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June 8, 1989

TELECOMPUTING LOOKS TO TOP-ONE FOR UNIX, VMS TO EASE THE UPHILL CLIMB

By CBR Staff Writer

A British expert systems company that isn’t research-based is Telecomputing Plc of Oxford, which made its fortunes through teleprocessing monitors for ICL mainframes, when, six years ago, its chairman Bernard Panton sank over UKP3m in developing the Top One expert system building product for both ICL and IBM mainframes which was launched in 1987. Last August the company signed a licensing agreement with Logic Programming Associates of Wandsworth, London, to add the flex (sic) toolkit for MS-DOS to Top-One. Version 1.2 of flex has just been released and includes graphical frame representations, an optional program development environment, intelligent syntax analysis and automatic error correction. Telecomputing sells the flex package for UKP5,000 which includes the options of sending two people on a three-day training course, a year’s telephone support, entitlement to any new releases, and up to five days on-site consultancy. The licence charges for the Top-One/flex system range from UKP15,000 for a single user on mainframe to UKP90,000 for a full multi-user access system. Truth be told though, Telecomputing is finding it a hard slog back to full financial strength on the basis of Top One. Only 13 toolkits have been sold so far, seven on ICL mainframes and six on IBM mainframes, and all sales have been made in the UK. Richard Bell, business development manager for Telecomputing, sees the problem in terms of general management and shareholder awareness about expert systems. He feels the technology is given too low a profile in opinion forming publications which reach this audience, such as the Financial Times and The Director. In response, Telecomputing runs free day-long executive briefings at other companies to demonstrate what can be done with expert systems to enhance specific businesses. Asked about statements that Prolog (the language that both Top-One and flex are written in) is dying, Bell replied that there has always been a lack of Prolog programmers, but that the natural language facility, Knowledge Specific Language, on flex somewhat surmounted this problem regarding his firm’s products. Telecomputing will be ready with DEC VAX and Unix versions of Top-One at the start of next year. Time will tell whether it can hold its own with the likes of Neuron Data. –

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