This Memorial Day weekend’s hit movie is bound to be the sequel to Stephen Spielberg’s 1994 dinosaur epic Jurassic Park, The Lost World, whose tagline is that Something Has Survived. Has something equally terrible, monstrous and jungle-shaking survived from the ruins of the very troubled application development tool and professional services specialist Blyth Software Inc? For there is a company that hasn’t had a profitable quarter since around the time the last T.Rex roared in the night, has been in its own words in a mode of deep research and development silence since December 1995, and which in the words of its new president and CEO has been doing marginal marketing for 2 and a half years.
By Gary Flood
Founded in the UK in 1984, the company started as an Apple and MS-DOS software tool provider, claiming the ‘first’ Mac database development tools in 1985. It went on to release a range of object-oriented products under the ‘Omnis’ label, with its Omnis 7 client/server tool debuting in 1991. But in all those epochs of the Earth that Blyth struggled on, the odds against its survival rivaled the deadliness of the asteroid that is held to have canceled the tickets of the dinos 65 million years ago. Such is the litany of disasters that the company even has a ‘blunders and bad breaks’ section in its press and analyst tour collateral. These mishaps include launching its IPO on Black Wednesday in 1987, the sudden death of its founder in 1989, a release of its product in 1992 that broke the old code customers already had, the decision to try and continue charging runtime license charges in 1994, which went down like a cup of cold vomit in the mouths of the marketplace, and the decision only last year to begin actively competing with its own VARs (who represent the majority of its customers) by developing more consulting and professional services offerings of its own. The company has also been hurt by its decision to raise cash by issuing convertible debentures against its own stock price, the redemption of which are partly responsible for at least $300,000 of its higher-than-expected fourth quarter losses.
To clear the debt $1.4m had to be paid back on $1m worth, leaving $650,000 of the original $7.3m principal still to be repaid. The company says that the move would have paid off better if Blyth (as it then was) had seen a revenue uptick, but instead the stock was crushed (it has been less than $3 for over a year and has been at less than $1 for most of that time) due to its ongoing struggles. The firm, however, whose headquarters are in Foster City, California, claims to has been newly reinvented from its original DNA. Renamed Omnis Software Inc as of last month, the company has a new president and CEO, Tim Negris, who originally joined in November, originally as VP for marketing and development. Negris has 15 years of software marketing experience corporations including IBM (where he was vice president of sale and marketing for its Software Solutions Division), Oracle, Sybase, Ingres and Amdahl, so one wonders why he went to a company with $10.4m turnover for 1996-97 (fourth quarter and year end figures have yet to be released but are expected to show large losses). He answered by claiming he saw real math and science underlying the product, which lends itself to efficient handling of all manner of hierarchies and relationships. Plus, the result of all that R&D has now been officially rolled out into the ecosystem last week at a rather low-key DB/Expo in San Francisco.
This is Omnis Studio, reckoned by the firm to be the first Rapid Application Development tool for what Netscape Communications Corp has started to dub ‘crossware.’ Studio incorporates a Rapid Component Integrator and a Rapid Web Integrator, and is claimed to be a complete cross-component (in the sense of ActiveX and JavaBean) engineering system, offering such features as a hybrid- interpreted code execution environment, transparent cross- platform client desktop support, local and portable data access, and support for hundreds of intelligent classes and objects. Its Omnis Script language also supports Active X, Java Beans, and its own Omnis Native components. The idea is to that Studio thus effectively ends the component war, in Negris’ words. One can send in Java, OCX, ActiveX, C++ and Omnis Native code into Studio and get web enabled results in FTP, HTTP client (and server), SMTO/POP3 and TCP/IP. Omnis Studio is priced at $1,599 with the ancilliary products Omnis Studio Data Access Manager running at $300 less and the Studio Production Manager (a central repository for objects) at $799. But that doesn’t mean Studio is yet another web enabled tool only. He believes that most of us have got the idea of web-enabled applications skew-wiff to start with, since we have been thinking about a web browser like Netscape or Microsoft Explorer as being the user interface for such applications. But in his view, the browser is the wrong interface for web enabled applications, given that it is not built for business tasks but for handling document and forms. Hence we shall all soon be quickly moving to building and deploying the browser-less web enabled app, with products like Communicator and Memphis (Windows 9x) showing the way in terms of the front end and tools like Studio being the development environment of choice. If Negris is right, then the genetically reconstituted baby company really is back in start-up mode. It may well be in a position to broaden out Netscape’s tantalizing crossware idea yet include the other half of the component sky, ActiveX, with the software mitigating the conflict in a practical way in Negris’ opinion. He claims that interest is reawakening in the reborn Omnis, with its web site, which used to get 2,000 hits a month, now handling 100,000. The proof that Omnis really is adaptable to today’s world, though, will come when it expands from its rabidly loyal user base of 600 organizations worldwide and gets some new sites. Then we can know that it really has Survived.