|Volume 2: No. 02|
Rear Admiral Grace Hopper, 85, died in her sleep on New Year's Day. Her Navy programming career began in 1943 with the Mark I -- for the Bureau of Ordnance Computation at Harvard University -- after getting a Ph.D. at Yale and teaching at Vassar. She worked with John Von Neumann, then joined the Eckert-Mauchly Corporation (later absorbed by Rand and then Sperry) in 1949 to work on the Univac I. She is considered the mother of COBOL, which grew from the Flow-Matic language she developed for Sperry Rand. Admiral Hopper has long been a spokeswoman for language standardization, innovation, and youth. "If it's a good idea, go ahead and do it. It's much easier to apologize than it is to get permission." [John S. Garavelli (firstname.lastname@example.org), bionet.info-theory, 1/3; and Mitch Betts, CW, 1/6.] Much of her innovation in machine-independent compilers and relocatable object code stemmed from her lack of computing budget at the Pentagon. Her team had to load and test their code in whatever time was left at the end of production shifts. Although she's had many successes, she nearly got in trouble for teaching a Pentagon computer to speak German. It was a simple keyword substitution (SPRUNGE for JUMP, etc.), but raised enough hackles that she had to deny the stunt and ridicule the idea of an American computer reading German.
The last five years have been good for technology companies, according to the Inc. 500 list. Firms offering PC-based products and services account for 10% of the list, and 40% of the technology firms were based on software-related products or services. (Hardware and service companies grew faster than software companies.) [Nell Margolis, CW, 1/6.] Many other companies have entered bankruptcy, unable to survive rapid growth.
New-business incorporations are down from 1986. Reasons may be lack of bank credit or the elimination of capital-gains tax breaks. People are finding jobs rather than starting businesses. Start-ups should increase again in a couple of years, as more people reach the entrepreneurial age of 40-50. [David Birch, Inc., 10/91.] A Dun & Bradstreet report shows that California incorporations in 1990 were down 19% over 1989; New England was down 11%. Two regions -- the Pacific Northwest and South Central regions -- showed slight increases. [Inc., 10/91.]
Business purchases, however, are more popular than ever. Susan Pravda (Milgrim Thomajan & Lee, Boston) recommends finding an elderly seller who has no idea what the business is worth, but who wants you to "take care of his baby." [Inc., 10/91.] If you can't agree with a seller on the value of a business, consider an earn-out agreement. If the business does as well as the seller predicts, you pay a bonus. This works especially well if the seller will still be contributing to the business for several years. Be careful: short-term earn-outs may discourage R&D or other long-term investment. [Jill Andresky Fraser, Inc., 10/91.]
Many companies have gone public recently, which is usually a good sign for the companies and for the economy. Some of the IPOs this year were: Thinking Machines Corp. (Cambridge, MA), with 30% of the business market for massively parallel systems; Compression Labs, Inc. (San Jose, CA) and Picturetel Corp. (Peabody, MA), two video-conferencing companies; Go Corp. (Foster City, CA), developer of the Penpoint object-oriented operating system; Ross Systems, Inc. (Redwood City, CA), VAX software developer; Input/Output, Inc. (Stafford, TX), specialist in data acquisition systems for exploration; Platinum Technology, Inc. (Lombard, IL), DB-2 software and training; Quarterdeck Office Systems, Inc. (Santa Monica, CA), PC memory management utilities; Sybase, Inc. (Emeryville, CA), relational DBMS; and Bachman Information Systems, Inc. (Cambridge, MA), CASE and re-engineering tools. [Alan J. Ryan, CW, 12/23.] (Watch for job openings due to the newly available capital.)
Novell, Inc. will invest $700K in Serius Corp., an object- oriented software developer for Apple. Two venture firms are also contributing. Novell's immediate goal is to improve network directory services. A larger goal is to match every advantage that Microsoft's NT operating system might deliver. Serius makes Serius Programmer, a graphic language with 45 application functions -- spreadsheet, word processor, etc. -- that can be integrated with custom code. [Jim Nash, CW, 1/6.]
Grant Dove, chairman of MCC, will take on additional duties as a "special partner" in Technology Strategies & Alliances (Menlo Park, CA), a high-tech strategic-planning and investment-banking firm. [CW, 1/6.]
Many insurance companies are replacing old mainframes in order to stay competitive through the next decade, according to David Schmaltz of Standard Insurance Co. Such companies are willing to consider AI, LANs, pen-based computers, CASE, open systems, client/server architectures (or distributed systems), document imaging systems, OCR, and other advanced technologies. Expert systems are being tested for systems design as well as assisting claims adjusters and brokers. There are excellent career (and sales) opportunities for people who understand the mainframes and the incoming systems. [Emily Leinfuss, CW, 12/2.]
What makes a company undertake a software development project? A recent survey of 123 IS managers and chief information officers showed that 39% of projects were critical to core business, 27% affected profitability, and 24% were for competitive advantage. That leaves just 10% for other justifications. [CW, 12/2.] You're more likely to win funding if you understand your client's business. Another inference is that an industry on hard times (such as the advertising industry, at the moment) is likely to make funds available for essential projects.
Tim Finin (email@example.com) has been active in AI applications conferences and journals. He'd like to remind Computists of the 8th IEEE Conference on AI for Applications (CAIA-92), March 2-6 in Monterey, CA. Some of the talks and panels will cover NASA applications; standards for knowledge representations; software patents; and fuzzy If-Then rules. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for an advance program.