The end of the Borland story: acquired by Micro Focus

It is not unexpected, but still sad to see loss-making Borland acquired by Micro Focus for a knock-down price of $75m. Borland’s release says little beyond the financial details. Micro Focus, which is also acquiring Compuware’s ASQ (Automated Software Quality) tools (such as QADirector, DevPartner and Optimal Trace, I presume) says:

Acquiring Borland and the Compuware Testing and ASQ Business will give Micro Focus a leading market position in the highly complementary Application Testing / ASQ market. This market is estimated to be worth c.US$2 billion a year and is logically adjacent to Micro Focus’ core application management and modernization business.  The move into the ASQ market is consistent with Micro Focus’ stated strategy of extending in logically adjacent segments to expand its addressable market.

Why sad? Well, if you were around in the eighties and nineties you will remember a bold company which came up with a series of excellent products: Turbo Pascal, Borland C/C++, Quattro Pro, Paradox, and of course the incomparable Windows development tool Delphi. The visual development model in Delphi was successfully transitioned to Java in the JBuilder product, which in its early versions used a Delphi-compiled IDE.

These developer-focused products live on, of course, mostly in the hands of Embarcadero. The Borland that has been acquired is what was left when, in my developer-centric opinion, the best parts had already left.

What went wrong at Borland? It is mostly the victim of changes in the industry, made worse today by the economic downturn. It was a tools company, and the tools market was hit by the double blow of excellent open-source competition on one side (Eclipse, GCC) and vendor-subsidised tools on the other (Visual Studio).

Still, there were some spectacular own goals along the way. The 1991 acquisition of Ashton-Tate, at the time the market leader in PC database managers, was one, mainly because dBASE IV was not very good and did nothing to help Borland transition to Windows; in any case, Borland already had a better product in the form of Paradox.

Talking of Paradox, Paradox for Windows was another disaster. Wonderful product, but mostly incompatible with its DOS predecessor, and probably a tad too complex as well. It also had to compete with Microsoft Access, which was both cheaper and part of the impregnable Microsoft Office suite.

The company made up for it with Delphi; but even that under-performed relative to its quality. Enterprises felt safer with Microsoft’s Visual Basic. JBuilder did well at first; but its market share diminished rapidly in the face of competition from Eclipse and NetBeans. In retrospect, Borland should have made its core Java IDE free much earlier, to build a community round it, though competing with free is never easy.

Since it was so hard making money out of compilers and IDEs, Borland changed tack in order to target Enterprise ALM (Application Lifecycle Management). It could have worked, but it wasn’t actually a great fit with the independent developers who formed a large part of its customer base, and who tended to ignore large, complex and expensive supplementary tools in favour of just getting on with coding.

The nadir was 1998 when Borland changed its name to Inprise, to reflect its Enterprise focus. “Many thought Borland had gone out of business”, says Wikipedia. It was changed back to Borland in 2001.

Another mis-step was the way Borland (then Inprise) handled InterBase, its client-server database. In 2000, with a burst of community enthusiasm, the product was made open source. A couple of years later, it changed its mind and continued to develop InterBase as a proprietary product; but by then FireBird had been born, based on the open source code.

Thought for the day: Borland paid more for TogetherSoft in 2002 (around $185m, including $82.5m cash), than Micro Focus is paying now for Borland.

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3 comments to The end of the Borland story: acquired by Micro Focus

  • Roddy

    Thought for the day: Borland paid more for TogetherSoft in 2002 (around $185m, including $82.5m cash), than Micro Focus is paying now for Borland.

    More relevantly, they also paid well over £100m for Segue in April 2006.

    And don’t forget Legadero, Gauntlet, Teraquest….

  • Roddy

    oops: $100m, not £100m. But otherwise correct…

  • Clyde Davies

    What’s going to happen to StarTeam now? Borland sunk a lot into that product and made it a really good CM tool, but up against newer free offerings such as Subversion, it is going to struggle. Mind you, that goes for all proprietary CM tools, such as Team System, ClearCase and the suchlike.