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Borland: JBuilder, Eclipse, C++, Delphi

Click here for part 1 of this interview


Tim Anderson quizzes Borland’s Chief Executive Officer Dale Fuller and its Chief Technology Officer Blake Stone

Part 1: Windows vs Java

Part 2: JBuilder, Eclipse, C++, Delphi

Part 3: MDA, UML, Web services, Linux

Your comments


JBuilder versus Eclipse

Tim: With the new licensing terms for JBuilder Foundation it looks like Borland is going against Eclipse with a somewhat similar model: free basic tool, encourage third party plug-ins.

Blake: Back in 1999 we had JBuilder 3.0 Foundation.

Dale: We gave it away free, anyone could download it, anyone could embed it into their architecture. And that’s why we have thousands of plug-ins right now. We dominate that whole market place. Eclipse is trying to catch up with us.

Tim: But Foundation disappeared for a while, it became Personal which was not licensed for commercial use

Dale: We saw more and more people taking our products, embedding it into their products, and we weren’t getting the credit or the revenue streams that we thought we deserved. Now you see us changing back, because we’re moving to the next level up in technology. Those simpler products have become commoditized.

We have an entire group that is focussed on making sure that all the third parties that are using JBuilder, as a community are supported with our open tools frameworks.

But there’s a big difference between JBuilder and Eclipse. There’s a big difference between “free” and “freedom”. Freedom is not necessarily free. If you look at the Eclipse world today, while they’ll give it to you “free”, and its “open source”, it only works on their stuff. It doesn’t go cross-platform. It only works in their world and their environment. That’s the difference.

Tim: But you can compile any Java code you like on Eclipse

Dale: Yes, you sure can, as long as you stay away from those little booby traps that say, “Here’s a neat little feature. And by the way, that feature only works here. And here’s another neat feature and oh, by the way that only works here.” So all it takes is two of those in a nice piece of code, and you’re really upset.

Blake: Windows is an open platform. Does it give Microsoft any advantage in selling other applications? Maybe a little!

Tim: So you see Eclipse as akin to say Visual Studio and Windows, insofar as it directs you towards the WebSphere platform?

Dale: Oh, that’s their goal. That’s purely their goal. Which is OK, as long as you know it when you walk in. If you look at their marketing, it’s a totally different game. It’s “free”, it’s “open source”. There’s a big difference.

Blake: The PrimeTime platform is something that we started ages ago. We started working on this project in 1998, we had this vision of a reusable core. It’s a project that has enabled the move towards what we call the unified development environment, that Studio represents. The source code management, defect tracking, requirements management, the OptimizeIt product line, everything ties in and builds on this PrimeTime core.

Now it’s the same core shared between JBuilder and C++Builder. And when we acquired Together we immediately undertook the huge project of migrating their technology base so that we didn’t have two competing products, but two products that sit on the same core.

C++ BuilderX and VCL

Tim: I’ve seen C++ developers welcome the PrimeTime IDE for C++BuilderX, although the former C++Builder developers aren’t so happy.

Dale: The guys in the C++ world that based their applications on VCL, on the first wave of C++BuilderX coming out they are not happy because they can’t bring over their VCL code. But we have a solution. The first part is done, the next part is making sure that all that stuff can move forward.

Blake: We recognized that our existing C++ solution didn’t appeal to a large enough section of the C++ market. We knew we had to do something about that. The first goal is always to try to address the needs of the people you haven’t been addressing. Why release Delphi 8 for .Net first? Because we’ve done six releases for Win32, we’ve been addressing their needs for a long time. Time to address the needs of another group as well. Does that mean we’re moving away from or abandoning Win32? No. We have a commitment to updating that technology.

Tim: When you say you have a solution for those VCL people, what are you referring to?

Blake: We haven’t announced the specifics on that front. But it is something we’ve always had in our roadmap. We also continue to ship and support C++ Builder.

Communicating with developers

Tim: Can we talk about the communication angle? It came as rather a bombshell, the abandonment of C++ Builder VCL, or what seemed to be that. There’s also the question of what will happen to Delphi VCL. Something will happen but we don’t know what it is. That uncertainty is bad, because people are saying, “I’ve had it with Borland, I’ll go elsewhere”.

Blake: We’ve put a tremendous engineering exercise into making sure that rather than just abandoning VCL as an old Win32 technology, it is bridged to co-exist and work well with the .Net Framework. It gives people as much time as they need. But are we going to continue to invest in a direct competitor to WinForms, now that a standard exists on the platform? By no means. We will make sure that VCL is there for people who have an investment in existing code, but we’re encouraging people to use the standard technology on the .Net platform.

Tim: I’m not talking about the technology as such, because I understand the direction. I’m talking about the communication angle, and the level of unhappiness that you can see on the Borland newsgroups. Could you have pre-empted that by communicating the direction more clearly, earlier on?

Dale: It comes down to our philosophy about how we announce new products and new technology. I think we have 20 years track record, and sometimes it amazes me that people will abandon you pretty quickly and say, "It doesn't matter what they’ve done for the last 20 years, that they've always supported and always upgraded and always made it happen. They're not going to do that next week, I just know, I'm abandoning it."

We just think, no, we’re not going to say anything until we’re ready to say it. It’s not that we’re not communicating, it’s that we want to get it all lined up so that we can communicate one time, so we can answer all the questions as opposed to dribble it all out. That can cause more problems.

We’ve clearly told people at BorCon exactly what we’re gong to do today.

Blake: We have published a series of open letters to the Delphi community to let them know where we’re going. Once we have the definitive answer, we do the best we can to communicate that. It’s a very passionate community though. The community is used to the idea that we listen to the feedback. So, they’re willing to give us their thoughts off the top of their head, where in a lot of communities there’s an opinion that the company isn’t listening so you won’t see the kind of vocal feedback that we get. The fact that these people are willing to stand up and say, “What are you doing about this detailed piece of technology, please give me an answer,” shows that we have an open dialog.

Tim: It’s better to take the heat than to hide.

Dale: We live in the same world, we’re developers too. We take it, we do the same thing. Some of our partners don’t like the way we ask questions!

I’ll tell you, from the communication standpoint, we could do better. That’s stuff we can do better.

Next: MDA, Linux and more: click here for part 3

Copyright Tim Anderson 16th November 2003. All rights reserved.

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