Borland's CodeGear Rises From The Ashes

Now, CEO Ben Smith is in charge of building CodeGear, revitalizing the developer tools it inherits from Borland, and winning back the trust of customers and partners burned by Borland's cavalier treatment.

"We see the news as a great step forward. Finally, there is some stability," Raize Software President Ray Konopka, a longtime Borland partner, said about the creation of CodeGear. "There's not the doom and gloom that was happening a year ago at this time."

Smith and the 100-plus employees CodeGear is taking from Borland are in the process of developing a road map that will spotlight venerable tools like Turbo, Delphi and JBuilder, software that helped create the IDE (integrated development environment) market two decades ago.

Borland, which will now concentrate on the ALM (application lifecycle management) market, faced a quandary over the future of its developer tools: With open-source tools like Eclipse skyrocketing in popularity, commercial companies are struggling to hold on to paying customers.

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Smith dismisses the notion that CodeGear is charging into a dying market. "People told me the same thing about PCs -- that they were standardizing on Intel architecture and you can't make any money. I think that's just crap," he said in a recent interview. "This is the way the tech business works: When the biz gets commoditized, you innovate on top of that layer. The guys who innovate fastest are the ones who make the money."

CodeGear's innovation plans include a move into tools for dynamic languages like PHP and Ruby, the new development darlings thanks to their suitability for Web development. The company also plans a "pretty massive" adoption of open-source technologies, Smith said. Rather than fighting the rise of platforms like Eclipse, CodeGear will work with them. Last year, it embraced Eclipse as the foundation of future JBuilder releases.

"There's no way we could bring out the dynamic stuff we're bringing out later this year if we didn't have Eclipse," Smith said.

Building a stronger partner program is among Smith's priorities, but it will take time -- CodeGear is still looking to hire a channel chief. That person will have some fences to mend.

NEXT: What's Up With Kylix? As Borland struggled to shore up its business, and then spent nearly a year sorting out the fate of the Developer Tools Group, partners were kept in the dark. While Borland's rivals -- most notably, Microsoft -- keep key partners informed about product road maps and development plans, Borland's headquarters in Scotts Valley, Calif. (now also CodeGear's headquarters), has been an information black hole, several partners said.

"They have been extremely remiss in not imparting some of their deepest plans with their third-party vendor community," Developer Express CTO Julian Bucknall wrote in a blog post. Based in Las Vegas, Developer Express makes libraries and other add-ons for Delphi. In a series of cranky posts, Bucknall argued that Borland was shooting itself in the foot by excluding partners from its CodeGear planning.

Earlier this month, CodeGear's new management team finally held a briefing for the company's partners. Raize Software's Konopka described the attendees' mood as a mix of skepticism and optimism.

"The core technologies had become stagnant in the eyes of Borland's upper management, and [technology partners] seemed to be getting less attention than we felt like we deserved," Konopka said. "With the spin-off to CodeGear, the entire group there is focused on the same market segment that our company is focused on. That hit home with a lot of people at the meeting."

Konopka hopes CodeGear's management team will build a company that's easier to work with than Borland was, with a more formal partner program that allows key partners to coordinate more closely with the company. That dovetails with Smith's professed top priority: "Simplifying the business."

CodeGear plans to kick off 2007 with a slate of product announcements, mixing refreshed development around historical products with the launch of several new tools. Smith cited InterBase, Borland's lightweight database software, as a product line he sees as ripe for revitalization.

One product not on the revitalization list -- much to the chagrin of its vocal enthusiasts -- is Kylix, the discontinued Linux version of Delphi and C++ Builder. Fans have clamored for renewed development of the tool, but Smith said it's unlikely. "I hear lots of discussions about Kylix, but I didn't see lots of revenue in my reports about Kylix," he said.

Those revenue reports will be a key factor in how CodeGear's fate plays out. The company will soon begin reporting its financials as an independent entity within Borland, a move that will clear up questions about how well its tools are selling. The answer will help determine whether it remains a Borland subsidiary, goes fully independent with private-equity backing, or gets acquired. Borland initially intended to completely spin CodeGear off, akin to the move CA made when it set Ingres free last year, but it couldn't come to terms with potential investors on a price for the unit.

Smith brushes off questions about whether CodeGear has another ownership change on the horizon. "Our long-term objective is to build the dominant, independent tools business," he said. "The capital structure required -- how that happens -- we'll work out over time."

As CodeGear maps out its future, it need to address the problems in its past. Borland devotees sound like Apple fans in the '90s: frustrated by years of unresponsiveness, broken promises, and general user mistreatment.

Longtime Delphi programmer Howard Harkness works for a company that is planning to migrate its applications from Delphi to C# or Microsoft's developer platform. Once a Borland loyalist, Harkness grew increasingly disillusioned as Borland released buggy software and abruptly ended support for discontinued products, like Kylix.

"Loyalty swings both ways, and my take on the situation is that Borland is not particularly loyal to me," Harkness said. "I think that the Delphi community has shrunk past the point of sustainability, at least in the U.S. When I got my current position, maintenance of a group of legacy Delphi apps, I immediately went looking for the remnants of the old Delphi user group in the Dallas area. I was unable to find any of the members that still used Delphi at all."