Original article appeared at:
The Globe and Mail
ActiveState targets paint-by-number programmers
By NATALIE SOUTHWORTH
From Thursday's Globe and Mail
ActiveState Tool Corp.'s goal is simple: to establish a
dominant market presence by giving away software tools that
allow intensive computer users to become paint-by-number
"Our goal is to empower more people to do
the work themselves so they don't have to go to
programmers. We want to lower the bar so a broader group of
people can use the technology and manipulate information,"
says chief executive officer Dick Hardt, who founded the
privately owned Vancouver company in 1997.
away open-source software which anybody can sell and
no one in particular owns has a major profit
The company is aiming for three revenue
streams: selling services to those who download its software
from the Internet; selling tailored versions with more
advanced features; and creating a mass market that will
prompt big technology firms such as Microsoft Corp. to pay
ActiveState to ensure its programs are compatible with
Mr. Hardt says his vision
depends on the evolution of open-source software, which his
company packages for the general public, offering support
services as well. It specializes in computer programming
languages such as Perl and Python, and aims to make them
accessible to people who aren't computer
Perl is the most popular Web programming
language and is currently used by such companies as
Amazon.com, MP3.com and Deja.com to run their Web sites. It
has become a popular language for building Internet
applications, and is useful for combining smaller programs
into larger applications.
Targeting people who work
with computers but who aren't programmers such as
data analysts, software testers and Web masters ActivePerl
comes with telephone support and developer tools, such as an
"editor." This feature highlights mistakes made in a user's
work similar to the squiggly line that appears under
spelling mistakes in Word documents.
"In the past,
when programmers had a problem, they had to figure it out
themselves, or look up a solution in a book. That took
time," Mr. Hardt says.
According to ActiveState, about
one million software developers are using Perl, the
Internet's most popular programming language, which has been
downloaded 4.5 million times. ActivePerl accounted for three
million of those downloads, the company says.
past year, ActiveState has had an average of 400,000 unique
visitors a month at its Web site, and provided 1.5 million
downloads of its applications.
Last summer it signed a
three-year, $1-million (U.S.) agreement with Microsoft to
ensure that Perl and Python continue to work with Microsoft
technology as the languages evolve.
It says its role
in the Microsoft deal is to integrate Perl with the Windows
operating system by adding some new features that improve
the programming language. The agreement gives ActiveState
the chance to have its name, products and services noticed
by software developers creating programs for Windows -- an
Because much of what the company
creates is offered for free on its Web site, ActiveState
generates revenue from companies, such as Microsoft and Dell
Computer Corp., which pay to include a branded version of
ActivePerl in their software packages. Other clients, such
as Starbucks and Intel Corp., offer ActiveState's technical
support resources to their in-house
ActiveState generated revenue of
$1-million in 1999 and $3-million in 2000. Mr. Hardt says
the company expects to triple sales to $9-million this
Eric Manning, a computer science professor at
the University of Victoria, says ActiveState has recognized
that the ability to manipulate more types of information
will be a valuable skill as computer languages become more
compatible through open-source software.
people who book travel packages on-line could use
ActiveState's programming tools to create simple software
that retrieves the weather, tourist information and hotel
vacancies all at once, he says.
However, Prof. Manning
adds that "helping users do their own programming is an old
At one time, only programmers could use
spreadsheets, since they were far more complicated than
today, he says. "Users are gradually becoming empowered, but
I don't think programmers are going to be put out of
business. There is a lot of mileage left in empowering
users, but how much is hard to say."
One way to build
these skills is through free, easy-to-use tools that target
open-source software, says Mary Cicalese, a senior analyst
at Jupiter Communications.
However, much of the
success depends on a force far beyond ActiveState's
reach. "There is the opportunity for numerous software
applications for businesses and consumers," she says. "The
success depends on the level of sophistication of the
In addition to offering programming tools to a
wider group of users, the company is developing other
languages besides Perl and Python, such as Tcl, a scripting
language that is popular with content management companies;
and PHP, which is used heavily in building Web sites.
ActiveState Tool Corp.,
What: Develops and
provides open-source software programming tools for a number
of different computer programming languages.
Founded: July, 1997
Revenue: $3-million in 2000
Principals: Dick Hardt, founder and CEO; Steve
Munford, vice-president of operations
capital invested to date: $2.5-million (U.S.) last
Investors: Opticality Ventures
Key strategy: To create a mass market by giving away
software tools that allow intensive computer users to become
paint-by-number programmers, and thereby prompt big
technology firms such as Microsoft Corp. to pay ActiveState
to ensure its programs are compatible with open-source
Key challenge: The success of the
company's key strategy depends a great deal on the level of
sophistication among computer users.