Category Archives: borland

Jewels from the loft: launch of Delphi, Netscape’s Constellation, HTML to die, Longhorn for developers

It’s the Easter holiday in the UK and I’ve suffered a bout of spring-clean fever. It is time, I decided, to clear out a mountain of old books and magazines.

A job like this always prompts reflections, the first of which is the sad decline of print journalism in the field of software development. It hurt to send piles of Byte, Exe, Dr Dobbs’s Journal, Application Development Advisor and others off for recycling.


A few things caught my eye. Exe June 1995, and there is a young Anders Hejlsberg talking to Will Watts about his new creation: Borland Delphi:

Before Delphi, you always had to make a choice. Do I go for the performance of a native code compiler, or the ease of use of a visual development environment? Do I go for a powerful object-oriented language, or a proprietary 4GL client/server tool? What programmers really want is all of the above, in one package. That’s what we set out to do.

What is striking about Delphi is that this was not hype. It delivered on that promise. It was better than its obvious rival, Microsoft’s Visual Basic, in almost every way (I will give VB a point for sheer ubiquity, especially in VBA guise). Delphi is still with us today, not bad after fifteen years. However, it never came close to VB’s market share, which shows that quality has never been the sole or even the most important determinant of sales success.

Next up is Byte, March 1998. “Reinventing the Web”, the cover proclaims. “XML and DHTML will bring order to the chaos”.


Inside there is a breathless description of how XML will change everything, and a quote from Jon Bosak:

HTML, this so-called ‘hypertext markup language,’ implements just a tiny amount of the functionality that has historically been associated with the concept of hypertext systems. Only the simplest form of linking is supported – unidirectional links to hard-coded locations. This is a far cry from the systems that were built and proven during the 1970s and 1980s.

Indeed. “We need to start replacing simple HTML with more powerful alternatives”, the article concludes. “The migration to XML must begin. The future of the Web depends on it.”

Here’s one thing that mostly did not work out as planned. The W3C tried to retire HTML, failed, and is now belatedly engaged in specifying HTML 5.

Byte March 1997 is also intriguing. Netscape’s Marc Andreessen smiles out of the cover.


Jon Udell, in the days before he disappeared into some Microsoft corridor, writes about Netscape’s “Constellation: the network-centric desktop”:

Netscape’s Constellation takes a less Windows-centric approach and puts more emphasis on location-independent computing, regardless of the platform. No matter what kind of system you’re using or where you are, Constellation presents a universal desktop called the Homeport. Although the Homeport can appear in a browser window, Netscape usually demonstrates it as a full-screen layer that buries the native OS – certainly one reason Microsoft is not embracing Constellation.

Netscape got a lot of things right, a true pioneer of what we now call cloud computing. What went wrong? Well, Microsoft went all-out to conquer Netscape by removing its browser dominance. Microsoft’s weapon was the free Internet Explorer.

It is all a pre-echo of what is happening now with Google and Microsoft, the difference being that Google has huge financial power thanks to its marriage of internet search and internet advertising. Unlike Netscape, Google is winning.

This blog is long enough; but I’ll give a brief mention to another jewel from the archives: a book given out at PDC 2003 entitled Introducing Longhorn for Developers.


It describes Microsoft’s vision for Longhorn: a radical new application model for Windows, building on XAML, WinFS and “Indigo”, the communication framework. It bears little resemblance to what eventually appeared as Vista, which is a shame as it was compelling in many ways.

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.

Prism: official Delphi language comes to Visual Studio

Embarcadero is to release Delphi for .NET as a Visual Studio add-on, called Prism. Marco Cantu has a summary. Note that according to this post, which is based on an announcement statement by product manager Nick Hodges at the SDN conference near Amsterdam, there will be:

full support for the .NET framework 3.5 (WinForms, WFP, Silverlight, ASP.NET, WCF, LINQ) … CodeGear will provide Datasnap 2009 integration and dbExpress for ADO.NET support

It looks as if this will be a full alternative language for .NET developers. Note that many of the language changes, such as generics, in the Win32 version of Delphi 2009 seemed to have .NET compatibility in mind. It makes sense for Embarcadero to use Visual Studio to host .NET development tools, just as it uses Eclipse for Java.

There remains an awkward question. What advantage is there in using Delphi (a version of Pascal) rather than C# for .NET development? If this is aimed only at existing Delphi developers migrating code, it will only ever be a niche.

Not good news for RemObjects Oxygene, which is also an Object Pascal add-on for Visual Studio; but Oxygene has some other tricks like Mono support, for running on Linux, which may sustain it.*

I am trying to clarify a couple of points. To what extent, if at all, will Prism support the .NET version of Delphi’s VCL (Visual Component Library), which would not fit smoothly with the Visual Studio design tools? Even if VCL.NET applications work, you would probably be better off using Delphi’s own IDE for them. Code ported from Win32 Delphi will likely use the VCL, so this is tough to get right. And what is the future of Delphi for .NET in RAD Studio? I will update this post when I know more.

*Comments below suggest that this is in fact Oxygene rebadged; I won’t say more until I’ve got official confirmation.

Codegear sold to Embarcadero

CodeGear, Borland’s developer tools business, is to be acquired by Embarcadero; though to be more precise, CodeGear is being acquired by the owner of Embarcedero, a private equity company called Thoma Cressey Bravo.

Embarcadero has a range of database and data modeling products, including ER/Studio, EA/Studio, RapidSQL, PowerSQL and DBArtisan.

This is the end of a long road – CodeGear was put up for sale in 2006.

Good news? Insofar as it ends a long period of uncertainty, yes. On the other hand, I sense that many of CodeGear’s customers have valued its renewed focus on software development, as opposed to application lifecycle management, modeling, change management and all those other enterprisey things. Embarcadero just might take it back in that direction. From the press release:

Customers and partners will benefit from Embarcadero’s ability to help fully integrate their application development lifecycle, automate error-prone tasks and dramatically increase their productivity.

Talk of “dramatically increased productivity” is bound to strike fear into the hearts of those who like their dev tools mean and lean.

The problem from a business perspective is that enterprise sales are where the money is, and plain old IDEs and compilers are thoroughly commodotized. Eclipse, NetBeans, Visual Studio Express…

That said, CodeGear still has some interesting products, and increased resources for things like quality control and documentation would do them no harm at all.


CodeRage sessions available for download

You can now download the content from last week’s CodeRage, the virtual developer conference laid on by CodeGear. The downloads use Camtasia and Flash and work well.

A few that I recommend are Ravi Kumar’s session on JBuilder Application Factories from Day 5, and Joe McGlynn on 3rd Rail, an IDE for Ruby on Rails, from Day 3. For Delphi futures (64-bit, generics, concurrent programming, hints about cross-compilation to other operating systems) check out Nick Hodges’ session on Day 1. I’ve not viewed everything, so there are no doubt other excellent sessions.

Nevertheless, I have mixed feelings about this CodeRage. The keynotes were weak, with too much high level waffle about how CodeGear is committed to developers etc etc. The conferencing software was no more than adequate, did not work properly for me on Vista, and did not support Mac or Linux. That may explain why attendee numbers in some sessions were embarrassingly small.

I am struggling to make sense of this. CodeGear claims to have 7.5 million registered users; yet only 2100 registered to attend the free CodeRage, and some of those no doubt never turned up. If that is representative of the level of interest in new CodeGear products, as opposed to legacy users, then that is a worrying sign.

CodeRage II: Windows only, login problems

I was surprised to learn that CodeGear’s online conference is apparently closed to Mac users, or anyone not on Windows:


That’s odd, since the company has Java and Ruby development products that run cross-platform.

Further, even Windows users have had problems logging in. The conferencing software CodeGear is using is limited to 1500 attendees per session, but thanks to a glitch sessions were reported full even when they were not. A message posted to the borland newgroup explains:

It turns out the problem was that only the first 1500 people who registered for CodeRage were successfully registered to attend all of the InterWise events because of a 1500 person limitation for iSeminar events. Unfortunately, this meant that 1500 attendance spots were reserved for those 1500 email addresses even though less than that we’re actually attending. Long story short, I’ve removed all IW registrations from individual events so anyone should be able to get in.  You shouldn’t see anymore “Exceeded max number of participants” error messages unless we really hit 1500 people for any given session.

I had problems myself – I am not sure if it was this limitation, or just the Interwise conferencing software which, like so much out there, appears to be uncomfortable with Windows Vista/UAC and presented a variety of error messages. I didn’t record all the details, but I was constantly being told I had cancelled the setup when I had done no such thing.

Hmmm, I seem to recall technical problems with previous Borland/CodeGear online events as well. Surely it’s time the company got these things right?

Technorati tags: , ,

Is CodeRage the future of tech conferences?

CodeRage 2007 starts next week. It’s a technical conference covering CodeGear’s products, including Dephi, JBuilder, C++ Builder and 3rdRail, the new Ruby on Rails IDE.

The conference is both free and virtual.

A virtual conference is no substitute for human contact. I’ve learnt this paradox over many years: even if the same content is freely available on the Web, there is substantial benefit in physical attendance. You are more focused, you learn more, you can easily ask questions, and you pick up all those indefinable signals from others who are attending.

Equally, the global fuel crisis and concern about the environmental cost of travel surely means that virtual conferencing is an idea whose time has come. Another benefit is that it includes an array of people for whom a typical tech conference is just not feasible, for financial or other reasons.

I’d like to see more of these.

Technorati tags: , , , ,

CodeGear’s Ruby on Rails IDE is released

CodeGear has released its IDE for Ruby on Rails. Called 3rdRail, it installs an instant Ruby on Rails environment, and features code completion, project management, refactoring and integrated debugging. The Eclipse-based IDE runs on Windows, Mac and Linux, and a 30 day trial is available. I’m downloading it now.

Technorati tags: , , , ,

CodeGear puts 64-bit on the roadmap

CodeGear has updated its Delphi Roadmap. Newly added is Delphi codename “Commodore”, set for Winter 2008, which is to include native 64-bit development. After that the company is promising to focus on multi-core/multi-threaded development.

What else is coming? Delphi “Highlander”, due later this year, is a belated update to Delphi .NET, will support .NET 2.0, and has a new .NET database called SQL Datastore (likely some sort of port of JDataStore). No word on WPF or LINQ though – CodeGear is still playing catch-up here.

Delphi “Tiburón”, due next year, will bring another long-requested feature: full Unicode compatibility in the Win32 Delphi language and VCL (Visual Component Library), along with parameterized types. C++Builder “Barracuda” will follow, bringing the same features to C++.

The really interesting stuff comes at the end. CodeGear is “researching” a number of areas includes development for mobile devices, Rich Internet Applications, and cross-compilation to other operating systems. All this is at the “sometime, never” end of the time scale, so don’t get too excited.

All the above will be welcomed by Delphi developers, though I fear most of the potential .NET market has already been ceded to Visual Studio.

It’s not a bad roadmap though. That said, to my mind the most critical issue for CodeGear is quality control. Poor quality is what spoilt the launch of Delphi for PHP earlier this year. I discussed this issue with the new CEO Jim Douglas and EMEA product Director Jason Vokes when I was researching a recent article for The Register, and got the sense that the familiar pressure of having to release product (ready or not) to hit particular financial quarters is still a problem. Still, Delphi 2007 was a smoother launch than Delphi 2006, and that was miles better than Delphi 2005, so leaving aside Delphi for PHP things are improving.

JBuilder 2007 comes to the Mac

Codegear has announced a new JBuilder 2007 release which includes Mac, Vista and RedHat support (the earlier release only ran on Windows). It is to be made available later this month (May 2007).

There are three editions, Turbo (free), standard and Enterprise. Enterprise has “Team Server” features, with tracking and source code management; it’s not clear from the release how this ties in with existing team offerings from Codegear/Borland. The standard edition replaces both Developer and Professional editions in the previous range; the release says there is: 

Special upgrade pricing of $250 and new user pricing of $499

You would have thought this would be a free upgrade for existing JBuilder 2007 users, since cross-platform support should have been there from the beginning, but the release doesn’t say that it is. I’d like clarification.

This of course is the “JBuilder” based on Eclipse. I was interested in a discussion on one of the JBuilder newsgroups about Eclipse updates. Eclipse is a platform for add-ins, each of which is constantly being updated. The idea is that you run the update manager from time to time to get the latest version of each add–in, or perhaps install new ones. There are multiple dependencies with obvious potential for conflict. Borland’s JBuilder is a tailored build of Eclipse, and in consequence it is apparently dangerous to use the update manager. One user complained about this and drew the following comment from JBuilder expert David Orriss:

Do not try to use the Eclipse updater in JBuilder 2007. It can lead to problems, as you have seen. I’ll agree that it could have been documented better, but to try to effectively block the updater [which] (via plugins or code modifications) causes problems in the Eclipse platform.

It is a significant point. On the plus side, one of the attractions of JBuilder 2007 is that it offers a consistent, supported build of Eclipse unlike an uncontrollable open-source installation. On the minus side, blocking the update manager blocks the key Eclipse benefit: its extensibility and continuous improvement.