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Along with Microsoft and Lotus, Ashton-Tate was one of the big three software companies of the 1980s. It began life as a garage outfit called Software Plus, Inc (SPI) in 1980 and went on to create the first major database managements system for microcomputers, dBase.
An IBM-compatible version of dBase II came out in 1983 to great success, and in the same year the company became Ashton-Tate and went public. It released the C-written dBase III (opening screen for dBase III+ pictured above) in 1984, but later that year co-founder George Tate died of a heart attack. Company president David Cole briefly took over, but marketing man Ed Esber quickly succeeded him (Cole went to work for Ziff-Davis, which founded this publication).
Esber led the company very successfully for seven years, but he became known for being litigious, particularly when it came to companies that released dBase clones. Large corporations kept on using dBase, but smaller businesses deserted the platform. The 1988 version of dBase IV was slow and unstable, but rather than fix the bugs, the company concentrated instead on its next planned product line. The update for dBase IV only came out in 1990, by which time sales were down drastically.
Having turned down several merger opportunities — including with Microsoft and Symantec — Ashton-Tate finally merged with Borland in 1991. However, Microsoft introduced Access in 1992, trouncing dBase in the Windows marketplace.
Photo credit: Colsen
The Commodore Portable Typewriter Company was founded in 1954. The company became Commodore Business Machines the following year, as Japanese typewriters had flooded the market, and moved into selling adding machines. Japanese adding machines flooded that particular market in the late 1960s, and then-named Commodore International moved into the electronic calculator business. The calculator market was, however, taken over by Texas Instruments in the mid-1970s, and Commodore went into PCs.
The Commodore Personal Electronic Transactor (PET) came out in 1977 to an enthusiastic reception in the education sector, but it was 1981's VIC-20 — as endorsed in TV ads featuring Wiliam Shatner — that made Commodore a familiar brand in the home.
It was that model's successor — 1982's Commodore 64 (pictured) — that remains the company's most enduring legacy. Already cheaper than rival 64K systems, the C64 enjoyed a price cut the following year, kicking off a pricing war in the home computer market. Commodore won: with 22 million sold, the C64 became the best-selling computer ever.
In 1984, Commodore bought Amiga Corporation. Around the same time Commodore founder Jack Tramiel, who had just quit to form his own company, bought Atari from Warner Brothers and released the Atari ST as a rival to Amiga. The rivalry between Commodore and Atari continued through most of the remaining decade, but in the end the PC market was won by the IBM PC and Apple Macintosh platforms.
Following several releases that failed to replicate the success of the C64, Commodore declared bankruptcy. The brand is now used by a completely different company, which sells an Atom-based netbook PC in a replica C64 shell.
Photo credit: Bill Bertram
Tandy began life in 1919, in the business of leather goods — making it something of a US analogy to Finland's Nokia, which started off making paper. Along with Commodore (another entry in this list), Tandy was at the forefront of the PC industry in its time.
The 1977 TRS-80, sold through Tandy's Radio Shack stores, was one of the first popular personal computers. The company later moved to IBM compatibility, and its PCs' video and sound capabilities led the market in the early 1980s. However, the introduction in the early 1990s of VGA graphics cards and Sound Blaster audio cards killed this competitive advantage. Tandy even moved into notebooks for a time from the end of the 1980s, with products including the 1400 (pictured).
Tandy sold its PC business to AST in 1993, and the new owners soon shut down their newly purchased manufacturing facilities. Radio Shack began to sell other brands of PC, and the Tandy brand disappeared for good in 2000.
Photo credit: Retep412