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Pondering Borland

Few companies in the software business have been as widely admired as Borland Software. Founded in the 1980s, Borland gave us the modern integrated development environment (IDE) with Turbo Pascal, the Delphi programming language and even the SideKick personal information manager (PIM) software, which introduced task-switching and a limited windowing interface to DOS users.

The company rightfully earned a reputation as a developer's development outfit. Programmers today still speak fondly of working with people like David Intersimone and Zack Urlocker. As RDN reader Dr. Dave Dyer, an independent consultant in Houston, Texas, said, Borland fostered a vital developer culture both inside and outside its walls.

"Within that culture existed an exquisitely detailed, ever-expanding universe of knowledge shared by all," Dyer wrote in an e-mail to RDN. "Borland became the leader of that universe where every developer (whether a student, professor, hobbyist or professional developer) actively participated in creating elegant solutions for any and all issues related [to] development with Borland products."

But the company that produced stars like flamboyant Borland CEO Philippe Khan, Microsoft technical fellow Anders Hejlsberg and former Microsoft exec Brad Silverberg looks very little like the dynamic software shop of 15 or 20 years ago. Borland spun off its legendary Developer Tools Group (DTG) in 2006 and sold the unit outright to Embarcadero Technologies in 2008.

For the past three years, Borland has largely been an application lifecycle management (ALM) company. It has forged a coherent strategy around its Open ALM platform for enabling integrated ALM in heterogeneous dev environments. It's a sound strategy, a smart strategy -- and one that could ultimately fail despite itself.

Borland is laying off up to 15 percent of its workforce. Its CEO Tod Nielsen and Senior VP of Research Peter Morowski have both resigned. The stock price hovers just below $0.90. There's a lot not to like about the news circling Borland today.

But most concerning has to be the loss of leadership. Bola Rotibi, principal analyst for Macehiter Ward-Dutton, praised "Nielsen's ability to reduce costs at Borland" in a blog post. She also lauded his willingness to make tough, unpopular decisions and noted that Borland's move to sell DTG and focus on ALM was the right one for the company.

But timing in business, as in life, is everything. And it seems that Borland's grand ALM play has run afoul of an investment shutdown at many dev shops. With deployments being put off or directed toward low-cost or open source solutions, Borland will be hard pressed in the months to come. Of course, Borland is a company with a long and rich history of improbable comebacks. It is way, way too early to write them off.

Posted by Michael Desmond on 01/08/2009

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