The (very unofficial) History of JPI, Clarion and SoftVelocity


Clarion Software Corporation

Clarion Software was created in Pompano Beach, Florida, by Bruce Barrington in 1982. Barrington had previously made his money with a company called HBO, a health care services company. HBO's success was down to the technology that Bruce had used, and so he formed a new company, Clarion,  to take advantage of it. The company's only development product, Clarion Professional Developer (CPD), allowed users to rapidly create programs without the problems of conventional development tools.

The goal behind CPD was to create a complete and all inclusive programming environment similar to what was provided by mini computer vendors. You did not have to buy addons for database, editor, help, etc. Version 2 of CPD added the model file and AppGen (then called Designer) and the dictionary concept to generate much of your code for you. It allowed developers to rapidly create programs, but the programs weren't as fast as those produced by other tools.

Clarion realised they needed new technology to underpin the Clarion language and future versions of the Clarion product, and so in 1990 Barrington went shopping for a new compiler.  

Jensen & Partners International

JPI was created in 1986 by Niels Jensen.  Jensen had originally created Borland, and was the man responsible for Turbo Pascal. In the mid-1980's Jensen had an argument with Borland management, who wanted to buy in a C compiler from outside for their line of development tools.  Jensen wanted to write one of their own, and it was eventually this disagreement that resulted in him and his entire development team leaving Borland to set up their own company.  They based themselves in an attic office at 63 Clerkenwell Road in London, not far from Farringdon station.  A sales office was established in Bedford, then later in Harpenden.

Jensen and his team produced a new range of compilers, trademarked TopSpeed.  The TopSpeed compilers were available in 4 languages - Modula-2, Pascal, C and C++.  The Pascal compiler was the worst in the product line, and never really competed with Borland's Turbo Pascal.  The Modula-2 compiler was the best, but faced the problem that Modula-2 was really only used in academic institutions and never had as much commercial success as other languages.  (JPI did announce that they intended to produce an Ada compiler, but it never happened).

All through the 80's JPI fought a losing battle against the other vendors.  In compiler comparisons they received good reviews, but never seemed to break through to the big time. Although the products were technically competent and produced fast, small code it didn't help.  Their Windows and OS/2 development tools were always slightly behind the times and not as intuitive to use as other tools of the era. The late '80s were a tough time for JPI financially, with the ever looming prospect that they would go out of business.

Clarion and JPI Merge

At the end of 1992  it was officially announced that Clarion and JPI had merged, although the merger actually took place 6 months earlier in April 1992.   JPI, now renamed the TopSpeed Development Centre (TSDC), would continue to develop software for the newly-merged companies.  Clarion (the company) would continue to market and support Clarion (the product).  The first product of the union was Clarion Database Developer (CDD), although the introduction of the product was not without problems - 9 different versions of CDD made it's way into developer's hands in 18 months, with numerous complaints of too many patches too quickly, bug regressions and problems with the patching process itself. 

A rose by any other name 

In 1994 Clarion Software was officially renamed TopSpeed Corporation in an attempt to make the products more visible and recognisable (and, potentially, to dis-associate themselves with the debacle that was CDD 3.x?)  . Clarion (both the product and the company) had always had a problem of being confused with other products and companies named Clarion, including Clarion car stereo. (Click here for a Yahoo! search on "Clarion"). Since TopSpeed was a trademark of JPI, it was thought that using the name would make the company more identifiable, and would play on the successful TopSpeed name that JPI had developed in the 1980's - even though the original TopSpeed products had been consigned to the scrap heap and the only development work being done was on Clarion.

TopSpeed Development Centre

Throughout the merger and Clarion name change JPI (now renamed TSDC) remained a separate company, on exclusive contract to Clarion Software, although the impression given to the users at the time of the merger was that they were all one big happy family. More on this later.

In the mid-1990's the lease on the building at 63 Clerkenwell Road expired, so TSDC moved a few miles up the road to 16 Baltic Street ( I don't have a problem with disclosing the address, as you can get it from a number of places, including Dun & Bradstreet, British Telecom or Ask Alex )

Clarion Development Continues

Throughout the 1990's TopSpeed continued to develop it's Clarion product, although they still seemed to suffer from the old JPI problems of too little too late, or re-inventing the wheel because they thought they could do it better.  It's been a long-standing problem of TSDC that they develop software that they find interesting, not software that developers want.  That's not to say that the people at TSDC are stupid - they're some of the brightest people I know - but the development cycle was always lead by projects they wanted to work on, instead of projects that were actually marketable.  The prime example of this was the introduction of Wizatrons in Clarion 5, which most people ignored whilst asking repeatedly for better OLE and COM support.

Database Technologies and eData

One big Clarion customer in the early 90's, just across the road from the TopSpeed office, was Database Technologies.  DBT specialises in storing very large quantities of data, including drivers license numbers and credit histories, and allows insurance companies, law firms, private investigators, and law enforcement and government agencies to search it's database.  DBT initially recruited from TopSpeed, and a number of people did move across the street from TopSpeed to DBT.

In 1998 another large data processing company emerged in Florida.  eData was founded by the same man, Hank Asher, who had originally started DBT, and as such eData based it's original technology on that used by DBT - Clarion.   From somewhere (venture capital? personal savings?) eData acquired a lot of backing, and started heavily recruiting Clarion programmers, paying substantial salaries and costs for developers to move to Florida to work for them.

TopSpeed in Trouble

TopSpeed, despite the merger with JPI and the sales of it's Clarion product, has never been a very profitable company - although TopSpeed was a privately held company and under no obligation to show it's books to anyone, so very few people can say with any certainty.

In 1999 it became apparent that eData and TopSpeed were involved in some partnership / funding deal.  Rumours were rampant that eData was funding TopSpeed somehow, although (as with most rumours) there were very few people who actually knew what was going on. What is known is that Bruce Barrington, the man behind Clarion, joined the board of directors of eData.

In December 1999 Roy Rafalco resigned from  TopSpeed, and Frank Watts became President and CEO. Not long after, in early February 2000, was the (infamous?)  newsgroup fiasco which saw the chat newsgroup removed from the TopSpeed-sponsored news-server because of comparisons between Clarion and other 3rd party development tools, particularly Windev.   Watts became angry at what he saw as the use of his company's resources for the promotion of a competing product. February 4th was the day that the chat newsgroup was removed without warning, to be replaced minutes later by a new "general" newsgroup.  

During 2000 it became obvious, though never formally announced, that eData was somehow funding TopSpeed. More rumours started to circulate, this time that eData was funding TopSpeed directly, and/or that they were considering a new development centre outside of London, possibly in Cambridge.  It's now widely recognised that eData funds TSDC directly, paying both running costs and salaries of the employees.  Some of the developers from TSDC have relocated from London to Florida.

SoftVelocity appears on the scene

In May 2000 it was officially announced that SoftVelocity had purchased the complete Clarion product line from TopSpeed Corp.  What prompted the acquisition is unknown - whether it was the imminent demise of TopSpeed is pure speculation.  Bob Zaunere, a name known to many Clarion programmers as a long-time TopSpeed employee, became CEO of SoftVelocity and responsible for the release of Clarion 5.5.

It was at this time that the relationship between TopSpeed and TSDC became clear.  For the previous 8 years it had been assumed by everybody, with no comment either way from Clarion,  that during the merger in 1992 Clarion had purchased TSDC outright.  As now became apparent, the two were still separate companies with TSDC on an exclusive contract to Clarion / TopSpeed.  Now that eData was paying the running costs of TSDC, SoftVelocity had no exclusive contract with TSDC anymore - in fact, only half (if that) of the employees at TSDC were working on SoftVelocity products, with the rest firmly involved in eData development work.

Finally, nearly a year to the day since it was announced (1st Nov, 1999), Bob Zaunere finally announced the availability of Clarion 5.5 in the October 30th newsletter

"The day has finally arrived, Clarion 5.5 is released and the first shipments start going out on Monday October 30th. We expect to be able to ship between 1500 to 2000 orders per day, and we have employees working overtime to get everything out the door as quickly as possible. So be patient just a little longer, 5.5 is on its way."

Where now?

The future for SoftVelocity and Clarion certainly looks brighter now than it did a year ago.

In theory SoftVelocity should be planning for Clarion 6. In the June 16th newsletter - incidentally the first newsletter ever produced by SoftVelocity -  it was announced that further development would take place, certainly in the COM/DCOM area where developers are lacking the tools they need to compete effectively with the other RAD development tools on the market.  

We will focus on delivering improved support for COM/DCOM, both for the use of ActiveX controls from within Clarion, and for creating COM compliant DLLs from Clarion applications. Creating Clarion COM components allows you to encapsulate the business logic contained within a Clarion application and re-use it across applications, or deploy it in a middle-tier such as Microsoft Transaction Server. The benefits accrue to both desktop and Web applications.

We are strongly committed to providing support for application integration using XML/XSL. Clarion and XML are a good match for this model. Applications can send out XML messages that either provide data to, or make requests of, other applications that are part of a process.

We have plans to take the Application Broker technology and make improvements in scalability, and in the support for process isolation found in IIS 5.0. Having said that, we should be clear that we intend on making improvements in all areas of Web support.

Do we have plans to port Clarion to Linux? Right now Linux is very strong on the server, both here and in Europe. We are looking at options for using Clarion on the Windows desktop and providing direct connectivity (non-ODBC) with backend databases on a Linux server.

Do we have any plans to generate code for other languages? Yes. One of our strong points is the ability to generate code from templates. We'll be strategizing to see where we can best take advantage of this strength.

That's not to say that they can't do COM programming right now, as a number of Clarion users have written articles and code that allows you to access COM components from Clarion. However, these efforts (and COM in general) are still very confusing to the average Clarion programmer and really need to be further integrated into the Clarion system before they can be of much use to most people.

It certainly seems as if some work is being done, as messages posted to the SoftVelocity news server seem to suggest that Clarion 5.5 will have some sort of XML support by Q1 2001. 

Having said that however, there is a problem.  With most, if not all, of the TSDC employees now working on eData projects SoftVelocity has a very big problem because they have a very definite lack of experienced developers who can continue development.  Although they have no doubt hired some people for just this reason, the learning curve for a product over 5 years old is very steep even if the original developers are only (figuratively speaking) just up the road.

Update September 2001

No XML or ASP support yet :(

eData have changed their name to Seisint

The TopSpeed domain name is now completely unrelated to Clarion or SoftVelocity in any way.

TSDC have moved (again!) from their Baltic Street address to another location at 30-34 Moorgate - as before, you can get the address from British Telecom.


Official company websites : Borland, SoftVelocity, Database Technologies and Seisint


Thanks to Carl Barnes & Russ Eggan for correcting some of my more silly mistakes.


 

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