software description database

Q & A (software)

Released by Symantec in 1985 for IBM-compatible systems, Q&A's flat-file database and word processing program is cited as a significant step towards making computers less intimidating and more user friendly. Chief among its features was a natural language search function based on a 600 word internal vocabulary.

The system gained quite a following and is still being found in use today.

Product Evolution

Originally a natural language research project involving a group of Stanford University researchers led by Dr. Gary Hendrix , funded first by the Department of Defense Small Business Innovation Research, and later by venture capital investments , Q&A evolved into both a useful business productivity tool and the foundation of Symantec.

Dr. Hendrix mused that only time would tell whether Q&A's integrated natural language ability would be merely a passing fad or perceived as a valuable feature. He needn't have worried. Because of Q&A's “ability to understand English”, the tool rapidly gained popularity and generated nearly $1.4 million in 1985.

By the end of fiscal 1989, after Version 3's release, Q&A accounted for nearly a third of Symantec's $50 million revenues, occupying the top spot in the flat-file database market in 1991. Not everyone was enamored of Q&A – one publication slammed the Intelligent Assistant as “more Dumb than intelligent” – but revenues for the product continued to grow, as did its user base.

Released in 1991 (and for Windows in 1993 ), Version 4.0 boasted a plethora of new features, including both Form View and Spreadsheet View, the ability to choose file names from a dialog box, and a simple control panel (favorably compared to the controls of a VCR).

Perhaps more anticipated was an improvement on Q&A's original natural language technology which appeared in the Windows version. Called DAVE – Do Anything Very Easily – in 4.0, the natural language query feature was possessed of two aspects: Intelligent Assistant, which allowed users to navigate easily amongst records using basic English queries created by clicking entries in the toolbar, and Scripting Assistant, which permitted the creation of scripts within the application to automate commonly used, repetitive tasks, as opposed to the keystroke recorded macros used by the DOS version.

Version 4.0 included a fully functional word processor – Q&A Write – that could be launched from Q&A or used as a stand-alone application. Q&A Write featured a 100,000 word spell check, a 660,000 word thesaurus, a dictionary, formatting options such as page layout, columnar formatting, automatic page numbering and headers, as well as support for the addition of graphics. Additionally, it offered multifont printing support and the ability to hot-link elements of a Lotus 1-2-3 document, Symphony spreadsheet or Lotus PIC graphs, to Q&A Write documents.

Q&A Write proved popular. Even noted SF author and Chaos Manor creator Jerry Pournelle wrote fondly of Q&A Write, claiming it as his sole word processor.

Also of note in Version 4.0 was Q&A's ability to behave in a fashion similar to a relational database – users could take data from the active database and post it to external files, as well as look up information from external files and import it into the active database – useful features for business transactions such as accounts receivable/payable, payroll and the like.

In keeping with previous versions, Q&A 4.0 was fully backwards compatible, allowing users to easily access data created in prior versions of the software. 4.0 is largely considered “classic” Q&A.

In 1994, Symantec announced that it would no longer continue to develop Q&A. Amid great public outcry, particularly from the Q&A User Group, Symantec was forced to reconsider and commissioned PFP Software GmbH of Düsseldorf to develop an upgrade to the DOS version. Released in 1995 first only in Europe, then later in the USA in response to demands from the extremely vocal user base , Andreas Göbel's Version 5.0 addressed interoperability issues, added more user control over form colors and introduced the ability to Copy/Paste between fields.

Although Symantec continued to sell both Versions 4.0 and 5.0, neither was actively marketed , and in September, 1998, all sales and support of Q&A were halted.

Shortly before the cessation of Q&A sales, a joint venture between Professional Computer Technology Associates (PCTA) and Marble Publications led by longtime Q&A users William Halpern and Tom Marcellus began negotiating with Symantec to address the issues facing long-term Q&A users. By the time Q&A sales and support had been halted, Symantec was actively referring users with questions to the venture – sales inquiries to PCTA, support inquiries to both PCTA and Marble Publications.

Recognizing that Q&A would lapse into obsolescence as advances in hardware and software moved forward, Halpern and a group of Q&A “power users” began meeting in 1999 to address the possibility of developing a new product - compatible with Q&A databases - to allow users to migrate seamlessly without losing their important data. In 2000, Halpern's group became Lantica Software, LLC, which released its first version of Sesame Database Manager in 2003.

In addition to being able to easily convert Q&A databases, Sesame offers a number of new features, including complete, printed documentation written in article format , cross-platform capabilities , an always visible menu tree, a WYSIWYG application designer, a preview mode, and old favorites such as form-based search capabilities. Additionally, Sesame provides image support, subrecord support and integrated application support, as well as import/export capabilities and record printing.

There are a number of resources to help Q&A users transition to Sesame. Lantica provides a peer to peer forum, FAQs, a complete library of Sesame articles, and resources for those looking for training or consulting services.

Sesame Version 2.0 has been released in 2007 and is available from the official Lantica Software website.

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