REAL Server Discontinued

REAL Software quietly announced on the NUG yesterday that REAL Server is no longer part of its stable of products.  They also said that current licenses for REAL Server will be honored by SQLabs, the once and current owner of the product.

This is not particularly good news for those that use REAL Server.  REAL Server was a product that was heavily hyped for several years and is no longer available for sale and support through REAL Software.

The good news is that the product isn’t going away.  REAL Server (or REAL SQL Server for those that have been around long enough) was purchased from SQLabs years ago and the primary developer, Marco Bambini, became a REAL Software employee and continued development of the product.

Marco and REAL Software parted ways several months ago.  It was not until this week that REAL Software acknowledged his departure and its effect.  It seems that as part of their separation deal, REAL Server will go back to SQLabs and be sold and supported by them.  More info here.

REAL Server, for those that don’t know the history, was originally written by Marco Bambini of SQLabs.  It was original called SQLite Server  and it made SQLite database files networkable and multi-user.

This was pretty exciting at the time because even though SQLite databases were lightweight and easy-to-use they didn’t work very well across network drives, it had none of the mechanisms required to handle multiple users, and it had no foreign key constraints.  From a certain perspective the acquisition and subsequent development of the product made sense from REAL Software’s perspective because it gave a migration path from the single-user SQLite database to an easy-to-use, install and administer database server.

Unfortunately, making SQLite into a database server proved to be difficult.  Until very recently, an SQLite database knew nothing about foreign key constraints (and even now you have to go out of your way to use them).  It also didn’t do any logic to handle concurrent users and all the headaches that go along with it (like record locking and user access control).  The fact the REAL Server did do some of this was a testament to how much work they put into it.  They fit the proverbial square peg into the proverbial round hole.

Unfortunately, REAL Server cost money and it was hard to compete against the MySQL and PostgreSQL database servers of the world which were mostly free.  For a while the license of MySQL was  a huge unknown mess (is it really any better now?) and REAL Server was marketed as a safe alternative to MySQL.

It’s hard to compete against free and well established database servers with hoards of developers contributing to it.  Foreign key constraints and stored procedures and all sorts of other goodies were already in MySQL and PostgreSQL and both continued to evolve with new features while REAL Server stagnated.

At REAL World 2008 Geoff Perlmann showed off a demo of a new version of REAL Software that allowed for plugins, written in c, to become its new pseudo stored procedures.  It was also supposed to show huge improvements in the number of concurrent users, have server side cursors, have client messaging and a host of other new features.

The demo was light on details but it was released later that year.  The last official release of REAL Server was in 2009.  However, many developers have found some of those new features to be buggy, and have stuck with the 2008 version.  Meanwhile, REAL Server has been stuck in perpetual beta since then with no appreciable work.  Now, users are stuck in limbo waiting for SQLabs to come up with a new release version.

Am I surprised by any of these developments?  No.  I always thought (, that REAL Server was a product waiting for an audience.  And, as I said earlier, it’s very hard to compete with free, especially when you get into all of the drawbacks.  Heaven help you if you tried to get REAL Server inside of a corporate environment where database servers are specified to the nth degree and require dedicated support personnel.

This news sucks – especially if you had invested a lot of time and effort into REAL Server development in your projects.  The lack of new versions in the past year should have been a good clue, though.  Also, there were very few posts about REAL Server in the REAL Software forums.

I feel that the focus on the hobbyist developer blinds RS, sometimes, to what professional developers will gladly pay for.  Don’t get me wrong, there are a LOT of hobbyist REAL Studio developers and that’s great, but it’s been my experience that the hobbyist developers can’t pay for much and REAL Studio was a cost (even as inexpensive as it was) that most couldn’t afford.

It was a losing battle from the start, really.  It’s too bad that RS had to go through the painful realization that buying and building upon a product sometimes isn’t good enough.  It was too expensive for hobbyist developers and it wasn’t powerful enough for the professional developers.

In a nutshell it never took off and that’s sad.  It was a distraction and a drain on resources during a time when multiple developers were laid off due to the hard economic times.  Cocoa is now running into its third year of development and one has to seriously wonder if the distraction of REAL Server, even if it was just one developer, cost them some serious development time.  Certainly one could argue the money spent on development and marketing of REAL Server could have been better spent on other things.

Ultimately, the message this sends to the community is not a very good one.  From now on, we, as users, will have to weigh the impact of relying upon any tool from the company since it may or may not be supported years from now.  Granted, in this case, REAL Server is finding a new home and there will be support for the foreseeable future but what about the next new thing?  Do we have to wonder about Linux or Web App support five years from now?

What are your thoughts?

9 thoughts on “REAL Server Discontinued

  1. Maybe it raises concerns but I could never see REAL make the decision MS made when it killed classic vb.
    Perhaps only companies with too much money can decide to kill a cash cow.
    If REAL server was profitable or had prospects I’m sure they’d have kept it going. It’s not in the interests of REAL customers if REAL continue to flog a dead horse.
    And at least unlike vb6 users REAL servers have been offered some kind of a path forward.

  2. @jjb
    Excellent point. At least there is a path forward and many products that get discontinued don’t have that opportunity (for me it was FreeHand which I greatly preferred over Illustrator). Of course, since REAL Server started as an outside product it’s not a huge Intellectual Property problem either.

  3. Interesting…

    So the database server was discontinued just as they introduce that new web platform? I looked at the web page for it. I wondered if it was as good as advertised; it said virtually unhackable, and that alone made me shiver a little. Sounded too good to be true on a few accounts.

    So is the new web platform supposed to be hyped to hide the dropping of the database server, cushion the blow, overshadow it…? I’m curious if the product is promising far more than it delivers.

  4. It’s a good thing that RS is coming out with the Web edition and bundling it with the Enterprise edition. Up till now, it was the database server that differentiated this product. The profiler, on its own, wasn’t enough to justify the difference in cost between Pro and Enterprise. Personally, I’d love to see more software development utilities as part of Enterprise (am I beating a dead horse?).

  5. @jjb
    VB a cash cow? That’s a laugh. The only cash cow at MSFT is VS TFS, and only because they charge an arm and a leg for it. *Every* other dev tool is a loss leader, which makes it very easy to decide to kill off for a company with other products to sell.

  6. @aaron
    I can’t contradict you but it surprises me to hear that MS couldn’t make money from the classic vb editions. If vb6 wasn’t a profitable product it makes you wonder how any development tool company survives.
    On a tangent, I don’t know much about, how does what it is designed to do differ from REAL web edition?

  7. @jjb-It wasn’t a cash cow like Windows or Office. It’s a razor. You know…give away the razor, sell the razor blades for profit? You get the developer tools out there and you get developers making applications that generates cash indirectly. Windows sales, support sales, application sales, along with a thriving developer community. There’s resistance to going into Apple development in part because of a smaller developer community; you run into problems, who do you turn to? Where are solutions readily available? Since there’s a huge pool for Windows programmers that’s not such an issue (although with the issues I’ve run into with supporting Win apps you’d think otherwise but that’s a different issue altogether).

    It surprises me how many people I’ve encountered that don’t seem to understand that model. Probably because in proposing such a thing there’s an inherent risk to pursuing it.

  8. Hi Bart
    Yes, I understand that model, e.g inkjet printers are sold cheap to make a market for expensive ink cartridges.
    I just thought that maybe VB, being such a bestseller, might have made a profit on its own account. At the very least it must have been the least unprofitable product from Microsoft’s development tools division
    Vendors of development tools that don’t have an underlying OS to sell also have to make a profit.
    REALbasic must be a profitable product and its sales can ony be a fraction of what VB’s were etc.
    Anyway it doesn’t matter as I am only speculating.
    What I really want to know is when Aaron is going to start blogging again!

  9. @jjb
    I don’t think VB really made any money for Microsoft. It didn’t “sell well”, it had a large install base. One doesn’t necessarily imply the other.

    As for when I’ll start blogging again, who knows. Every time I go “I should write a blog post” I end up whining “but that sounds like it takes effort!” 😉

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