Some Speculation

03 October 2006

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.

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