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I was at Xyquest during the endgame. Yes, IBM's pullout
from its software partnerships certainly didn't help.
Tony Kahn, writing in the Globe, compared the event
to a giant killing his children when he rolled over in
his sleep. Xyquest and Signature weren't the only victims.
In addition, IBM had become very much involved in product specification and review, and that had a delaying effect on our projected time-to-market. The original XyWrite IV was to be a very limited update in its interface, with WYSIWYG viewing and editing in only a few type sizes.
Post-IBM, Xyquest struggled along, eventually losing about half its staff to layoffs and volutary departures. Work continued on improving Signature (which was slow and a bit buggy) and gearing up for a Windows version. By that time, WordPerfect had pioneered its own menu-based product and (I think) had a Windows version too. (Remember, Windows was in version 3.0 at this point, and it also was slow and buggy.)
I heard--maybe wrongly--that The Powers That Were in the company decided to finance further development with proceeds from current sales. Because (I assume) cash flow was a problem, nothing was invested in advertising or promotion. And sales faltered. Our numbers--employees and dollars--diminished even further. For example, I was the sole interface designer left from a staff that had at one time numbered four.
Enter Kenny Frank.
He's an attorney and software buff, and I believe his vision from the start was to have Xywrite as the text editing component of a series of vertical-market specialized document assembly products.
There were many problems. Development was in Billerica (say bill-RICK-uh), Massachusetts, and headquarters was in Baltimore, Maryland.
Some of us found it hard to get along with Kenny. He was kind of a 24/7 kind of guy, and I remember chewing him out for calling me at home in the evening on a matter that could have waited until morning. My impression of him was that he was high-energy, high-powered, full of ideas. Some of his brainstorms could slow our development process as we tried to accommodate them. My experience with him was that we sometimes differed on our view of the facts. Others, from what I could tell, had similar experiences. (I've had a couple of run-ins with him since, in this forum and privately. I think I can safely say that our mutual disrespect is just about absolute.)
John Hild, one of the co-founders and (in the eyes of some) the architect of Xyquest's demise), left. Dave Erickson, the other co-founder and architect of just about all that was good about XyWrite, stayed.
We kept losing good people. By the time I left to take a job at another company, the Billerica staff was down to about half a dozen people (from 60). Our offices, once half a floor in one of those three-story brick suburban campuses, shrank to a few rooms. Bills were going unpaid; there was a rumor that we were behind in our rent.
The Xyquestrians were a tight-knit bunch, and we kept in touch for a few years afterward. I imagine some of them, still living in the suburbs north of Boston, are still seeing each other.
I've probably given a far more detailed answer than you anticipated! I will caution all readers that these are only my views and perceptions, couched in what I hope is even-handed and neutral terms.
I loved Xyquest, and I had deep respect for Dave Erickson--his knowledge, decency, likeableness, gentleness. In so many ways, XyWrite could have been the best word processor on the planet (and in so many ways, it still is). But the resources were never there. Even at our strongest, at 60 employees, we were competing against WordPerfect, which had something like 600 engineers working on their product.
I don't know if Dave ever gets to read this stuff, and we
haven't heard from Kenny in a while. But I think it would be
great for other Xyquestrians to check in with amplifications
or corrections. --Tim Baehr
to the xyWrite mailing list, Thursday, 14 December 2000
Re: The first xy
Tim posted a supplementary msg to the xyWrite mailing list a few months later
The two geniuses behind XyWrite were Dave Erickson and John
Hild, colleagues at Atex who recoded the Atex typesetting
system's front end and turned it into a word processor. John
was the marketing brains, and Dave was the chief architect.
I believe that, officially, John was president and Dave was
chairman of the board of directors.
As with many software products, the "mature" realization of XyWrite was version 3, but the gold standard for many was III+, which added spell-checking and a thesaurus.
The relationship with Atex remained, and XyWrite was marketed to many newspapers and magazines as the means of getting authors' ideas into print. III+ was (and is) lean; it would fit on a 5.25" floppy and would run on even the most modest laptop. Because data files were almost straight ASCII, they were very small; transmitting stories over phone lines, even at 300 bits per second (called "baud" in those days) was doable. Publications using XyWrite included the New York Times, the Boston Globe, the New Yorker, and hundreds of others (including, ironically, many computer magazines as they fell all over themselves to praise and hype WordPerfect and Word). XyWrite was considered an industry standard and for a while was the best-selling word processor around.
The fall from the top started slowly and accelerated rapidly.
XyWrite IV was supposed to add limited but editable WYSIWYG capability to the DOS-based word processor. Only a few type sizes would be available for on-screen display.
Part-way through development, Xyquest entered a partnership with IBM, which was seeking to replace its clunky and outdated Displaywrite product. IBM had many good ideas, all of which slowed development to a crawl: menus and dialog boxes were among them. IBM also imposed a lot of testing and review overhead, further slowing development.
The new, IBM Common User Access-compliant user interface was built by modifying the core executable (EDITOR.EXE) to accommodate renderings of dialog boxes and menus. The WYSIWYG concept expanded to include fullly scalable Speedo typefaces.
The main programming for the interface, and much of the functionality of the new XyWrite was carried out, however, in XPL, XyWrite's proprietary programming language that looked like a cross between Basic and job control language. The interface staff never numbered more than 4, and the total company headcount (including sales, tech support, engineering, and administration) never got much over 60. At this time, WordPerfect was developing its Windows product (Win 3.0 at the time), with a staff of 600.
Renamed "Signature," the Xyquest product was on the verge of (late) shipping when IBM pulled the plug on all of its software partnerships. We had to put stickers over the IBM logo on our boxes before we could ship our new word processor. And we didn't ship that many. Signature was slow and buggy. Our customer base had eroded somewhat, and many XyWrite aficionados hated the new interface (although the old command-line capability was still there).
The Xyquest strategy was to use the revenues from sales to finance further promotion. It never happened. Sales declined, and money became extremely tight. There were layoffs. Xyquest looked for another investor and eventually linked up with Kenneth Frank, a Baltimore lawyer and software buff who wanted a text editor to form the basis of a vertical-market product for creating legal documents. Kenny bought the company. Initially, Xyquest was a division of The Technology Group, but the Xyquest name eventually disappeared. So did John Hild. Dave Erickson stayed on as chief engineer, overseeing two subsequent versions: XyWrite 4 for DOS, a cleaned-up and much faster verson of Signature; and XyWrite for Windows, a noble effort whose main feature (for some of us) was the General Protection Fault. By the time of the Windows product release, the development staff was down to about 10 people; I was the only interface programmer.
Our office space shrank; there was a rumor that Kenny had failed to pay our rent and we were on the verge of eviction. Some paydays were delayed, with conflicting stories about whether the delays were caused by computer or accounting glitches or lack of funds.
Development took on, sometimes, a surreal aspect. Kenny was a true enthusiast, a very hands-on owner. Development was occasionally delayed while we added a feature or made some improvement he had thought of.
We didn't all get along under the new regime (Xyquest had really felt like family to many of us). The staff that remained started drifting away. I was one of the last to go, after three years without a raise. I might have stayed, but a friend had lured me away to another small company that showed more promise.
Now Dave is gone, and XyWrite is extremely unlikely to be developed further as a word processor. Most of the intervening history has been chronicled in this forum. [--i.e., the xyWrite mailing list. Tim later clarified:]
The question arose, where is Dave Erickson. He's not
"gone" as in gone from this planet. He's working
for someone else. I don't have the details, but I think it
has something to do with one of the former Spanish
distributors of XyWrite. --
Tim Baehr to the xyWrite mailing list, Friday, 11 May 2001
Tim initiated this exchange on the xyWrite mailing list, 3 to 15 October 2001
From a correspondent: "I hear that TTG has closed up shop for good. Any idea what's become of the XyWrite code base?" [...] The tgrp.com Web site is still there. What's the story, if any? --Tim Baehr, 3 October
|adpFisher nyc 4 january 2004|