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 (http://www.bkeeneybriefs.com/2009/03/real-studio-the-good-the-bad-the-ugly/, http://www.bkeeneybriefs.com/2008/11/changes-at-real-software-part-deux/) 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?