While I'm glad to hear that Microsoft is turning portions of its codebase over to the open source community, the news (thanks Slashdot) from Microsoft that Foxpro has seen its last commercial version marks a sad day for me. Foxpro was to dBase what Excel was to Lotus 1-2-3. If it wasn't for Ashton Tate's dBase software -- probably the first usable PC-based database management system (DBMS) -- I'm not sure where I'd be right now.
Back in college (early 1980's if you must know), I was fortunate enough to get the job of lab manager at the University of Miami's first IBM PC lab. It had about 20 IBM PCs, each with one 360K floppy drive and for each PC, we had a few 5.25" disks of software: PC-DOS, Visicalc, Wordstar, and dBase. In my classes, I was learning COBOL, PL/1, and Fortran on mainframes. But, when I was in the lab and had nothing to do, I was bitten by the dBase bug. Compared to the database projects I was doing in COBOL on an IBM mainframe, dBase on a PC was like pure oxygen. Like Sean, I fell in love with dBase. I'd sit in the lab playing with dBase, building all sorts of little relational databases (eg: for my record collection), for kicks.
Before long, I had learned every nook and cranny of dBase and not long after that, when PCs really became hot (and they finally had hard drives), I was building real-world database applications for businesses and organizations in South Florida. My first project was for Broadcast Music Inc. Eventually, I was retained by my friends back at the University of Miami to build a PC-based admissions system for its Law School and somewhere in the midst of building that system, I joined the University's IT department as a full-timer.
Along the way, I and the people I worked with built dozens of xBase applications -- everything from simple little forms-based stuff to applications that could take over data entry in the event one of the mainframes went down -- and our xBase tool of choice was a dBase compiler called Clipper. Foxpro was another dBase knock-off that ran dBase applications more quickly than dBase did but it required a runtime interpreter. Clipper ran dBase applications blazingly fast, offered access to C-based modules (my first foray into C programming), and spit out turnkey executable files that didn't need a runtime.
Eventually, in 1991, I left the University to join PC Week's Labs (no eWeek) as a tester of networking products (by that time, I had become an expert in local and wide area networking as well as PC/mainframe integration) and began my career in tech journalism.
Ashton Tate is of course long gone. dataBased Intelligence is apparently "legal heir to the dBase legend" with a product in the market named, you guessed it, dBase. Other products are around to address the needs of the xBase community.. for example Alaska Software's XBase++ (the Wikipedia lists others). But, while the open source community may continue to build on Foxpro's legacy, hearing the news here felt a bit like finding out that an old but great friend was just put on life support.