Wednesday, January 9, 2008

What we can learn from the movie "City Slickers"

Couldn't sleeep the other night and watched a rerun of the movie City Slickers. Billy Crystal was great in that movie but I digress.

Jack Palance as the tough guy cowboy was noted for the line "what's your one thing?" In otherwords what is most important to you? In the context of the movie Billy learned that his family was the most important thing to him. From a humanistic viewpoint that's the way it should be with all of us in the software business. But from a business perspective there are actually two things you need to value and protect at all costs. To neglect either could spell death for your software firm.

What are these two things?

I'm no Jack Palance so I can't use intimidation to drive my point home. So I'll just have to rely on logic here. The two most important things to any software business are the customer list and the source code. Put either at risk and you are just plain foolish. Period.

Which leads me to question the lack of thought some software company executives and owners put into their partner or component vendor selection process. Since most software applications require a backend database lets take a quick look at the spectrum of alternatives for a moment.

To the "radical" left of the database alternative spectrum we have "open source" databases like MySQL and a considerable number of also rans and wannabees. To the monopolistic far right of the spectrum we have Microsoft with its various versions of MS SQL Server. To compete with MySQL Microsoft also has a free version which is limited in capacity called Microsoft SQL Server Express.

Many startup software companies take a very short-sighted view when it comes to selecting their database vendor. Their criteria is soley initial price. They don't do their homework and believe that Open Source databases like MySQL are free. Which are not when distributed with a commercial software application. Often according to the various GPL's out there if you distribute your application with an open source database then your application source code needs to be available to anyone who asks; free of charge. For your application is now considered open source. Talk about leaving the door to the chicken coop open and letting all the chickens run free!

On the other end of the spectrum you've got software startups who make the default decision of going with Microsoft SQL Server Express. "It's free after all and if my customers run out of room with the free version of MS SQL well then they can just buy it from Microsoft on their own." is often the phrase used to justify this abdication of responsbility. Do you realize what you are doing here? First off your customers are not getting a complete turnkey solution. Second when they run out of space on the free MS SQL Express they will be calling you with the problem and blaming you for not telling them about the several thousand dollars in database expenses they'll have to pony up to Microsoft to stay functional. Moreover you've just managed to build into your customers' life cycle an extra decision point that your largest customers will reach first. And that decision is this; since we're faced with a large unanticipated database cost now anyway; shouldn't we re-examine if we have the right application at this point?

Understand too that all your large customers who stick with you and buy the commercial version of MS SQL will now have to establish a direct relationship with Microsoft. Do you realise that in effect you have just turned over your customer list over to the largest monopolistic predator in the history of computer software? Just ask Netscape, Borland and a large number of other innovative software companies what it feels like to have Microsoft wrapped around its' neck in a snake-like fashion. Can you feel the squeeze?

If using open source is like leaving the chicken coop door open and letting your chickens run free then using Microsoft is like opening the chicken coop door and inviting the fox in for a visit.

One threatens your code the other your customer list.

Where to turn you ask?

This is one of those rare instances where I will go commercial for a moment when I strongly suggest you give SQL Anywhere a try. It's a commercial product so there is a fixed royalty attached which varies by quantity; but your customers will get a complete turnkey solution and you maintain control of your customer list! By going with SQL Anywhere not only are you joining over 1,000 OEM software partners just like you but you are protecting both your software code and your customer list! Don't be "chicken" give it a try!

You can download a free developer's version of the product which is full-featured by pointing your browser to:

If you have any questions feel free to email me at:

Perhaps in addition to just reading my blog you'll decide to give me the opportunity of helping out your business.

James Gingerich
Sr Partner Account Manager
Sybase iAnywhere

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