Q&A: Quarterdeck CEO on strategy and components

When Curt Hessler took over as CEO of Quarterdeck early this year, he inherited a company in trouble. A heavy investment in Internet utilities had not paid off, leading to streams of red ink, and the Californian firm was still seen as 'the QEMM company' even though the memory manager had ceased being a cash cow.

When Curt Hessler took over as CEO of Quarterdeck early this year, he inherited a company in trouble. A heavy investment in Internet utilities had not paid off, leading to streams of red ink, and the Californian firm was still seen as 'the QEMM company' even though the memory manager had ceased being a cash cow. Early on, Hessler pledged Quarterdeck to components and in a meeting with ZDNN today, he fleshed out his ideas on the future of 'automatic' component utilities, the role of the Internet and the channels to market that will make components a common sight on desktops.

ZDNN: How can Quarterdeck remain a significant player in desktop personal computing?

Hessler: The problem of reducing total cost of ownership is driving everyone crazy and is so large that any company that can contribute to solving the problem has a strong future. What we foresee is that networks, the Internet and intranet will grow very quickly. The second thing we foressee is that it will drive everyone nuts and the support cost is not going to go down.

We have the products and technology to help with that problem, and the challenge is to move them into the networked PC space and target the people who are not anxious to tinker with their PCs but want the fixing to go automatically. There's an opportunity to offer component tools that can automatically fix bugs on the fly, perform version updates and so on without the user even needing to know what's going on. It might happen across networks, remotely or locally.

We've got an awful lot of the right technologies and our existing distribution channels are strong. We're spending 20 per cent of our revenues on R&D.

Is that 20 per cent an increase?

The amount has stayed constant but we cut about 50 per cent of staff a year ago so it's a lot higher as a percentage. We've now got 480 staff, 100 of whom are in R&D and 100 of whom work in telemarketing.

Also, we have companies who work almost exclusively for us, for example in Beijing and Ukraine. We had the Ukraine guys over to [Quarterdeck California headquarters] Marina Del Rey. They were okay until they found the beach!

Your whole strategy depends on the PC as we know it now continuing to dominate. What's the scenario if network computers make big gains?

If they become pervasive we're in trouble. We bet the whole company that the pure network computer will be a niche and a pretty narrow niche: going in where corporates currently use 'X' and other terminals. That's a very small part of the corporate market. As for the Net PC, that hasn't taken off at all in the US.

The strategy for us is to make for fat clients to be blunt, and we think the fat client is here to stay. It's completely logical and seductive, particularly in the SoHo space. If we're wrong and everything moves to the server then the company will not be helped by that.

What sort of components will they be: Java, ActiveX...

We're not going to engage in theological warfare but we're very much in the Microsoft/Intel camp. We'll be moving componentised apps. They'll be ActiveX in the active parts of the technology and DCOM for the communications part of the technology. For user interface and middleware we'll probably use JavaBeans so we can stream over any network architecture. At the moment we need to cover stuff like NetWare and Notes but eventually we'll probably move everything to IP.

The componentising is a huge feat of sorting through kludge and spaghetti code and that includes almost all utility companies. About half the code base we have in six months will be componentised. We'll cover anti-virus, backup, hardware and software conflicts, installing and de-installing, updating software versions, inventory management, clean-up and compression

The largest categories are anxiety-ware - virus and conflicts.

continues

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