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An Icon in Transition
Borland is engaged in yet another makeover, one that is perhaps more cogent than its short-lived and ill-fated name change to Inprise several years ago.
by Peter Varhol

July 24, 2006

Everyone who has been in the industry for a decade or more is rooting for Borland to pull through its latest bout of uncertainty and once again establish itself as a groundbreaking, if slightly quirky, provider of development and application lifecycle tools. Several FTP editors met with Borland executives at the company's Cupertino offices last Friday to discuss its future plans.


My history with Borland products is thus: In the early 1990s, I was a college professor teaching computer science and mathematics, and the Turbo series of products was the sole reason I was able to teach professional programming on PCs. Were it not for Borland Turbo Pascal and Turbo C, I would have been forced to teach graduate and undergraduate programming concepts on the DEC VAX—a serviceable enough platform, but one that was based in an era of computing that even then was clearly on the decline rather than on the rise.

Turbo Pascal and Turbo C were available for students for about $40 a copy, or about the price of a textbook at the time. We were able to justify a couple dozen copies of both in the main computer lab, and I could reasonably suggest that students purchase copies for themselves to work at home.

I was not alone in this trend, and an entire generation of young programmers grew up on the inexpensive, fast (Turbo!), and feature-rich development tools. Many things have since transpired in the IDE landscape, and at Borland, in the intervening 15 years, and today the company's development tools have a loyal but decidedly minority following.

So Borland is engaged in yet another makeover, one that is perhaps more cogent than its short-lived and ill-fated name change to Inprise several years ago, yet one that still faces a large amount of uncertainty. My colleagues will report on other aspects of our afternoon of meetings, and there will be some surprises in store that we are not yet able to talk about. As perhaps befitting to my past professional life (or so my FTP colleagues insisted), I spoke to Rick Jackson, senior vice president and chief marketing officer, and Erik Frieberg, vice president of product marketing.

Our discussions focused on Borland's emerging strategy as a provider of application lifecycle management (ALM) solutions for the enterprise, and the upcoming divestiture of the traditional development tools. We were told that a definitive announcement of the divestiture plans would be forthcoming in a matter of weeks, promising an end to the uncertainty (at least for customers and other interested observers) surrounding the split.

Borland has been in the process of acquiring companies that fill out its vision of ALM, most recently testing-tools provider Segue Software and build-process vendor Gauntlet Systems. In doing so, Borland is establishing a new direction, while also trying to hold onto some vestiges of the old.

The old manifests itself in the traditional development tools. Borland says that it will have OEM and cross-licensing deals with the development tools entity, making it possible for each to sell one another's products. This is probably more important for Borland, which doesn't want to lose its developer cachet at the same time it moves into higher-value businesses. But it will also be important to the new development tools entity. Remember, after all, that Borland is divesting that business because it has become a commodity.

Yet the ALM market itself is at best highly competitive. Rick Jackson and Eric Frieberg explained that the Borland approach was a seamless integration and exchange of data between stages of the application lifecycle, and tools used in those stages, including non-Borland tools. When I pointed out that other vendors have used this message for many years, even if they had not been able to deliver on it, the Borland executives explained that they executed a full reorganization of the company development teams to be less product-focused and more ALM stage–focused. That approach was working, they claimed, because it meant that teams could think beyond shipping their own products to supporting all parts of the lifecycle.

I also mentioned that seamless data exchange was the goal of the Eclipse ALF and Corona projects, to which they took strong exception. "Old technology," "incomplete solution," and "large vendors haven't signed on" were the milder of the objections. True enough, but I would not want to be the one betting against the Eclipse juggernaut right now. Borland might have a head start in delivering such an integration technology, but the markets don't always congregate around the first company to arrive.

All these tools, from requirements management to modeling to building and testing, are intended to work with both the Java and Microsoft platforms, which is likely another point in their favor. Yet they might well be caught between Microsoft Visual Studio Team System on the one hand, and Eclipse on the other.

I found it interesting that the Borland definition of ALM ends at the delivery of an application for production. Most competing ALM vendors include production as a stage in the application lifecycle, and offer monitoring tools for running applications. In theory, the advantage of doing so is that it becomes possible to capture data on production failures and feed them back into the development and test process, so that problems appearing only in production can be more quickly analyzed, fixed, and tested. Perhaps the company's definition is a matter of convenience, as it doesn't yet have tools for farther downstream in the lifecycle. I wouldn't be surprised if that changes in the future.

Still, there is some intuitive sense in driving the application lifecycle from definition and development down to production, rather than going in the opposite direction. If Borland can clearly distinguish itself from the pack with both technology and messaging, it has a chance to make a go of this strategy. For the sake of the veterans of Borland development tools everywhere, we hope that happens.

About the Author
Peter Varhol is Editor of FTPOnline.

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