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Tomorrow belongs to open systems

Tomorrow belongs to open systems

Since the founding of Intergraph in 1969, Meadlock has served as the firm's chairman. Prior to founding Intergraph, he worked at IBM. During that part of his career, Meadlock was responsible for all of the software used to guide, control, and check out the Saturn launch vehicle used to send Apollo astronauts to the moon. He received a B.S. in electrical engineering from North Carolina State University in 1956.

Change is the rule in the software field. And Jim Meadlock says there's plenty more coming, like it or not.

Design News: Where will this business go during the next five to ten years?

Meadlock: If you look at what has happened in the com-puter field, it's a bit of a precursor to what's going to happen in the software business. The customer wants as many options as he can get in terms of buying software from more than one vendor. If you relate the software part of things to what's happening in the computer end of it, the PC and Win-dows basically have won that war. Because, first of all, it was cheaper, secondly because it was an envi- ronment that attracted a lot of development resources at a cheap price, and third- ly it grew into a pretty good architecture with very good software. You're going to see the same sort of evo- lution continue on the soft- ware side of the CAD/- CAE business.

Q: Does the future belong entirely to open systems?

A: The customer will always choose an open system over a proprietary system, all other things being equal. Now, as long as he has a very complex job to do, and as long as the proprietary system is better, the customer will still buy that. But we're beginning to enter an era of plug-and-play software just as the PC industry entered an era of plug-and-play hardware. The real desire on the part of the customer is that he be able to do plug-and- play applications, and that's the trend of the future.

Q: Will open systems turn engineering software into a commodity product?

A: It's something that's going to happen. The less complex problems are certainly going to be sold as commodities--not just on price, but on reputation and availability, and the probability of the vendor staying in business. The engineering community differs from the personal computer community in that they don't just look for the cheapest price. But certainly price and open systems will drive a lot of things.

Q: Will Intergraph still want to be in that lower-end business?

A: We'll try to do both. If you're in the applications software delivery business you can't totally ignore the low end. We certainly are going to try to stay in the more complex applica-tion software environment. But you also need some complementary commodity offerings to be a well-known player around the world. There's a great danger if you just focus on the very high end. While your margins may be great, they may not be enough to pay for the development. You must do both, and we're trying to.

Q: How much of the engineering workstation market can PC-based systems capture?

A: Windows and Windows NT on both the Intel processors and the other processors will be the predominant working environment in the next few years. That doesn't mean that a company with a large UNIX shop is going to close it down tomorrow and totally substitute a Windows environment. What it means is that all of the software environment is beginning to be available on Windows and Windows NT--in particular NT. And it's becoming clearer and clearer that the future will be Windows-related. At what time does the engineering community totally tilt towards Windows NT? I don't know yet. But we've proven in the past that once the developers catch a wave, everybody else joins.

Q: How will the Internet affect companies like Intergraph?

A: The Internet kind of sneaked up on a lot of us. I'd like to differentiate a bit and say that the web technology that supports the Internet is the technology that is going to support the Intranet. And the Intranet for corporate America and corporate worldwide is something every major company is going to embrace over the next few years. The Internet is the linkage to the masses. The Intranet, created by using the same web technology, is going to be how businesses run their operations.

Q: Could your career be rep-licated by a young engineer today?

A: The opportunities to become an entrepreneur are probably better in the environment that currently exists. Certainly there's more venture capital, and certainly it takes less investment to quickly become a player if you get on the right road. Is there an opportunity to participate in the kind of programs I saw in the early days of NASA? That's harder. There's not likely to be another program quite as focused, quite as well-funded, as was the lunar landing program. That was unique in history, and probably won't be replicated in the foreseeable future.

Q: Was that kind of background critical to getting where you are?

A: I'm not sure I can answer that. Looking back, it's almost like two totally independent lifetimes.

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