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Life and Death of a Software Company (Part 2)

In my last blog I discussed how Jason Short bought VistaDB in 2007 -- a product we reviewed in June and liked very much. Last month, I interviewed Jason via e-mail and my first question seemed obvious to me.

Peter Vogel: What's it like being a product vendor?

Jason Short: It is honestly rough. I think that developers are a very hard crowd to reach and please. I am amazed at how many developers will spend 1,000 hours on customizing something they got for free rather than pay for a tool that works. The "not invented here" syndrome still seems to be alive and well.

I think the 100 percent managed code mark has been completely missed by a lot of companies because Microsoft doesn't do it themselves. SQL CE uses unmanaged code under the hood, but most users don't have to care because Microsoft can run their code in ways we can't (policy files are nice when you own the framework).

Sticking to only C# code for the entire engine has put us at a disadvantage in some ways, but we try to make up for it by playing to the strengths of managed code. You can't have a single assembly of mixed code that will run on 32 and 64 bit machines, we can do it because we are 100% managed.

PV: How do you compete in this market?

JS: We have tried very hard to differentiate ourselves by being the only 100 percent managed code database you can embed into your application. Your users don't have to know we exist, and because it is 100 percent managed code we can run in a lot of scenarios where SQL CE and Sqlite cannot.

Our goal was to build a database that desktop developers could use to build applications, and then later easily scale up to SQL Server when they need it. We are the only third party database to allow T-SQL and CLR Procedures that will run in SQL Server. You can't bring everything from SQL Server down to our level, but we are a subset that completely works in SQL Server. We have a lot of small businesses who use VistaDB for the desktop tool, and then also offer a business version that will work with SQL Server using one codebase. This is great for them to be able to reach more than one market with a single set of code.

PV: What matters to you about the VistaDB product?

JS: There are two key things that have always driven all of our design for VistaDB.

Deployment: Having fully managed code means we have the easiest deployment possible (xcopy with no COM, no registry access, etc). Even at the sacrifice of speed, stay 100 percent managed code. In the long run I honestly feel it will lead to a better, more portable engine that customers can deploy. One customer told us how they saved over $40,000 a year in support costs because VistaDB was so much easier to deploy than using SQL Server Express.

Compatibility: We try very hard to ensure our subset of T-SQL is compatible with SQL Server. We want people to be able to scale up at some point without feeling the pain of a total rewrite. I have worked on many projects over the years that when it came time to upgrade the entire app had to be rewritten because of a change in backend database. Sometimes customers need a server, we want to make that transition as easy as possible for them to step up when the time comes.


Two months after this interview, Jason is putting his company up for sale. In my next blog I'll look at why.

Posted by Peter Vogel on 07/21/2010

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