DBASE . It was the first management system database widely used for micro computers , published by Ashton-Tate for CP / M . The .dbf file was used in many of the applications to store data.


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  • 1 General
  • 2 Genesis
  • 3 Vulcan
  • 4 dBase II
  • 5 dBase III and dBase III Plus
  • 6 dbase IV
  • 7 Sources


The original creator of dBase was Wayne Ratliff. DBase was the great database development of the 1980s. Under the baton of the firm Ashton Tate, a company that gave rise to a very simple and powerful database interpreter : dBbase II. Then came the dBase III + which was all the rage, and the stage of decline for dBase: dBase IV, already under the leadership of Borland .


In 1975 C. Wayne Ratliff was an engineer who had worked as a programmer for the Martin Marietta Corporation (a major NASA contractor ) since 1969 , and whose career had been quite outstanding. Back then he was developing a data management system called MFILE, which would later be used by the Viking spacecraft during its expedition to Mars in 1976 .

The football season had started and Ratliff ventured into a bet with some of his friends, despite the fact that the details of the game were unknown. Relying on his knowledge of mathematics and programming , Ratliff decided that he would write a program that would analyze statistics from previous games in order to be able to make accurate predictions.

The only problem is that in those days there was no program that could do what he wanted. What’s more, personal computers were just beginning to make an appearance, and they still suffered from many problems in addition to lacking standards in the nascent market.

After a brief analysis of the situation, Ratliff became convinced that his task would be nothing short of impossible, and instead of worrying about football, he turned his attention to developing a database manager, thinking that he might have some commercial possibilities.

Strongly influenced by the 2001 movie  : A Space Odyssey , Ratliff was excited by the idea of ​​being able to use natural language to communicate directly with the computer, just as HAL 9000 did on the famous tape. A friend of Ratliff’s named Gerry Snyder had an IMSAI 8080 computer in his possession that, although quite primitive, seemed to accommodate Ratliff’s needs, and he immediately decided to purchase one.

Modeling a program developed by NASA called JPLDIS (Jet Propulsion Laboratory Data-management and Information System), Ratliff began writing his database handler in the IMSAI assembly language in January 1978 .

By the end of January , the .DBF format had been born and the first commands of its program, which Ratliff decided to call Vulcan , were ready.


Vulcano was developed under the PTDOS operating system, but the company that distributed it (Processor Technology) was about to disappear, so Ratliff thought it would be wise to migrate its code to a more widespread operating system : CP / M (the predecessor from MS-DOS). In 1979 , the JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratory) of NASA ‘s first customer Ratliff turned acquiring an exclusive license for the price of five programs.

With this license, JPL employees became test pilots for the new software , and with his comments, Ratliff was increasingly polishing his product. In October 1979, he was encouraged to place an ad in the popular BYTE magazine , and orders began to arrive. Ratliff was still working for Martin Marietta, so he had only his spare time to meet the requests that came from the program. Subjected to an excessive amount of work, Ratliff’s personal life began to become disastrous, and his marriage was soon in serious trouble.

By the summer of 1980 , about 60 copies of Vulcano had been sold , which was good for that time. However, Ratliff was convinced that he could no longer distribute the show himself, and withdrew the BYTE ad determined to let the project die unless someone else took over the marketing. When Ratliff was in negotiations with a professor at the University of Washington who was interested in Vulcan , two unique characters appeared: George Tate and Hal Lashlee , who then had a tiny software distribution company.called Discount Software .

After witnessing a demonstration of the Vulcan , Tate and Lashlee offered Ratliff to take over the sales of the program in exchange for a commission. After signing a one-year agreement, they went to work on their most urgent problem: they had to change the name of the program, given that a Florida company threatened to sue them because they were marketing an operating system with the same name.

dBase II

Vulcanoit is ported to the IMSAI 8080, it is renamed to dBase II (Tate considers that a version 2 will give a more serious image and a more elaborate product) and from there to CP / M, where video interface support commands are added ( in text mode), and support for flow control (such as DO WHILE / ENDDO) and conditional logic (such as IF / ENDIF). For data handling, dBase provides detailed procedural commands and functions for opening and navigating tables (such as USE, SKIP, GO TOP, GO BOTTOM, and GO recno), manipulating values ​​in fields (REPLACE and STORE), and manipulating character strings (such as STR () and SUBSTR ()), Dates, and Numbers.

It is very successful, and is included in the software packages distributed with the Osborne 1, the Kaypro range of computers and other equipment. The birth of personal computers make it used to create professional programs on computers such as the Amstrad CPC and Amstrad PCW ranges, the Commodore 128 and MSX computers with a disk drive (the MSX-DOS supports the CP / M 8080 and Z80 executables. ).

Lashlee drafted an extremely radical ad titled “dBASE II vs. the bilge-pump,” and which he signed as Ashton-Tate. On a piece of paper was not only the new name of the program but also the name of the company that would sell it. After signing the agreement with Ashton-Tate, Ratliff introduced some more changes to his program, in order to make a more marketable product that could compete with the fearsome DataStar of the then powerful MicroPro (authors of WordStar ). For February of 1981 they began arriving orders.

The dBase II sold very well, and by the end of 1981 Ratliff had to hire other people to help him write modifications requested by some customers. In mid- 1982 , with business going from strength to strength, Ratliff decided to quit his job to devote himself entirely to working at dBase.

The problems started in 1983 , when Ratliff realized that Ashton-Tate was paying him only 30% of his royalties. In addition, they began to handle the dBase as if it belonged to them, in the face of Ratliff’s growing displeasure that, meanwhile, he was dedicating himself full time to making improvements to his program.

The tension escalated when Ashton-Tate began pressuring Ratliff to sell them all of the dBASE rights, and he refused to do so. After a brief struggle, he finally accepted, and an agreement was signed on his copyright and other legal details of ownership of the program. This agreement also stipulated that Ratliff would be appointed Vice President of New Technologies.

But Ratliff was tired of dealing with so many problems, and soon afterwards decided to take a break to devote himself to reading about his old hobby: natural language processing. The exile lasted a short time, because by the end of 1983 he was already back, before the pleas of Ashton-Tate, who needed his help to complete the new version of the dBase (written in C language) that would be launched on the market in response to the R : BASE, a new product that jeopardized its leadership position.

dBase III and dBase III Plus

In record time of just 4 months, the experienced Ratliff and a team of 6 programmers produced dBase III, which was released on June 14 , 1984 . Upon completion of his mission, Ratliff once again returned to his self-isolation, and stayed out of the development of the dBase III Plus. With the passage of time, their disagreements grew more and more, especially since their opinion seemed to have less and less weight in the extensions that were made to dBase.

The original versions were written in the assembly language, but as the program grew, the decision was made to rewrite the code in the C language. The result was that recent machines ran the code well, but old machines did not. Also, he had the collateral problem that programs ran slower. This problem disappeared “only” as the power of the hardware gradually increased.

Version 1.0, released in 1984 , contained numerous bugs that were fixed in version 1.1. There was also a version 1.2, which was presented as “Developer’s edition”.

In 1986 , dBase III + was introduced, which included an improved kernel and text character-based menus for use by end users. It also provided a first support for local network.

dbase IV

In August of 1984 George Tate died in an attack on the heart on his desk, as a result of an overdose of cocaine . With his death , Ed Esber , (Visicorp’s former vice president of marketing) took command of Ashton-Tate, only to make matters worse. Esber tipped the scales too close to marketing, forgetting about technology .

Ratliff, its most valuable programmer, decided to resign from the company in January 1986 , leaving only a development team that released dBase IV almost 2 years behind schedule, strongly weakening the company’s position in the market. In the spring of 1990 , Esber was forced to leave Ashton-Tate as dBase IV was riddled with errors, and the recent $ 41 million loss was a clear indication that it was losing market by leaps and bounds. The dream was finally over.

In 1988 the new version came out, which announced better features and new functionalities such as SQL support, local network support, compiler , among others, although in reality it was terribly slow and unstable. Although it incorporated a compiler, it produced only object code and not an executable, which was not what the market and developers expected. This last point fed Clipper enough to bury her.

It took 2 years to present version 1.1, which corrected the instability problems. By then, Paradox and especially Clipper had already thrown it off the market.


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