What Happened to Beagle Bros?

by Joe Gleason

II Alive Volume 1 Number 0
January / February 199

The Beagle Bros name has been synonymous with high quality software since Bert Kersey started the company twelve years ago. Kersey originally put the legend “Est. 1980” in the Beagle Bros logo as a joke-but it turned out to be no joke after all: Beagle Bros is one of the oldest and most-respected brands in the computer industry.

The “Est. 1980” joke is typical of Beagle Bros’ sense of humor. The company’s advertisements and manuals featured old-fashioned woodcuts, often with outrageous captions. The logo was swiped from an old-time Smith Bros cough drops box (some disks included an animated version of this logo in which the brothers’ hair switched places). There was even a “company portrait,” again with old woodcuts and “employees” like Elsie Dee, Len Adollar, and Flo Chart. And who could forget their inimitable 5.25″ disk sleeves, with their warnings against putting disks in alligators and toasters?

But Beagle Bros provided more than a sense of fun, though that was an important factor in their success. The company- which Kersey originally intended to sell games-found its niche when sales of DOS Boss, a utility which allowed users to change DOS command names and error messages, unexpectedly took off. For several years, Beagle Bros focused on utilities for hackers and hobbyists, releasing classics like Apple Mechanic, Flex Type, Triple Dump, Extra K, Pronto DOS, Beagle BASIC, GPLE, D Code, Macro Works, Beagle Graphics, and Double-Take, as well as “grab bag” disks like Utility City, Silicon Salad, and Tip Disk.

In 1987, Kersey’s longtime associate and Beagle Bros author Mark Simonsen bought Beagle Bros. The change of ownership brought some new utilities-Alan Bird’s Program Writer, which had previously been published by Simonsen’s other company, The Software Touch, was one-and some changes. Witnessing the runaway success of AppleWorks and recognizing the potential market for AppleWorks add-on products, Beagle Bros introduced the TimeOut series.

The TimeOut programs were an instant smash, thanks to their tight integration with AppleWorks and their ease of operation. Beagle’s only competition, Pinpoint, was sluggish and incapable in comparison. (Beagle Bros later bought out the company that published Pinpoint, adding Point-To-Point to their lineup in the process.) Claris, the Apple subsidiary that ended up publishing AppleWorks, was so impressed that they contracted Beagle Bros to produce the AppleWorks 3.0 upgrade.

In a separate deal with Claris, Beagle Bros ended up with several programs formerly published by Styleware, which Claris had bought to obtain GS Works (which became AppleWorks GS). More TimeOut products followed, along with a number of Jigs-specific programs. Many of these programs are still on Apple II bestseller lists.

Such momentum seemed unstoppable. But in 1990 Beagle Bros changed its direction once more. The Apple Works concept (truly integrated database, spreadsheet, and word processing) was finally beginning to catch on big in the MS-DOS and Macintosh markets. After the work the company had done on AppleWorks 3.0, Simonsen felt ready to jump into the Macintosh market with a “Mac AppleWorks” of their own- they called it Beagle Works. Unfortunately, other companies-giants in the Mac market such as Microsoft, Claris, and Symantec-had the same idea. Their resources were far greater than Beagle Bros had imagined, and the race was costly. Toward the end of BeagleWorks’ lengthy development cycle, Beagle Bros even had to close down its telephone technical support department to focus more resources on Beagle Works.

BeagleWorks finally shipped in February, 1992. Although powerful and feature-packed, it was the last integrated package on the scene. Despite good reviews, early versions had bugs, and Beagle Bros had to halt shipment while the bugs were fixed. To win against Microsoft, Claris, and Symantec, BeagleWorks now had to be definitively the best-not just the best product but also the best marketing, support, and distribution.

The company had invested so much time in BeagleWorks that they were now forced to focus their company 100% on this single product, and so in March, 1992, Beagle Bros sold the distribution and support rights of their venerable Apple II line to Quality Computers. It bought them a few months. But BeagleWorks, despite its excellence, was no match for the marketing muscle of the other three players in the integrated software arena. Finally, Simonsen sold BeagleWorks to WordPerfect Corporation in October, 1992 and accepted a position as Director of Development there. An updated version ofBeagleWorks, to be called WordPerfect Works, will be released early in 1993. Current Beagle Works owners will be able to upgrade to the WordPerfect version, and WordPerfect is currently providing technical support for the package. Beagle Bros’ Apple II products, as well as the company’s other Mac product, Flash, will continue to be sold and supported by Quality Computers.

Early in November, Beagle Bros officially closed its doors, ending a twelve-year-long tradition of service and support above and beyond the call of duty. By phone, Mark Simonsen told II Alive, “I don’t regret what we did. My dream to create the most powerful integrated program for the Mac is still very much alive.”

When we asked him his thoughts on the Apple II market, he said, “I honestly believe the saying that the Apple II is more computer than most people will ever need. The excitement and enthusiasm that we felt in the Apple II market is unparalleled. My family and I still use and enjoy our Apple II.”

Most of Beagle Bros’ authors worked on contract and were never actually employees of the company. Many of these authors, including Matt Reimer (Platinum Paint) and Dan Verkade (TimeOut Grammar) are continuing to work on new Beagle Apple II products. Several former Beagle Bros authors, including Alan Bird and John Oberrick, are involved with WestCode, publishers of InWords and Pointless; Randy Brandt’s company, JEM Software, recently released the next-generation Apple Works macro language, Ultra 4. It’s safe to say that there will continue to be Beaglerelated Apple IT activity for quite a while.

Our best wishes to Mark Simonsen and the other former Beagle Bros as they pursue their new directions. It was a good twelve years, guys.

About the Author

Joe Gleason