Pervasive Living Up to Its Name at 25

P J Connolly
March 15, 2007 —  Before there was a SQL Server Express Edition, before there was even a Java, there was Btrieve. 2007 marks the 25th birthday of Btrieve, as well as the birth of what is now Pervasive Software. What began as a husband-and-wife team writing and marketing a simple record manager—granted, they were a couple whose experience came in large part from their engineering jobs at Texas Instruments—is today a publicly traded company with 2005 revenues of US$45 million, doing business in more than 150 countries.

When Douglas and Nancy Woodward launched Btrieve in 1982, they set up the SoftCraft company, which they sold to Novell in 1987 after modest success on their own. Although Btrieve never came close to the widespread use of the star of those days, Ashton-Tate’s dBase, it had developed a sound reputation and a developer community of more than 5,000, according to a 1995 book by Jim Kyle.

As Gilbert Van Cutsem, Pervasive’s general manager for database products, put it, “Novell always wanted an applications platform…and a database on NetWare to attract applications,” and the company would go on to use Btrieve as a core component of its software story, first in NetWare 2 as a Value-Added Process, migrating it to NetWare 3 as a NetWare Loadable Module. Btrieve served the role for Novell that Jet would for Microsoft, as the ubiquitous embeddable database for applications and services.

But during its mid-1990s firesale, Novell sold Btrieve back to the Woodwards, now incorporated as Btrieve Technologies. Although the company would go public and rename itself in 1997 as Pervasive Software, and its flagship product as first Pervasive.SQL and later PSQL, Btrieve remains a core technology for Pervasive.

At various points, Btrieve/PSQL has run on DOS, Linux, NetWare, OS/2 and Windows; PSQL has been fully relational for a decade, and the current PSQL 9’s dual-access features allow it to read data from the early 1990s’ Btrieve 5.15. PSQL maintains full file support for Btrieve 6.15, and supports the Btrieve API. In short, applications and data from more than a decade ago are still usable.

The company now supplies a range of integration products as well as a line of PSQL spinoffs covering backup, data security and replication. Business integration, data profiling and integration, Oracle Application Server adapters, and formatted message storage are all areas where Pervasive has shown its presence.

To Van Cutsem and his customers, Pervasive’s rear-view focus isn’t about nostalgia. “Our focus has always been on backward compatibility. We have always been a product for ISVs” building shrink-wrapped applications for small and medium businesses, he noted.

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