious ‘in’ at newly-public Deutsche Telekom, one of the top five telecom providers in the world. The $1.5m contract is all about unhooking the base logic and business rules trapped in a green-screen fourth-generation language application and extending – yet preserving – that 1,000 seat application’s usefulness. So that’s a useful, perhaps amazingly useful, facility. Is it enough to win the right mind share? No, sadly. Having great software is only steps one and two in a forty step ladder to fame and buying a yacht.