Struggling to understand Borland

02 October 2006

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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I couldn't have said it better. We've put all Delphi projects in maintenance mode already by the time the buy out was announced. New projects are on C#/Visual Studio .NET 2005. Being a Borland fan since the good old Turbo Pascal 3 times it feels like burying a friend.
2 October 2006
Robert Kozak
Well put.

I gave Borland the benefit of the doubt when they first announced their "Spin off" for about 1 week. I used to be a big fan of Borland and especially of Delphi. Heck, I even worked there for a couple of years. But the writing has been on the wall for a long time. There was a lot of good spin coming out of Scotts Valley for a while there but I think that’s exactly what it was: "spin"

Borland is a shining example of mismanagement inside a tech company. They have great people working in there but it’s my personal belief that there is not much they can do at this point.

Borland is the tech equivalent of the ill fated Titanic. No matter how great and experienced the Capitan and crew are...once they hit the iceberg there was nothing they could do.

And in Borland's case they hit more than one iceberg. Kylix, .NET, Inprise, SDL, SOA.

DOA. Borland. RIP.
2 October 2006
I've heard of the demise of Borland since 1991, and other players have come and gone (Symantec, Watcom) to name  a few.   Our shop will remain with Delphi since it is the best Win32 developement tool bar none, and since .Net doesn't come with XP, it is simply too cumbersome to deploy the .Net runtime in the field.   Until .Net comes bundled with the OS, Win32 will be the only way to go for us.    

We also use JBuilder for StarTeam development, as our company hasn't gone the open source route as yet, and JBuilder is still the premier Java tool in our eyes.

2 October 2006
Mohamed Koker
Now them's fighting words indeed!

However, and I freely admit this could just be wishful thinking on my part, there could be some method to this apparent madness.

I think your analysis re the reasons for the non-news is spot-on and suspect that the release of the Turbo products was a trial balloon to guage how much interest there still is in the market place for reasonably-priced tools.

Depending on how the score is being kept, would-be buyers will either be impressed or disappointed by the reception of the Turbo products and this will either make them more willing to sweeten their offers or turn turtle.

As for the whole ALM/LQM/SDO stuff? This just brings back some really bad memories of the Inprise days and the sooner Devco can put spme distance between them and these mad hatters, the better.
2 October 2006
This is very typical of Borland the last years.  I am betting after any buyers conduct a thorough due dilligence there will be no takers.
2 October 2006
Julian you've hit the nail squarely on the head. I understand the "quiet period" part of doing busines, but this is starting to sound like a death knell.

LQM? Isn't that what the rest of us have been doing with DUnit for the last several years? I'm not sure we need another fancy shmancy acronym that makes the mediocre MBA's in charge of ABC Corp. think their on the bleeding edge.

When (If) Devco is really divested, I predict 18 months tops for what is left of Borland before it is in bankruptcy. The inmates are truly running the asylum in Scotts Valley...
2 October 2006
I do hope a more 'third-party-friendly' staff emerges at the new DevCo - all my favorite Delphi vendors have voiced increasing disappointment in recent years.  

My take on the current silence is that the legal department clamped down hard on the DTG team when they realized they were making (much needed) public reassurances in past months.
2 October 2006
I think the biggest problem for Borland is that they lost their focus a while back. Somehow they thought that if they were good at one portion of the software development tool market, they can be good at them all.

Just see where that has left Delphi. It's one of the biggest hacks that somehow manages to start once in a while. It's buggy, slow, and that's even if you apply all the latest hotfixes. Delphi releases also seems to be more about bundling 3rd party software than it is about fixing long-standing bugs. Why can't they fix the long parsing pause that occurs on big projects for instance? I got several-hundred thousand lines of code projects in C# that for some odd reason seems instantaneous to get code intellisense in, whereas Delphi takes its artistic pause every once in a while on a whim.

Delphi has become a source of frustration.

Borland is no longer a company to reckon with, in my opinion. It's sad, but that's how it is.
3 October 2006
Dr. Fritz Klein
I think your comments are appropriate and very likely accurate.  It is especially chilling that they come from one of the larger 3rd party took makers for Delphi. Given that the main part of Borland is/was having problems, I never understood from the very beginning why they would ever let the cash cow development group "spin off". Never made any sense.

so be it

3 October 2006
Craig Stuntz
Julian, apologies in advance if I'm misreading your comment, but there seems to be a presumption that the strategy for DevCo and the strategy for the rest of Borland are somehow related. I'm not at all convinced that's true. If there is, as Mohammed put it, a "method to this apparent madness," I'm much more easily convinced that the "method" is at DevCo rather than at the rest of Borland.

Regarding DevCo, it seems to me that many people have a very difficult time admitting that they really don't know anything. There is an air of "Kremlinology," where the thinnest of statements made by people like David, back when he *could* talk, are spun into scarcely-related theories. I personally don't know what's happening, and am not going to speculate about it, because I find it pointless. We'll find out when we find out, and I know the people involved well enough to know that they would be talking if they were allowed to.

Regarding the rest of Borland, I don't understand much of it, either. I don't think you're right to attribute the troubles to Team System, however. The only bits of CoreSDP ever released were Java-centric. Visual Studio does not do well in the Java market. Eclipse/SVN/Trac? Well, that's at least a *possible* explanation.

CoreSDP, in the early stages of its evolution, was essentially several products wrapped up in a single installer. It seems that people didn't find this as appealing as Borland planned, so they're dropping this packaging. That much makes sense. Dropping the name and introducing a new TLA? I can't explain that.
3 October 2006
Luiz Marques
I love Delphi and can't see switching right now, but it is just common sense that sales would take a dive.

If I hadn't bought Delphi 2006 (my first upgrade since Delphi 5, BTW), I surely wouldn't buy it now and give money to a company that made clear they are no longer interested in the product. I've seen this viewpoint several times in the borland newsgroups, so it's not just me.

As Mohamed said, this is just the genius admin types at Borland doing another Inprise scale stunt. I wouldn't be on them pulling out from this one, though.
3 October 2006
Figuring the whole process could be completed that fast was a delusion of the first order.  So is expecting to understand Borland itself.
3 October 2006
The response to my previous post has been interesting. I haven't been flamed, which might have been one...
3 October 2006
David Intersimone "David I"
Work continues on all developer products here at the Developer Tools Group (DTG) at Borland.  We recently announced a new version of InterBase 2007, we've released updates and hotfixes to JBuilder and Developer Studio.  DTG announced and shipped the Turbo brand of products.  We are following the roadmap for JBuilder and Developer Studio to deliver the next versions of those products.
The DTG strategy and roadmap is public.  Last week we were in Frankfurt Germany visiting with our customers there giving them the same information.
As a Technology Partner DevExpress and other partners are kept up to date on product plans, test versions, ship dates, launch participation etc.  Through the Developer Network, online chats, webinars, and articles we tell the story of our products, our roadmaps, and our strategy.
Julian - you can call me anytime.
David I
Borland DTG
3 October 2006
Howard Lee Harkness
I bought a copy of the original Turbo Pascal when it was introduced at $20. Fantastic product, but I couldn't seem to get anybody to pay me to write Pascal back then.

I talked the client that I was working for when Delphi 1.0 came out into going with Delphi. They loved it. I had some misgivings about Borland at the time because I felt like they weren't paying close enough attention to their customers -- plus, Delphi 1.0 was the buggiest piece of commercial software I had seen up to that time, and the documentation was even worse.

I've tried to be a loyal Borland fan, even when they screwed me over with the buggy C++ for OS/2 that they suddenly decided not to support. Even when they were trying to out-MS Microsoft and changed the name to Inprise, and managed to screw up the WP business so bad that most people these days never heard of anything but MSWord. Then, when the name-change went over like a turd in the punch bowl, changed back to Borland. Even when they dropped Kylix without so much as a 'by-your-leave'. Even when they did so many "turnarounds" that the industry got dizzy watching.

Borland has been trying to commit corporate suicide for at least 10 years, and it's a wonder that they haven't succeeded. I see they are still trying.

I've just accepted a job with a company in the process of migrating their core products away from Delphi. They, like many others that I talked to, have found Borland too unreliable to continue with. They also mentioned that it has been getting nearly impossible to find Delphi programmers. The old 3D group (Delphi Delevopers of Dallas) disbanded years ago; I tracked down the ex-president, who assured me that there was no more 3D, and there wasn't enough local interest in Delphi to make it worth resurrecting.

They keep stabbing themselves in the chest long enough, sooner or later they will get the heart.
5 October 2006
Well, after my couple of strongly worded posts earlier this week (one, two), I've been chatting to both...
6 October 2006
Cristian Alvarez Planas
(I'm not English, so sorry if I write something wrong)

Borland's position is not easy these days, actually Micro$oft is a very big monster and is making a lot of damage everywhere.
It's quite impossible to fight against such a big monster, and the fact that it completely controls that widely extended 'system' called Windows, makes even more difficult to think about any possible way to survive.

NET platform is not a new idea, but when you have million$, no scruples, total control and a good marketing department, you can make it seem anything.

The derive that Borland is showing these last years is very comprehensive if you think about that. I think they are trying to find a way to survive, but like I said, it will be a very difficult goal to achieve.

I hope the future of IT will not be what it seems, I hope Micro$oft will not eat or destroy all IT companies, but I think this will be very difficult if we don't keep locked in our positions and beliefs whatever the whether is. It's difficult, but the only way, I think.

I have to recognize that NET is good, very good, but this is not difficult if you stole ideas and people from others. And we have to recognize that Micro$oft is NOT and NEVER have been an example of how to do things right (maybe yes that r$ght).
But Delphi and even almost things that Borland does are very good too.
I have read that Borland doesn't think about customers, maybe there are some eternal bugs, but I read somewhere that you can take Delphi 1.0 code and compile it, with almost any change, in the actual IDE. Do you think that this is not thinking about customers? Micro$oft is the king of 'I change this that way because I want and f@#k everyone'.

I have developed both Micro$oft platforms and Delphi for years. If something is difficult or delicate, use Delphi; fast, clean and sweet. Perfect!.
I love Delphi and I will always love it, and if you love something, you love it with its virtues and defects.

Maybe solutions for Delphi and Borland are, try to be cheap, or try to invade education areas (I knew Turbo and Borland there) with free programs and lot of documentation, or try to help and promote all those free components suites and developers, or try to be the leader of Linux platform... Who knows, its kind a difficult position.

In any case,

Live Borland and live Delphi forever!
And live all those companies that try to do things right and not just that r$ght.

And If our worst thoughts come true:

'Fue bonito mientras duro'
'Prefiero haver amado y perder, que no haber amado nunca'
It's translated (more or less) like this:
It was pretty while it lasted.
I prefer to have loved and lost, that to have never loved.
7 October 2006
Howard Lee Harkness
Minor whine -- this blog has a link to subscribe, but the subscription page just says that subscriptions are closed. Also, the RSS feed appears to be configured strangely. I'd like a way to easily follow the top-level blog, not just this section.

Now that I'm actively working with Delphi (D6 at this point), I'm busy coming back up to speed. D6 is a very nice tool compared to the BCB3 and D5 that I had to work with last time around, but I see that it is at end-of-life (or past). The company I signed on with last month has decided not to upgrade to any more recent version of Delphi, and is preparing to migrate all of their core applications to C# over the next 3 years.  Current stuff is in maintenance-only mode right now, with new development on the back burner until next month.

Delphi remains the fastest, easiest way I have ever seen to put a GUI front end on a DB app. Too bad Borland can't be depended on to stay any particular course for longer than the current quarter. That is symptomatic of a bunch of suits running a techie company.

The C# migration here has not officially begun, pending a planned reorganization of the company, but I hope to have some influence on the process. I've been following the development of Lazarus, and it looks very much like it is reaching critical mass (if it hasn't already). It has the potential of being what Kylix wanted to be, and it has the advantage of being open-source, so it can't just disappear overnight without warning because some suit in Borland Corporate didn't like the numbers this quarter (and thinks the answer is to try something completely different, and completely abandon a significant portion of the current customer base). It's possible that Lazarus could stagnate over time, but right now, there appears to a large surge of interest and activity on the Lazarus Project.

I'm still devoting most of my effort to coming back up to speed on Delphi (and aquiring the domain knowledge that will convince my new employer that I'm a keeper), but in a few weeks, I expect to start devoting some off-time hours to the Lazarus Project ( myself.

If the DTG splits off from Borland, and Borland devolves to supporting 20-year-out-of-date software methodologies, I believe Borland will finally succeed in its attempts to commit corporate suicide.

Back to my previous analogy: DTG or something like that has always been the heart of Borland, and once the heart is removed, it will stop beating -- and the host will expire as soon as the life-support system (whatever cash they get for DTG) fizzles.

That, in turn, will be a big boost to the Lazarus Project. Maybe the folks at Developer Express could get involved. Lazarus is LGPL, which is more commercial-development-friendly than GPL. (No NDA needed to "peek under the kimono", and you can use it for commercial stuff). Having a major commercial library vendor supporting Lazarus would make it much easier to migrate from Delphi to Lazarus -- which would in turn help Borland succeed in its next (or current) corporate suicide attempt.
11 October 2006

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