The early years
The early years will not mean much to those outside the UK, as the computers we developed for were very UK centric.
For the first 12 years we didn't develop software for the early IBM PC, simply because it was a lousy architecture, lousy processor
and ran bad software (in our opinion at the time). It was successful for one reason only - the letters IBM. The Apple II computer was
much more up our street, but was too expensive in the UK, and didn't sell enough. Remember back in those days there was no Internet and
software had to be packaged and distributed the traditional way and so we couldn't consider a computer that didn't have any significant
So the computers we developed for - the BBC Micro and later the Acorn 32-bit RISC based machines - were much more Apple like in many ways.
The BBC Micro was unusual in that you could install ROM chips inside, and that's how we shipped our software. This has the great advantage
that the software became permanently installed in the computer, had instant start-up and required no RAM.
Xara (then called Computer Concepts) grew to become the largest developer for the Acorn computer - first the BBC Micro and then the Acorn
Risc based computers. The second time around (Archimedes) we had to start again from scratch, as we'd spent a year or two developing
Atari ST software.
The Atari ST
This was a revolutionary computer in its day. Perhaps the first affordable 32-bit architecture (68000 processor was a delight to work with,
compared to x86 based processors in IBM PCs). It had a Mac-like desktop. It had loads of RAM - 128KBytes to be exact. Isn't it extraordinary
to consider that 128k BYTES of memory was regarded as a large amount, and even more amazing to think that a great many software packages,
including word processors and even DTP packages could be written to work in that space!
We developed only a few packages for the Atari ST. The main one was Fast BASIC, a BBC-Basic like basic interpreter / compiler. BBC
Basic was widely regarded as one of the best Basic dialects around - clean and modular. It included an inline assembler, which was hugely
important for us because most of our programs were written in assembly language. The version we did for the Atari ST came on a ROM cartridge
that you plugged in the side.
We knew about Acorn's RISC developments from the very beginning. The BBC Micro used the 6502 8-bit processor which was very simple, but very
fast (for the time). Acorn wanted to find a 32-bit replacement and, for one reason and another, decided to develop their own brand new 32-bit
architecture, that had the simplicity of the 6502, but was true 32-bit. What they created was not only the first affordable 32-bit processor,
but the fastest chip around, by a large margin. It easily beat the rather poor 8086 16-bit processor that powered the IBM PC at the time.
So once Acorn announced their first computer, it was off Atari, and back to developing Acorn software. That computer was simply the most advanced,
from a hardware and software point of view, and we had to work on it.
We created a wide range of products for the Acorn Risc computers, including hardware products such as the LaserDirect, which was the world's
first sub £1000 600-dpi laser printer. In 1990 we also developed our own Postscript clone (ShowPage) which was the beginning of a line of products
taking us to Xara Designer Pro today.
But despite having world beating technology, poor management doomed Acorn. We could see this coming from the start and knew we would have
to switch platform in order to survive.
Acorn Dies - ARM lives!
Acorn might have messed up, but the chip those few people in Acorn developed (the Acorn Risc Machine - or ARM for short), largely by an act of good luck has become, far and away, the world's most popular processor (and most people have no idea about this). No one cared about power usage then, but because Acorn's chip was so simple and so small, it's power usage was a fraction of the complex Intel and AMD chips. Acorn died, but the ARM chip they created thrived.
Then the mobile evolution happened. Smart phones and tablets would simply not be possible without ultra-efficient low-power processors - and the Acorn ARM chip was the chip that made it all possible.
It would have been insane to imagine at the time that the ARM chip that we started programming in 1985 was to change the world, with more than 50 billion ARM processors now shipped. You've probably got half a dozen ARM processors in your pocket right now!
Here's some stats to blow your minds: The Archimedes computer, with the first ARM processor, ran at 8MHz, had 500Kbytes (half a megabyte) of RAM, and no hard disc. When they introduced the first hard disc, it was 20Mbytes. This was one of the most powerful desktop computers available.
Now, the phone in your pocket has multiple ARM processors (sometimes up to 8 of them), that run at 1000 MHz or more, has 2000 Megabytes of RAM and often 60,000 Megabytes of storage space. It's a thousand times faster, has a thousand times more RAM, and 3000 times more disc storage space, runs on batteries and fits in your pocket. 30 years of development.
Why not the Apple Mac
So in the early 1990s we had to make a decision. Develop for Apple Mac or IBM PC? We knew about project Cairo (which become Windows95) and had
Windows NT, the direct predecessor to Windows XP. This was a very decent 32-bit operating system, and most of our objections to the PC had gone
by then. It had a good 32-bit OS, huge improvements to graphics and processor speed.
And Apple were in deep trouble. Steve Jobs had been kicked out of his company, and was developing the NeXT computer. Ask pretty much anyone at the
time what the future of Apple was, and the answer was pretty unanimous: it had no future. No one could have anticipated that eventually Steve Jobs
would get the company back and bring his NeXT software with him (which would eventually become the current Mac OSX ) and that he would transform Apple into a
company worth more than Microsoft and Intel combined.
So maybe we made a mistake in not developing for the Mac from day one. Are we going do it now?? There's no Mac version imminent but we're not saying never!
A couple of our products on the Acorn platform stood out - and won awards when compared against the competition on the Mac and PC. Impression, a
powerful DTP product, compared favourably with Quark Xpress; and Artworks a vector graphics product, competed well against very early versions of
CorelDRAW and Adobe Illustrator. Many Mac and Windows owners asked, sometimes begged us to port these products to their platform.
So project Camelot was started in the early nineties, which was a ground-up rewrite of Artworks, but designed to be able to provide all the features
of Impression our DTP package as well one day.
Xara was born
And this was when the company name changed to Xara - when we started working on PCs. The old name was not just boring, but there were a number of
other "Computer Concepts" companies around the world. Xara was going global and we had to have a new brand.
Where did the name come from? I saw a girl called Zara on TV and thought that was an unusual name. But decided to make it bit more unusual by putting
an X in place of the Z, so a bit like Xerox. This had the benefit of being short, unusual, most importantly trademarkable around the world, and one
where we could get the domain name. The downside is that we're always at the end of any alphabetical list!
Originally released as Xara Studio, the marketing rights were snapped up by Corel (who had something like 90% market share in the Windows market at the time), and
re-branded and sold as CorelXARA. And although Corel wanted to buy the company or at least have access to the source code, we provided neither. Corel
had a simple marketing licence to the product, and so that's how CorelXARA came about.
But after 5 years of them not selling and promoting our product as we would have liked we came to a mutual agreement to terminate the deal. So Xara regained
all marketing rights to the product and started developing it again. That become Xara X, then Xara Xtreme and finally in two (classic and pro) versions Xara Photo & Graphic Designer and Designer Pro and the basis of Xara Web Designer.
MAGIX & International Expansion
In 2007 the company was purchased by the German multi-media company MAGIX. Xara continues as a separate company, but is now part of the MAGIX group and has seen rapid international expansion
as a result. We have the same world class team of developers working on the design products that are our strength, but benefit from the considerable marketing and development resources of MAGIX.
Xara titles are now available under the MAGIX brand
in German, French, Spanish, Dutch, Italian and Russian.
XARA ONLINE & THE CLOUD
Our latest innovation is Xara Online Designer, a cloud based service that allows you to create and edit Xara documents and Online Designer templates, in the browser, using any device. This unique service is currently included with Xara Designer Pro, Web Designer and Photo & Graphic Designer, and although it's still in beta it's progressing very rapidly towards our goal of offering a web based service that's as good as the fastest, most fluid and interactive creative desktop applications.
We are often asked what we think the next platform will be. Is it apps and mobile? iOS or Android perhaps? Or Chromebooks? No, the next platform is the web, the cloud.
Take on the world
So what next? It's simple: we intend to offer our customers the best web and graphic design products and services in the world, all over the world!
CEO and founder
Xara Group Ltd