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One Man’s Trash is Another Man’s Treasure

That was my thought after picking up a press release from Sun Microsystems in support of its NetBeans IDE. Sun announced a free program to migrate Borland JBuilder users to NetBeans (http://developers.sun.com/prodtech/javatools/borlanddevs/index.html), citing the upcoming divestment by Borland of its development tools and noting that the Borland has discontinued investing in their tools business. It is especially ironic as Borland has given FTPOnline reason to believe that it and the development tools successor company will continue to make strategic investments in its tools.

Still, there is nothing inherently incorrect in Sun's statements. Once the divestment occurs, Borland will not be investing in development tools; the successor company will. Sun is merely practicing the spread of FUD, that is, Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt, on a competitor's products. And they are not the only one; BEA has announced a similar program.

This practice is nothing more than marketing; it might even be good marketing, as the costs of putting such a program in place are minimal, and the return could be substantial. I have used FUD during my time as a software product manager, albeit with little success.

But a developer cannot see something like this and immediately jump to one conclusion or another. Everyone's situation is unique, and unless the tools in question are problematic today, there is little reason to panic.

Vendors announce shifts in strategic direction and product retirements all the time. Almost every technical professional faces this situation at some point in time. In the example cited above, migrating from JBuilder to NetBeans might make sense, but not as a universal truth. Based on my own experience as a FUD creator, here are some steps that you should take when you get word that a product you depend upon is undergoing upheaval:

1. Take a deep breath, and don't do anything right away. All too often emotion rules our decision-making process, and this is one time where logic must come to the forefront.

2. Collect information. Often the best information won't be available right away, so taking your time in making a decision takes on added importance. Attend conferences and talk to others in the same boat. There may be more information out there than you think.

3. Assess your needs, today and in the future. Today your needs are well understood, but the future is not so clear, so you have to do some guessing. The best way is to lay out three separate scenarios, and determine your tools needs under each of them.

4. Talk to different vendors about your actual and projected needs, and see how they translate into purchases, training, and changes in ways of working. The feedback you get will be biased, so make sure you evaluate your tradeoffs logically.

5. Make a decision. The decision can range anywhere from making an immediate change to milking the current solutions until they are no longer viable. Don't let FUD scare you into spending money or taking a risk if you don't have to.

If it sounds like the above steps might take a year or two, that is the correct idea. Making a decision right away almost always results in a poor choice and hurried implementation. If you do, then the FUD wins.

Posted by Peter Varhol on 08/11/2006 at 1:15 PM


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