July 30, 2007

Setting the record straight

Computerworld got software industry history a bit wrong by implying that John Cullinane innovated packaged software (specifically, they said “packaged application”). Here’s what really happened, as I learned soon after becoming an analyst in the early 1980s:

Comments

6 Responses to “Setting the record straight”

  1. John Wark on August 20th, 2007 3:47 pm

    Curt,

    good to see you still going strong on the opinion and analysis beat after all these years. I still remember you introducing me to sushi at Hatsuhana in New York back in the early 80s.

    I think you are correct in pointing out the errors in the Computerworld story regarding John Cullinane. John was clearly one of the handful of pioneering entrepreneurs in the packaged software industry. While I agree with Computerworld’s thesis that John deserves to be better known for his role in helping to create the industry, they credit him with several things that I don’t think are exactly correct.

    My recollection, dim as it is after 30 to 35 years, is that Cullinane did not have the first commercial report writer as claimed by Computerworld. Culprit (Cullinane’s product) was an early report writer, but my recollection is that at least Informatics Mark IV was in the market before Cullinane. I seem to recall that report writers was a pretty robust market by around 1972 or 1973, with several players. You are certainly correct that Marty Goetz and ADR were in the market with packaged software, esp. Autocoder, before John founded Cullinane Corp. I think ADR was out with both Autocoder and Librarian before Cullinane launched and I believe Pansophic was also out with Panvalet. Source code control software like Panvalet and Librarian was one of the first robust packaged software market segments, along with report writers, in the early 70s. Maybe John got started with Culprit earlier than I remember, but if he was first it wasn’t by much and it certainly wasn’t a unique idea.

    As far as packaged business applications (e.g. general ledger, MRP, etc.) Cullinane was by no means a leader in this area. There were dozens of companies providing packaged applications in most major vertical markets as well as the major horizontal application categories by 1975 – Cullinane’s first entry into packaged application software came around or after 1980 (assuming you don’t count its package for internal auditors which was a package of specialized reports built on Culprit). Some of these companies were much larger than Cullinane even at the point Cullinane went public, e.g. MSA was quite a bit larger than Cullinane in 1978, the date of Cullinane’s IPO.

    You could even argue with Computerworld’s characterization of Cullinane as having the first database management package that competed successfully with IBM on mainframes. Now, I am a former user of Cullinane’s IDMS, which I selected in 1976. I am also extremely proud of the fact that I worked for Cullinane in the late 70s when I believe that they were the class act in the software industry. But there were two or three database management systems that had significant install bases before IDMS started to get traction in the market. Cincom’s Total was launched some time before IDMS and had quite a healthy install base (by mid-70s standards) by the time IDMS really started to take off in the 77-79 time frame. Software Ag’s Adabas was also a strong contender back as early as 73 or 74 (and maybe even a bit earlier in their home market of Germany). Now, IDMS blew by the others to become the clear market leading alternative to IBM’s IMS by the late 70s or very early 80s, but that’s different than having been the first to compete with IBM.

    I don’t mean to take anything away from John – he was and still is one of my early software industry heroes and deserves to be much more widely known as a pioneer in our industry. And his company really did raise the performance bar for everyone in the software industry in the late 70s and early 80s.

    One other thought about that Computerworld list. Another pioneer that I would nominate for membership on the list of “most underrated” historical figures in the software/IT world is Sandra Kurtzig, the founder and long-time CEO of ASK. ASK was one of the pioneering vendors of packaged applications for mini-computers. The availability of ASK’s MANMAN manufacturing software helped turn mini-computers from a laboratory tool into platforms for delivering mission critical applications in business and helped drive a lot of the growth at companies like HP and DEC. And Kurtzig was a pioneer as a woman entrepreneur in high tech – arguably without Sandy Kurtzig, there would have been no opportunity for Carol Bartz (a deserving member of the Computerworld list) and others who followed in Kurtzig’s footsteps.

  2. monash on August 31st, 2007 10:06 pm

    John,

    Great to hear from you!

    And I’d forgotten about introducing you to sushi. Seems like I did that to lots of folks; Flip Filipowski was another.

    I don’t see a lot to disagree with in your recounting of history. Besides, I didn’t show up on the scene until 1981, so your memory is more likely to be accurate than mine. (E.g., I always think of Autoflow as being the first ADR product, but that’s probably wrong.)

    Except for her sex, however, I’m not sure that Sandy was any more of a breakthrough product innovator than John. Rather, like John, she was one of the first ones in and better at business than most of the others. (Unlike John, however, she coded most or all of her first product release herself.) Hell, Xerox Computer Services was a $100 million business before 1980, and some of that was product rather than timesharing, and some of that was on minicomputers, and pretty much all of it was MRP and related apps.

    Keep the memories coming!

    Best regards,

    CAM

  3. Alan Dash on February 25th, 2008 5:04 am

    Noticeably missing in these conversations is mention of CSC (Computer Sciences Corp.) CSC started in about 1965 as a computer services company, perhaps the first one. They then sold several software packages, although smaller scale. Their winning of the the giant GSA Federal Government contract (Infonet time sharing system)completely changed their focus for the next decade. They are now a very large outsourcing company, with about 90,000 employees around the world.

  4. Curt Monash on March 2nd, 2008 4:58 pm

    Alan,

    I’d guess that ADP (Automatic Data Processing) started before 1965. Ditto perhaps some in house bank payroll processing efforts.

    What software packages did CSC sell early on?

    CAM

  5. Wikipedia on Cullinet and my comments on same | Software Memories on May 27th, 2008 8:39 am

    […] Applied Data Research got there first. Rather than write its own products, Cullinane approached IT departments of major enterprises, […]

  6. Historical notes on analytics — terminology | Software Memories on January 17th, 2012 3:02 am

    […] let you specify paper reports, and the market leader were probably Pansophic’s EASYTRIEVE and Informatics’ Mark IV. According to marketing, they could be used by non-programmers; in reality, they were a much easier […]

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