In the black-and-white platform wars Borland stays neutral

Interview / John Fisher, Borland Canada

The recent launch of Microsoft’s platform has prompted a number of company executives to re-evaluate their product strategies. With Microsoft developers scrambling to become familiar with C#, and J2EE developers looking on with interest, Borland has welcomed the .Net wave with open arms by giving its users the freedom of choice and making sure that skill sets and code are preserved rather than rewritten. ComputerWorldCanada staff writer Kristy Pryma spoke with John Fisher, president of Borland Canada, about the importance of .Net, the possibility of a homogeneous developing world and what the future has in store for Web services.

CWC: How does the launch of Microsoft’s .Net platform change Borland’s product strategy?

Fisher: The launch of .Net affects us in a couple of ways. All development done on Windows is now shifting to the .Net framework or platform. All key Windows development platforms including C++ Builder and Delphi will now have a .Net version that will be released somewhere in the second quarter of this year. Borland has a long history of working with Microsoft – we’ve played in Windows space for a long time. If we’re going to continue with that relationship with Microsoft, we’re going to have to help our customers move to the .Net world.

Borland is number one in Java development, we’re number one on the Linux development side, and we’ve become number one on the wireless development side. We plan on being number one on the .Net development side too.

CWC: What are your plans to accomplish this?

Fisher: We think we can do it for a couple of reasons. We’ve got the second largest development community in the world in the Windows market, and what we plan to do is allow them to transfer their skills into the .Net world. They don’t have to learn an entirely new language. One of the things with Microsoft is that they introduce new languages like C# which is not evolutionary, but revolutionary. Borland’s taking a more evolutionary approach. We’re allowing our developers to keep their skill sets and keep their source code by giving them tools to move the source code over to .Net very easily. They don’t have to rewrite their code at all.

We also allow cross-platform capabilities, so you can develop in Linux using our Kylix product and move it over to Delphi in our Windows world and move it from there into the .Net framework. It’s allowing for some very interesting things to happen. We like to think that because our strategy allows all of that and we have a history of respecting our developers and the work that they’ve done, that we’ll attract a lot of developers that are not currently using Borland products.

CWC: How well do you think that .Net will compete with Java?

Fisher: The .Net world isn’t really here yet. People have been developing Web services with both Borland Delphi and Borland J-Builder for many months, so Web services have been around, but .Net as a framework that competes with Java isn’t really here yet. There’s a lot of interest, but I’d also state that the world isn’t going to be a homogenous one. It isn’t going to be just .Net or just Java. The way Borland views things is that more than half of the customers out there are going to be using both .Net and Java.

Borland is uniquely positioned in these regards because we are able to bridge the two environments. A lot of our customers see this as an exciting thing. They can go down one path and if they see a fork in the road, rather than feeling they have to have a .Net strategy here and a Java strategy there, they can comfortably know that they can do either without losing the investments that they’ve made. A lot of our customers are already using J2EE, however many of them are saying that they know they’re going to have to use .Net strategy as well. They’re really happy that we can take them down that path.

CWC: Why is this the case?

Fisher: There are a lot of companies that almost see platform wars as a religious campaign. It’s either black or white for these people, with nothing in between – but that’s not the way it’s going to happen. You’re going to have to communicate, and if you go down a strictly Java path or go strictly with .Net, you will not be able to communicate, interact and collaborate. It’s definitely going to be a heterogeneous world from an applications perspective. One of the ways of dealing with this will be Web services and XML, which will help to bridge these two different worlds. The Java world has a head start, but there are a lot of good things going on in the .Net world as well.

CWC: It seems that everyone has a different definition of what Web services are. How does Borland define Web services?

Fisher: The term “Web services” has only recently been coined. We see Web services as the ability to expose parts of an application so that it can be published on Internet and can be executed by customers, partners or employees. I think the first wave of Web services will be B2C and B2E, so that employees are able to utilize applications while remote. In the next little while we’re going to see a broad adoption from a B2E and B2C perspective. Web services are not the Holy Grail or anything, but the ability to integrate applications and the ability to use applications more effectively over the Web is progress.

CWC: How has Borland weathered the recent economic roller coaster?

Fisher: It’s been a difficult year for the industry, but Borland, partly because of our strategy and our position, bucked the trend a little bit. We were profitable every quarter last year, and grew 17 per cent – our stock more than doubled. We had a real focus on our developers, our applications, the deployment of applications and the integration of them. From a general perspective, I see Borland as a bellwether. People have to write apps before anyone can deploy them.

It isn’t easy, though. We are a sales organization, and it’s not like we just walk into a company and are handed orders and [purchase orders]. We sell based on the value that we bring to people, and our value proposition is freedom and openness. We give people the ability to make their own choices, and don’t lock them into any particular path. As a result, people have responded to that. As far as I’m concerned, these are all reasons for optimism.