The lead developer of long-time Accelrys offering MacVector has struck out on his own to ensure that the program, which Accelrys sold last year, survives and grows market share.
MacVector, a DNA and protein sequence-analysis package for Apple’s Macintosh platform, is of particular value to academic researchers, boasting more than 5,000 users, according to Kevin Kendall, MacVector’s product manager and lead developer.
This market was the reason behind Kendall’s decision last year to found a company to sell the software when Accelrys decided to stop supporting the product last year. The shop, also called MacVector, is based in Cary, NC, and has sales offices in Japan, Australia, and the UK.
Kendall said that having been associated with MacVector for about 10 years, beginning with the software’s origins at Kodak and later at Oxford Molecular Group, “I felt it didn’t fit right into the Accelrys portfolio.”
The company, which began operations last December, will be selling and supporting MacVector 9.5, the first upgrade to the software since Kendall went into business for himself.
For Accelrys, the decision to divest the MacVector software was in line with its strategy over the past several years to consolidate a wide range of legacy products it picked up through acquisitions into its Windows-based Discovery Studio platform.
“MacVector — albeit a great product with a dedicated user base — didn’t integrate with our other products, and I think it was a bit unusual [compared to our other bioinformatics solutions] in that it was the only product dedicated to the Macintosh platform,” Darryl Gietzen, senior product manager for bioinformatics at Accelrys, said.
When Accelrys restructured last year [BioInform 03-10-06] it found greater integration opportunities in software that it could easily fit into the Discovery Studio and Pipeline Pilot workflow software the company gained in its acquisition of SciTegic in 2004, Gietzen said.
Gietzen wouldn’t say whether the company plans to sell other parts of its business. “Because our other bioinformatics products have code bases that are more easily integrated into Pipeline Pilot or Discovery Studio than MacVector, the divestiture was more specific to MacVector.”
This integration does not concern Kendall as he offers MacVector licensees the option of paying an annual maintenance fee or upgrading to the latest version of the software, which can be done at a discount.
Kendall said that the primary difference between MacVector 9.5 and previous versions is that it has been rewritten to run natively on both Power PC-based Macintosh machines and Intel-based Macs.
In addition, he said, the new version of the software is able to take advantage of dual-core Intel systems.
“The result of all this [fine]-tuning is that, for example, a large ClustalW alignment that might have taken an hour to align in the old version can now be done in five minutes,” he said. “Plus, you can run many alignment jobs simultaneously. The entire application feels snappier on the new machines.”
He added that MacVector’s developers have “future-proofed” the software by ensuring that version 9.5 runs on pre-release versions of Mac OS X 10.5, or Leopard, the next version of the Macintosh operating system that is currently slated for release in October.
Now that the 9.5 rewrite has been completed and MacVector is sailing out on its own, Kendall is optimistic.
“Because our other bioinformatics products have code bases that are more easily integrated into Pipeline Pilot or Discovery Studio than MacVector, the divestiture was more specific to MacVector.”
“We expect to release new versions at regular six-month intervals — something that we really couldn't do at Accelrys for various reasons,” he said.
He said sales for the first four months of the year are running “about 30 percent above” the sales for the same period with Accelrys last year. He declined to provide details.
Eighty percent of MacVector’s users are academics, with the rest divided among governmental and commercial entities.
One such customer is Tony Popowicz, director of client, scientific, and Web services in the information technology department at Rockefeller University in New York.
Popowicz’s group supports around 400 users and runs multiple bioinformatics applications on a range of platforms. “We have [Accelrys’] GCG running on a Unix server for people doing high-throughput stuff, [DNAStar’s] Lasergene deployed for Mac and PC users, and some smattering of [Invitrogen’s] Vector NTI.”
“We provide software that people prefer to use – some prefer to use MacVector, some may prefer Lasergene, which is bi-platform,” Accelrys’ Gietzen said.
Popowicz said that he has received MacVector 9.5, but it has yet to be deployed at Rockefeller. The university has been running 9.0.2 and anticipates that the new version should fix minor bugs.
Accelrys’ fiscal year ends March 31, and the company is scheduled to release its financial results on May 15.
However, Gietzen is not writing Macintosh off just yet. “We are continually gathering customer feedback and assessing the business drivers for supporting that platform,” he said. “We are really focused on Linux and Windows, but if our customers start adopting Mac as their key platform we will certainly do what we need to support them. We just haven’t had a lot of demand for that.”