December 8, 2007

Software AG memories

Software AG was the first important non-US software company,* selling the ADABAS DBMS and associated tools. These included the fourth-generation language Natural, the transaction processing monitor Complete (in those days DBMS were sold with their own associated TP monitors), and a whole lot of modules named Adathis and Adathat. (These product names were widely regarded as being a bit silly, to the point that the company joined in the mirth and passed out Complete Natural Adamugs.)

*SAP was founded around the same time, but didn’t become particularly influential until later on.

Actually, there were two important Software AGs – the parent company in Darmstadt, Germany, and the North American distributor Software AG of North America. SAGNA, in Reston, Virginia, was run by John Maguire, of whom many stories are told. It is said that he once pulled over to help a man change a flat tire on his car and wound up selling him a copy of ADABAS. It is said that he used to stroll by Cullinane booths at trade shows and pronounce “I’m John Norris Maguire, and I’m going to bury you.” And while I can’t exactly confirm these stories – I knew the guy, and I find them all to be eminently plausible. (Sadly, John died young, not long after selling SAGNA back to the Darmstadt company and buying himself a 44-foot powerboat.) (Edit: Happily, that part turns out to be wrong!)

ADABAS was an excellent product – one of the three major inverted-list DBMS, the other two being Computer Corporation of America’s Model 204 and ADR’s Datacom/DB. Natural was also one of the top 4GLs. At the time I judged that ADR’s Datacom/IDEAL combo had slightly surpassed ADABAS/Natural. 20-some-odd years later, ADABAS seems to have the significantly more vibrant of the two product suites’ surviving customer bases, but I think that has much more to do with the products’ subsequent owners than with their technical or market situations back in 1983.

As was the case for most of the early software vendors, some major talent passed through Software AG. Richard Currier may now claim a lot more credit for a book project he wrote a chapter for than he actually deserves, but he’s also one of the great marketing minds from the early part of the software industry. (He also ignited my passion for software industry anecdotes and industry, and hence may be regarded as a kind of absentee grandfather of this blog.) Bob Preger went from being the second salesman at Software AG to being the first at Oracle.

I visited Darmstadt once, and met honchos Peter Schnell (founder and ADABAS designer) and Peter Page (Natural designer). It was soon after they’d moved into a new building, and Peter Schnell was very proud of the hexagon-based oak desks he’d personally designed for programmers to work at. I came away thinking this was an example of Edifice Complex, not to mention micromanagement, and in retrospect I seem to have been right.

After DB2 blew the other mainframe DBMS out of the water, things got choppy for Software AG. SAGNA was bought by Darmstadt, then spun out and taken public again, then bought again. The company came out with ADABAS-D and Tamino, neither of which was a great success. Even so, it’s still alive, kicking, and even growing, something which can be said for very few of the other leading software firms of its day. Indeed, I just posted a long Software AG update over on DBMS 2, my blog about current-day DBMS and related technologies.


15 Responses to “Software AG memories”

  1. DBMS2 — DataBase Management System Services » Blog Archive » Software AG – an Adablast from the Adapast on April 25th, 2008 12:09 am

    […] briefed me last week. Highlights follow. I also posted about Software AG’s history over on Software Memories, which may provide some useful detail and […]

  2. Joan Shipman on June 24th, 2009 1:29 pm

    John Maguire is alive and kicking (still) in Myrtle Beach. Ann, his wife, is my cousin!

  3. Curt Monash on July 2nd, 2009 3:05 pm

    Great news! I’ve never been so happy to be wrong!

    Please give him my best.

  4. George Szakach on January 27th, 2010 2:11 pm

    John is very alive. We exchange e-mails often. I receive letters from John occasionally. And, we talked for an hour just last week. John is a very special person and I/we owe him a lot.

  5. John Katilie on May 27th, 2010 8:56 am

    John Maguire is the number 1 Reason that SoftwareAG Usa is what it is. He is such a great person. Thank you John Maguire for doing what you did and loved!!

  6. Software AG and the commie spies | Software Memories on March 25th, 2011 10:17 am

    […] Feds to try to catch the Soviet agent in indictable technological espionage — but then, with its usual flamboyance, ran ads bragging about the event. The writeup of all this I found when searching was some […]

  7. Lesley Malone on February 28th, 2012 12:25 am

    I had read some time ago that John had passed away. So glad to hear it was wrong. Still wrong I hope? None of us are getting any younger.
    Fun to see names like George Szakach and John Katilie too. Those were great days.

  8. Ralph Partlow on December 5th, 2012 3:35 am

    John did die on Nov 27, 2012 in Myrtle Beach, 8 days ago from when I am writing this. Best wishes John and family.

  9. Kristin Olson on December 12th, 2012 1:38 pm

    I’m sorry to say that John Maguire passed away a couple of weeks ago. A link to the Legacy page is

    He’ll be missed. Our family enjoyed his good cheer!

  10. Carissa Maguire on October 16th, 2013 2:46 pm

    Just seeing this for the first time. Thanks to Joan, Ralph, Kristin and all for their comments. Lovely finds and best wishes from the Maguire Family!

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  12. Splunk and inverted-list indexing | DBMS 2 : DataBase Management System Services on March 6th, 2014 7:55 am

    […] were the architecture of the best pre-relational general-purpose DBMS, namely ADABAS, Datacom/DB, and Model […]

  13. Carroll White on August 14th, 2014 2:03 pm

    I worked for Software AG of North America circa 1982-83, reporting to Sunday Lewis out of the Chicago office. I met John Maguire and found him to be a fascinating and very personable leader. I knew back then that we were on the cutting edge of enduring technology — the first ever “truly relational database.” In addition to that term, it was the first time I heard “reverse engineer” and understood the importance of U.S. contract law and intellectual property rights. The Soviet incident happened right before I joined the company, and talk of protecting the source code, was the stuff of legend.

  14. Teresa Partlow on October 25th, 2017 3:48 am

    My dad, Ralph W. Partlow wrote above on December 5th 2012 about John’s passing. Sadly, Ralph Partlow, collapsed after showering on December 27 2012, of a brain aneurysm. He died shortly after.
    My father, Ralph, was very fond of John. My dad was a great judge of character and, he never had an ill word to say about John. He respected him tremendously.
    Rest in peace both John and Ralph.

    P.S. I remember John taking our family out on his boat when I was very young. I remember John and my dad sitting on the boat, talking and smiling and laughing the whole day. I never witnessed my dad enjoying the company of a friend like he did with John. I believe that my dad thought of John as a best friend.

    Memories from Teresa Partlow

  15. Nanette Binder on June 25th, 2018 9:24 am

    Teresa, I’m so sorry to hear of your Dad’s passing. Next year marks my 40th anniversary with Software AG. I remember telling my mother shortly after I joined the company that I loved it so much, I would work here for free – I also told her that John was more like a used car salesman, not what you would expect from a company president. My fondest memories are from the early days when John was in charge – we were a close knit family – a completely different environment from today’s big business atmosphere. Thank you John (and family) for all those precious memories.

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