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October 2006 - Posts

  • Vista and Delphi

    If you're interested in making sure your Delphi-made applications fit in with the new user experience in Vista then run, don't walk, to a very thorough article by Nathanial Woolls (he's a DX Squad member) on that very topic.

  • Looking for Clues

    Well, after my couple of strongly worded posts earlier this week (one, two), I've been chatting to both Nick Hodges and David I. on the phone.

    Both have admitted to me that, even if they could talk about the spin- off (which they're not), they couldn't say much anyway, since they are as much in the dark about its progress as you and me. And, having been through a couple of company purchases in my TurboPower days, I can believe them.

    They also asked me to realize that although DTG (Developer Tools Group) is technically part of Borland still, it should for all intents and purposes be considered as a separate entity. So, let's consider the pluses of DTG since the announcement of the spin-off and that bode very well for the future.

    Enthusiasm. Well, they certainly have this in spades. Everyone I've spoken to, both in DTG and on the outside, say that the staff in DTG are rejuvenated and positive about their products and about the future. They feel as if they are in control of their own destiny again, and that certainly came across with my phone conversations.

    Quality. Slowly but surely, DTG is getting a handle on the quality of their products again. We've had updates, hotfixes, and even hotfix rollups (soon I imagine we'll be getting hotfix burritos); we've had initiatives like Nick's "give me your top bugs for the IDE"; we've had thought games like "if you had $100 to spend on Delphi fixes or features, what would you spend it on?"

    Turbo. Finally, the Turbo versions were released (The Free and the Cheap). This is a great achievement, even though we can argue about the execution of it.

    Expansion. In a company that's committed to reducing the numbers of its staff, DTG has managed to increase its employee count, and has done so by employing (and in some cases re-employing) people who really care about the product.

    Nevertheless, there are some minuses. I alluded to one last time (who knows whether Borland will see through this applauded spin-off?), but the one I want to dwell on here is one that directly affects us, Developer Express. It is that they have been extremely remiss in not imparting some of their deepest plans with their third-party vendor community.

    Let's see. I've been employed as CTO of Developer Express for six months now, and so far I've been to Redmond three times (at DX' expense, mind you, but at Microsoft's invitation) to meet with various groups there, all under NDA (so, no, you can't ask, and, if I told you, I'd have to kill you). I'm planning my fourth, at the end of this month. The Fairfield Inn love me up there, and upgrade me every time now.

    And Scotts Valley? None, nada, zip. I've never been asked. Where is it again? There has not been a single "come see what we're working on and play with the bits" meeting that I could have gone to. I'm not asking for Borland/DTG to pay for me and everyone else to go, I'm just asking for a day's worth of NDA meetings and demonstrations and individual chats so that it's worth my time to go and understand what DTG is doing and where it's going. Heck, I'll even take Nick and Allen out to dinner.

    It seems that my posts may have triggered something though: I'm told there's going to be a video conference next week, by invitation only, to talk about DTG's future plans that will affect the third-party community. I fully intend to participate.

  • Some Speculation

    The response to my previous post has been interesting. I haven't been flamed, which might have been one outcome, even though my post started a long thread on b.p.delphi.non-tech, the veritable land of flame. However there was one viewpoint, expressed by many people in different ways, that I wanted to talk about.

    The point made is this: since we cannot know what's going on, why speculate about it? You can think of it as the "que sera, sera" viewpoint.

    The answer in short: because we, Developer Express, have a business to run.

    Part of what any business has to do is to look into the future, or maybe just to look into a cup and read the tea leaves. It does that so that it can try and make informed judgments about what might happen, the risks and effort involved in mitigating the opportunities or the issues the future could bring (or, equally, the risks involved in not doing anything about it at all).

    So, putting on my hat as CTO of Developer Express, I have to look at what's going on in our area of the software market. Let's look at the information coming out of Microsoft first.

    There's Vista. It's coming out Real Soon Now; if the stars align, that's two months for business customers. Indeed, RC2 is rumored to be coming out next week. My immediate questions are therefore these: does our current stuff work under Vista? What do we need to do that's new to support WPF and .NET 3.0? And how quickly? And so on. In essence, all pretty solvable questions, given that we can get our hands on Vista and on information (NDA'd or not) from Microsoft. The guesswork comes in when wondering how many people are going to upgrade to Vista and how quickly.

    There's Office 2007 (oh, sorry, slap, 2007 Microsoft Office System). This is coming out even sooner and everyone and his dog is going to want Office 2007 look-alike components, like the infamous ribbon. What's involved in this? What do we have to do? Should we update all our component sets, or add another one? And so on, so forth. All pretty amenable to some analysis and decision making, and the risks essentially boil down to can we do it all on time and in the right fashion and please our customers.

    There's Orcas and .NET 3.5 and LINQ and all that. OK, this is still pretty far out (both in time and what it may contain). But, yet again, we're kept in the loop pretty well, usually under NDA of course, by Microsoft's Developer Division through the various initiatives that we're involved in (VSIP is just one example). And they try really hard to keep us and other third-party vendors informed: they understand that we vendors are essential to the VS ecosystem.

    All that gives me, as one of the decision makers here, the warm and fuzzies. I have information, I know our workload, the state of our resource allocations, the whole nine yards. I can make reasonable guesses when I don't know something, based on previous events. I can make informed decisions and mitigate risks. Life is, as they say, good.

    And now let's look at the information coming out of Borland, especially with regard to our Delphi VCL business. We're told, along with the rest of the world, that Borland wants to divest itself of the Developer Tools Group (DTG). The noises made by people in that group are all positive: they're fired up, it's a good thing for Delphi, they'll be more agile, rah, rah, etc. I can also imagine other scenarios that fit in: one reason they're all fired up is that it'll be a new company with share options that could actually mean something (I'm two months shy of my three year anniversary of leaving Microsoft and its share price is still in the same place as when I was there. I feel for my ex-co-workers.)

    Of course, that doesn't count for much, since no one knows what the eventual suitor is going to do. (Or, to be even more prosaic, who the suitor is.) And do something this suitor will: DevCo at that point will be a new company trying to make its way in the world. It's not going to be a question of it being like Borland, only better. It'll just be different; there is no temple so holy that it'll survive the new company bulldozer.

    And then we have Borland itself. It was a compiler company that tried to become a database company or an office software company. Instead it became an Enterprise company with a new enterprisey name. That didn't work, so the CEO went and another one arrived and it became Borland again and made the right noises to its base, and then started to go down the enterprise path again, this time through more targeted acquisitions. After a dismal year, the CEO was bumped in favor of another who said that the DTG should be spun off as it no longer fit in with the company's direction, which was pointing to TLA-land. And now, we read that part of that TLA-land is not where Borland want to go from now on but this new TLA-area over here is.

    Oh, and meanwhile, the spin-off is taking longer and longer, and we on the outside are looking in and trying to decide whether it'll happen at all (maybe Borland will decide that its LQM needs an IDE to help with its ALM), or if it does whether it'll start off too emasculated and crippled (vide Marco Cantu's latest post about IP problems), or whether it will be the spin-off that business management and economic theory books will talk about in hushed terms in undergraduate classes for years to come.

    Sorry, but to me as CTO, that's a whole cesspool of risk: I don't want to even look into it, let alone try and separate it out. I've no doubt that Delphi will continue in some form for a while, but that's just not enough on which to build a viable business strategy. And the longer this "will they, won't they" dance continues, the more time goes by, and the more people and third-party vendors will just shrug and move on. Sorry, I don't want to be holding onto the drainpipe in a hurricane as the rest of the house gets blown away, "Hey, I saved the drainpipe!".

    And, no, I don't get any different information than anyone else: you see, even the new energized and ultra-positive DTG haven't worked out that they have to reach out to their third-party vendors behind the scenes and keep us informed. We support their ecosystem but they keep us shut out. In that respect they still work like the old Borland and not like the new Microsoft.

    So, yes, I have to speculate. I'm certainly not given enough information, so, yes, the speculations are wilder. And the wilder they get, the riskier they are to contemplate and the more likely I am to make the decision to just concentrate our resources on VS and .NET.

    Frankly, my dear, from where I am under my DX hat, Borland don't give a damn.

  • Struggling to understand Borland

    Frankly, my dear, although we give a damn, the news (and even the non-news) coming out of Scotts Valley is getting more and more confusing.

    First off, we have the DevCo débâcle. The story so far is this: back in February of this year, on the 8th to be precise, we were told that Borland had had the brilliant idea of spinning off its IDE business (Delphi, C++Builder, JBuilder, et al) so that they could concentrate on their core business of waterfall methodology tools and were actively looking for white knights to take it over. Given that the IDE business was making $60M a year in revenues (although the exact figure seemed to drift in and out of focus according to whom you talked), it seemed like it should be a pretty quick sale.

    Admittedly, once you started looking into the business and its future, you started to worry about what exactly that future looked like. For Delphi for Win32, it certainly looked rosy; after all, the main competitors were VB6 (stop laughing there at the back!) and Visual C++. But for Delphi for .NET, the equation no longer seemed as easy to understand, and for JBuilder, positively unsolvable. Nevertheless, we were assured by David Intersimone and Alan Bauer et al that suitors were lining up around the block. (Mark Miller used to tell me that he offered $1 for DevCo, but I've never seen him offer $1 for anything so I dismiss that.)

    So time went by. The news that made it past the "we can't talk about it for legal reasons" screen seemed to be entirely positive. The division that was slated to become DevCo was allowed to recruit whereas the rest of Borland were cutting back. Nick Hodges joined in June as Delphi Product Manager (a more positive evangelist for Delphi, I cannot imagine) and other ex-Borlanders were re-joining, if not in droves, at least in number. (Funnily enough, Danny Thorpe wasn't one of them.) The Turbo versions were released. Both Nick and Alan were making good noises about DevCo, usually with the admonishment that they were in a "quiet period" so they couldn't talk in detail, but, boy, you'll be amazed and delighted at what happens.

    Finally David I. said at the beginning of September (a full seven months after the first announcement, mind) that "Borland is on schedule to announce a buyer in the third quarter of this year. “We have been assured [of that time frame],” he said." Well, the third quarter is over, it's now eight months since the initial statement about the spin-off, and ... nothing. The assurance David I. spoke of was obviously vapor of the thinnest material.

    I'm sorry, but to this sanguine -- perhaps, cynical -- blogger, this non-news says

    • Borland are asking too much
    • Borland are not selling what the suitors thought they were getting with DevCo
    • Borland are not selling everything the suitors wanted for DevCo
    • The DevCo business isn't as attractive as it was eight months ago (sales down? future not as bright?)

    The second bit of news is that although Borland's revenues are increasing, it is making losses. Second quarter figures indicated that it lost $19M on revenues of $76.9M, but Tod Nielsen was confident at the time that Borland would be back to profitability by the fourth quarter (on the back of what, I'm not too sure). The third quarter has only just finished: it'll be a little while before we get the financial news about it.

    And the third bit of news to hit us is the news from last Friday that Borland are giving up on Core SDP, its plan (now two years old) of producing a Software Development Platform. Bizarre news indeed, since as far as I understand it (and to be honest, I haven't spent that long trying to understand what Borland are trying to do with their waterfall-methodology-supporting toolset because I feel it's antiquated and passé in the Agile world I've lived in for the last few years) this was a core part of their strategy for moving forward.

    So, since Core SDP is no longer part of their core strategy, just what the heck is?

    Maybe they feel that the intellectual property that is DevCo should remain part of Borland? Maybe the revenue stream that is DevCo is much too important for the continuing survival of Borland to be sold for a quick buck (or a quick several million)? Maybe the SDO, er ALM, stuff isn't as attractive as it used to be and Visual Studio Team System is making too many inroads?

    Who knows? Certainly not this writer. But, nevertheless, speaking as an outsider, Borland have some real image problems to sort out and stories to straighten. Today's announcement about Borland Lifecycle Quality Management (LQM) offers yet another confusing acronym to go along with ALM and SDO and yet another set of products that aren't quite available yet. I just don't know what they are trying to achieve, what their goals are, what they want to do with DevCo. Certainly Borland themselves aren't helping me to understand, and looking at the share price today, I'm in a boat with many others.

    And remember, I'm Chief Technology Officer for Developer Express, one of the primary third-party library vendors for Delphi. If I don't understand what the heck is going on, if I'm not invited to look inside the kimono under NDA for reassurance, Borland and DevCo are in more dire straits than can be imagined.

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