The Borland/Inprise "Dance of Death"
May 2000

One of the best ways to stay in business is to listen to your customers. If you know what people want and supply it, you will be much more likely to prosper than if you blindly ignore the facts. If you allow personal bias, fear, or "conventional wisdom" to dictate your business practices, then death awaits. Somebody else will take your customers, or your customers' needs will simply go unsatisfied.

Thirty years ago that kind of bias was commonly expressed in such narrow-minded practices as racism, sexism, or even nationalism. In some places vestiges of these practices still exist, but the "smart money" is on businesses which do not allow narrow-minded biases to dominate their thinking. Especially in the Web Age, business is supposed to be open to any and all who want to buy their products. Business is supposed to be "transparent."

Which explains why the smart money is not on Borland/Inprise.

In mid-1998, a survey of software developers was published in the magazine *Developer Journal*. When asked which ONE software development environment they preferred, a plurality chose OS/2 Warp as their one favorite environment. With 16% of the market, OS/2 was not a landslide winner, but it was the leader over Windows at 15% and other environments (such as Linux) following close behind. Being in tune with an untapped demand for native OS/2 development tools would therefore seem to be the smart thing to do, but Borland has proven over the last ten years that smart business practices are not their strong suit.

Borland currently does not market or develop its popular tools for the OS/2 platform, neither as a development environment nor as a target platform. This is especially ridiculous when we consider that they would have an open field with few competitors.... What, do you think Microsoft would follow Borland's lead and begin writing development tools for OS/2? Of course not. Microsoft cannot afford to do anything that might legitimize the OS/2 platform, particularly under the current investigative mindset that is beginning to take hold due to the Antitrust case publicity. Since Borland can be quite sure that its main competitor (who has been eating its lunch as well as absorbing its development staff) will be no threat, a survival move on Borland's part would be to listen to what the market wants and provide native OS/2 development tools.

However, the term "OS/2" is never heard from Borland. Borland continues to beat its head on the wall, attempting to fight Microsoft in a battle that it cannot win through direct confrontation. Outflanking Microsoft by encouraging their customer base to flourish on the OS/2 platform might work, but Borland has not even considered it. Meanwhile, IBM has failed to provide the kind of stable, world-class development environments on OS/2 that thousands of ISVs crave. For example, Smack Labelmaker version 2.0 is on hold, awaiting IBM's hoped-for patches and fixes to IBM Visual C++ 4.0 for OS/2.

I would stand in line at midnight and pay good money for a copy of Delphi for OS/2 -- in Java, or C++, or REXX flavors -- if only Borland would ship a full-featured, up-to-date version for OS/2. But Borland/Inprise continues to drown in red ink and waste away, instead of attacking the "safe" platform where Microsoft won't and IBM can't. If Borland won't wise up, the least they could do with their dying breath is open-source the Delphi family and make it available to people who are more in-touch with what the marketplace demands.

Recent news reports state that Borland will be bought by Corel. As for Corel, other news articles claim that they are almost out of cash. Corel even claims that if it cannot acquire Borland/Inprise and raid its cash supply, it will be in serious danger. Corel stock is down 50% in just the past three weeks. And why? Because Corel has insisted on stubbornly limiting its target platforms to Windows (where it cannot grow because of Microsoft's power) and Unix (where it cannot grow immediately because of the relatively small demand). Corel simply has to target more platforms to try to build greater overall sales of its products, but they seem to have a phobia about developing outside the limited set of Windows and Unix/Linux platforms.

What will probably happen in the near future is that Corel will swallow Borland, and then they will in turn be swallowed by someone else. Who could that be? The ideal owner would be IBM. That combination would give IBM entrance to the legal market (WordPerfect's successful niche) as well as make them a player in the Linux desktop application space, where Lotus does not seem interested in moving. By offering both the Lotus and Corel/WordPerfect desktop suites, IBM might be able to provide a large enough selection of applications to become a player on the desktop, a once-cherished goal.

But even more importantly, IBM would then own the fine stable of software development tools that Borland currently makes. By offering versions of these tools that both reside on, as well as target, a multitude of software platforms (and the Web in particular), IBM could provide the spark that ignites application-development competition in the new business environment caused by a Microsoft breakup or sanctions. This move would bring a lot of old and new software developers out of the woodwork, people who just don't want to develop for the Windows-only market or who simply cannot find the right tools to develop for their platform of choice.

Whether this scenario takes place or not is pure speculation. But this kind of application-development empowerment is probably the only real hope of challenging Microsoft's decadent dominance. This would make Borland/Inprise's death a meaningful experience instead of merely a sad loss.

Most recent revision: May 1, 2000
Copyright © 2000, Tom Nadeau
All Rights Reserved.