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The Shifting Platform Problem

Numerous products have failed because the company wasn't able to move the product's base platform forward in the face of changing technology. The most notorious example is dBase, a product that was late to the Windows party and (when it finally did show up) was already slurring its speech and dropping things into the punchbowl.

But the problem is that, no matter what platform a company uses when they first launch their product, there will come a time when that platform is hanging around like an unwanted boyfriend. You know, the one still dressing like the lead singer in A Flock of Seagulls when you're reading to move on to the singer from ColdPlay.

And delivering a product on the new platform is only half the problem. After you upgrade, what do you do about all the applications built with the old platform? It's an old joke: Why was God able to create the world in just six days? No installed base. While Microsoft Access developers got used to the fact that every time a new version of Access came out their old database format was rendered unusable, not all users are so forgiving.

More recently, Nevron Diagram is in the midst of it (we reviewed Nevron Diagram in April). For the last four years Nevron has been developing a new visualization platform for their product and expect to release products based on the new platform in the next two or three months. This includes a new serialization format that is intended to support backward compatibility, formula based shapes (think Visio), and improved performance.

It's easy to see what's driving the new platform. Nevron wants to create a single API that supports the variety of .NET technologies/platforms: WinForms, WPF, Silverlight and even work on mobile devices. The only platform that Nevron is unsure about supporting is ASP.NET.

That "single API for all platforms" isn't an easy goal to hit: It implies that the product can integrate with the native controls on any environment and that the product save output in one environment to load it in another. To make the problem that little bit more interesting, Nevron wants to improve performance, add support for undo/redo, roll in Adobe vector formats, and deliver some commercial grade data analysis tools on top of the new platform.

Nevron describes it as the most important release in the company's lifetime. I'd agree that. So it will be interesting to check in after the summer and see whether (a) there is a new product and (b) whether it actually, you know, works. That whole working thing is sort of a feature.

Posted by Peter Vogel on 06/24/2010 at 1:16 PM

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