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By Sprezz | Wednesday 4 October 2023 10:00 | 10 Comments

Last month marked the 40th anniversary of my having worked with Revelation Software products, so I'm going to indulge myself with a little wander down memory lane.

Cast your mind back to 1983 - the IBM PC had just been released in all its twin-floppied glory. For personal reasons I had to relocate away from home, and I was determined to find a job with a company car. An advertisement for a new company called IDM (with a logo that was suspiciously close to another Three Letter Acronym company) offered a sales position with a new software product just imported from the US - Revelation C. Their main business was selling Pick on IBM Series/1 and they had taken on Revelation as an afterthought due to the built in Terminal Emulator which allowed you to use your PC as an Adds Regent 100 emulator to any Pick based system. In those days hardware was EXPENSIVE, and a dumb terminal actually cost more to buy than buying Revelation. So, if you happened to have a PC and needed a terminal, buying Revelation was a no-brainer.

The early days were heady as everybody was scrambling to implement standalone solutions using this new PC and the market flooded with database programs. Companies made inflated claims for their products (I'm looking at you dBase II - you were NEVER relational despite what you claimed at the time) but Rev just powered ahead with a series of well thought out adverts that attracted likeminded developers.

Revelation D was an incremental development, but Revelation E blew our socks off. The guys from Cosmos came over to the UK to explain this new-fangled technology called "Networking", which Rev E supported. Now applications could scale to departmental level and with the scaling came an increasingly diverse client base. New features were added, and Rev F and Rev G made their way into the world. It was whilst working on a banking system written in Rev G that I got to work with an assistant who'd just graduated from Harvard. I'd complained that I needed a Business Analyst, and I got Jeff Bezos. But that's another story. (Spoiler - we didn't see eye to eye).

The other database companies started putting out more attractive development environments and Cosmos struggled to keep up, until one of their aspiring Sales People took it upon himself to rewrite Rev and thus was born Advanced Revelation (AREV). Microsoft's SQL Server was flying out of the door as people sought to build larger applications, and the fact that AREV had a SQL Bond that allowed rapid app development, made it a prime candidate for expansion. Business boomed and at one stage Revelation won an award from Microsoft for selling more SQL Server licenses than anybody else that year.

At the time the company I worked with split its database sales between Revelation and Microsoft SQL Server. As a rule of thumb, we told clients that if they had more than 50,000 rows in their main data table, they should look at SQL over Revelation. How I giggle looking back at that when lots of our clients these days have tables with tens of millions of rows.

During the next couple of decades as AREV matured, I got to work on some wonderfully varied systems. Seconded to HMRC I wrote some fascinating tax investigation software. There didn't seem to be a Government department who DIDN'T use Revelation, so I spent time at the Lord Chancellor's Office, the Home Office, MAFF, MOD et al. We even NEARLY came first in a Database Development Competition organised by a UK Computer journal. I say "nearly" because at the close of the practical part of the competition, the judges came to our stand and congratulated us on winning. It came as a surprise to both us and them, when a completely different company was announced as the winner. Though in fairness WE weren't taking out monthly full colour adverts in said Computer Journal.

When Sprezzatura launched in 1989 we started to collect an even more diverse client base, and the publication of REVMEDIA was a delightful 4 years where I got to work with some of the most interesting developers on the planet. I'd sit up until the early hours of the morning repeating experiment after experiment to see what changing Window Common actually did. I'd investigate issues brought up by subscribers and I'd try and work out compiled code structure to make working out what routines did just that little bit easier.

Another milestone during this time, was our involvement in the very first prosecution under the new Computer Misuse Act. We were occasionally consulting to a marketing company who employed their own in-house consultant. They decided that they no longer needed his services and so they let him go. Several months later their system began to behave strangely. Important data was suddenly meaningless gibberish - it had been encrypted. We were called in to investigate and what we found actually seriously impressed me. Putting together the pieces we established that the erstwhile former employee, knowing his time was limited, had placed an MFS on the main data table that, as it wrote to disk encrypted the data, decrypting it on reads, until the trigger date came when the MFS removed itself from the table and consequently stopped decrypting. We were able to show this to be the case and were called as Expert Witnesses for the upcoming trial at the Old Bailey. Turning up suited and booted we were actually quite disappointed that the gentleman in question pled guilty before the trial started. 

But then talk turned to OpenInsight (OI) and the AREV world went into limbo for a few years. Initial attempts to deliver a Windows product were wildly flawed. Reasoning that middleware was the way forward, Revelation released a Database Engine (oengine.exe) with Linear Hash support and blithely suggested that the established user base go away and learn something like Visual Basic to write their front end in.

There was rebellion and shortly thereafter OpenInsight 2 was born with the rudiments of what we know and love today.  It would be fair to describe it as a little flaky. Revelation invited us to partner with them in competing in an internationally famous Database Challenge. There were hundreds of entrants, but we were quietly confident of our ability to deliver. The challenge was to build a database application to a provided specification over the course of 8 hours. 5 hours in, disaster struck. The Repository became corrupted, and all of our work was lost. Knowing what we do now we could have fixed this, but this was very early days. So, with three hours to go for the challenge we had to start again. Regretfully this meant that we only came in the Top 20. If you ever wondered why the system USED to keep a backup duplicate of the Repository, that is why!

More years passed and Windows moved to 32 Bit. Once again Revelation was stuck in the mud. The 32 bit replacement was to be a similar rehash to OpenInsight 1 requiring the developer base to acquire Java skills - something many were reluctant to do. But after years of stagnation, Revelation passed into the hands of long term developer, Mike Ruane, who set about delivering a 32 bit version.

Shortly after commencing his tenure, he delivered on his promises and a fun few weeks were spent flying around the world with Mike and the crew showing the next 32 bit OI to an excited client base.

Once again, we got to work with great software, and to deliver some great technologies. In one particularly memorable assignment the Sprezz team rocked up on our courier client's premises and in two weeks delivered a fully functional on line booking system that blew the socks off the competition. In another, using S/Web we managed to create web sites processing millions of discrete transactions a day while the big database boys were boasting about their hundreds of thousands.

And now here we are with a completely rewritten OI, a thing of beauty in my mind and I'm glad I'm here to see it! We still get to work with a diverse group of people around the world, though sadly, some of our long-term colleagues are no longer with us. The core team of Sprezzatura delights me with our complementary skill sets and I can honestly not think of a group of people I'd enjoy working with more.

Over the past 40 years I have been privileged to work with Rev developers in Albania, Australia, Belgium, Canada, the Caribbean, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, England, Finland, France, Germany, Ghana, Hong Kong, India, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Saudi Arabia, Scotland, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, Venezuela, Wales and of course in a large number of States of the good ol’ US of A. I’ve met some wonderful people and some of those have even changed my life in very positive ways outside of computing!

I count my blessings that 40 years ago I decided to put my money on the Revelation horse. I had no clue what I was doing at the time, but it has served me incredibly well. There aren't many people in IT who can say that they've not had to learn a new product since starting their career :). And it's a testament to both the product and ourselves that we still have clients we started work with back in 1984! We're all a bit older, hopefully a bit wiser, but no less enthusiastic.

So, in conclusion, if you're reading this, it's likely you're part of the Rev community and it's a pleasure to be in it with you. Here's to the next decade! Cheers!

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