Friday, June 05, 2009

AvantGo RIP - memories of the roaring 90s

The demise of AvantGo has not received much attention. I am one of the few who remember the deceased Palm application, so I'll deliver the obituary.

I knew it well. In 1998 I did a little presentation on AvantGo for the primary track of the American Medical Informatics Association (my little JavaScript driven slideshow applet still works btw - 10 years later on Safari 4beta). It got a mention on my 1998 PalmPilot web page and my old AvantGo targeted medical notes page is still around.

In its youth AvantGo was bright, clever and reliable. There were two parts - a server and a client. The net server based web spider processed a URL to specified limits and stored the results in AvantGo format. Then, whenever I serial cable synched my Palm III or Vx the results updated the Palm AvantGo client.

AvantGo was a way for me to carry static snapshots of web pages. Even then my extended memory was moving to the web, but there were no portable browsers, no G3 networks, no wireless to speak of - so a static snapshot of my web memories was pretty handy.

At work we built a handheld prescribing application around AvantGo and a server we controlled locally. In the late 90s AvantGo wanted to become a platform provider to the palmtop. That prescribing app was one of my ideas, for what it was worth (not that much unfortunately!).

Alas, the strategy didn't work for them. Their main business, unfortunately, was streaming newspaper output to the Palm. Yes, like Byline or Google Reader, but before feeds. Newspapers have been looking for electronic delivery options for a long time, AvantGo was just one more failure. You didn't really think anything was new, did you?

It was a nice idea, but there was no money in it. In retrospect AvantGo's failure heralded the death of the traditional newspaper business.

Even before the dotCom crash AvantGo was getting bloated and buggy. They wanted to become a handheld browser, but that was a tough road. We didn't get a decent small scale web browser until the iPhone -- AvantGo never got close. Even as AvantGo struggled the PalmOS platform was slowly dying.

I lost track of AvantGo, though even now I wouldn't mind the ability to offline cache spidered web pages on my iPhone. Heck, I'd even pay for that, though I'm probably the only one who would.

Now the AvantGo I knew is gone. Wikipedia says they the company was founded in 1997 and that it once had a market cap of $1 billion. It was sold to Sybase in 2002 for $38 million.

$1 billion. Back when a billion dollars was real money.

Man, the 90s were good times. 

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