One of the more interesting conversations I had during my tenure while President and CEO at Xtras, Inc. was in October 1997 when Network+Interop came to Atlanta for it’s annual visit. One of the Microsoft Windows NT Server Product Managers Luis Bonifaz decided stopped by my office for a visit and gave me an education of how Microsoft positions its competitors; I’ll never forget it.
Anyway, for those of you who remember those early formibable days when Windows NT Server first became a serious operating system, around v4.0, it was a fun time. In those days, the major systems players were feeling (rightfully) threatened and so they came out with continuous anti-NT campaigns with the simple message of:
Windows NT Server Can’t Scale!
Many vendors jumped on the "Let’s bash NT" bandwagon, but probably the loudest two were Scott McNeely of Sun Microsystems and Larry Ellison of Oracle Corporation. Being a Microsoft kool-aid drinker at the time (Xtras was running a reseller focused on Microsoft systems and developer tools after all) I was of course ready to do rhetorical battle with ol’ Scott and Larry. But what Luis told me was truly educational and amazing; talk about an on-the-job MBA in marketing!
Luiz told me that, unlike most companies that focus on attempting to position their company in their prospect’s eyes, Microsoft was excellent at positioning their competitors, and further that Microsoft trained all their marketing people to think this way. Luis then went on to say that the anti-NT crowd had been trying to taint NT with the "can’t scale" brush for quite some time as he started drawing a triangle on my whiteboard to illustrate. He said that the Microsoft strategy was this:
"We’ll accept that. We’ll accept that we can’t scale up to operate the largest systems on the planet. Okay, but we’ll counter with the fact that you can’t scale down and we can, and that market is much, much larger!"
Using his triangle he showed the marketshare they attempted to guard (in yellow), and the marketshare they didn’t even attempt to take from Microsoft (in blue.) Luis continued:
"Then we’ll just continue working it," "We’ll continue improving the operating system and we’ll continue riding Moore’s Law. Eventually we’ll add the features that are needed to scale, by those who demand the bigger systems, and eventually the hardware we run on will be able to match all but the most demanding applications in the world. And then we will be able to scale; from the bottom all the way to (almost) the top. And the absolute top won’t really matter. At that point, what do you think will become of the "NT Can’t Scale" crowd? Like Zack Mayo (Richard Gere) in "An Officer and a Gentleman" they will have "nowhere else to go."
Fascinating. Anyway, it was fascinating to me back in 1997. And here we are almost ten year’s later; have Luis’ projections proven accurate? I’d say he was pretty close to correct.
P.S. What is all the more ironic about this story is how Microsoft doth protest too much these days about open-source software and Web 2.0 companies when they make pronouncements about not being able to scale and/or they are not being good enough for prime time. If history is any indication, Microsoft had better watch their back or people may soon be saying: The King is dead. Long live the King. :-)
I just read the news today that Borland is going to sell it’s IDE Tools Business that includes Delphi, C++ Builder, C# Builder, JBuilder, Kylix and InterBase. Not more than 100 days on the job Tod Nielsen I shaking this up at Borland, just like I expected! As I’m a big advocate for "burning bridges" so-to-speak (see the eWeek article for the reference) I think this is exactly what Borland needs. Further, this is a possibility it will really be good for Delphi and other Borland tools faithful.
But the news leaves an interesting question: Who will buy, and what will be the fallout? The question interesteds me enough I decided to document me thoughts on the matter below:
- Oracle: Uncle Larry’s been on a buying spree lately; maybe he’ll pick up these Borland cast-offs too? Though Oracle has development tools they don’t have quite the devoted following that Borland’s tools have. Buying them would give Oracle some world class IDE tools and languages for programming Oracle. Of course InterBase users (are there any?) would certainly take it on the chin.
- Microsoft: Adding the Pascal language to Visual Studio by including Delphi would seem a natural to me, but everything else overlaps. Microsoft could of course provide an upgrade path for C++ Builder, C# Builder, JBuilder, and maybe even InterBase users, but Kylix users would be left out in the cold. Heck, they might even make a bid to keep anyone else from getting Kylix!
- Red Hat: Red Hat might be interested in tying up this product line, especially if they open source it, but since a lot of Borland’s line runs on Windows, its seems a longshot.
- SAP: This lumbering giant is seeing threats all around, from Oracle to SalesForce.com and they might use this toolset to give them some real programmability as compared to ABAP. Who knows which of the tools they’d use and which they’d kill. But then again, this one’s a longshot and it wouldn’t be great for the faithful.
- Sybase: Sybase could pick up the Borland IDEs for the same reason as Oracle, and they might not even kill InterBase, they’d probably just rename it "Sybase <something>." Of course, Sybase really is a second tier player and I don’t think purchasing these Borland assets would be great the faithful nor really do that much for Sybase’s databases.
- IBM: Given the broad reach, IBM might just buy the userbase and roll them into WebSphere somehow. IBM has always been able to consume practically anything. Maybe they will do this too?
- Sun: There’s a chance Scott will buy to pick up JBuilder and Kylix, and keep the rest out of other’s hands, but I doubt that’s likely.
- Novell: This one is interesting. With Borland’s IDEs Novell could go toe to toe with Microsoft Visual Studio but instead optimize for Mono. (I’ve always thought Novell should have purchased Borland years ago; maybe it will happen now.) This is one of the best scenarios I can see for all involved, but the fact that most of the tools heavily support Windows make me think it is not as likely I it would be interesting.
- SalesForce.com: Who’s got the most to gain? Me thinks is would be SalesForce.com. With his AppExchange strategy, Marc Benioff could grab the Borland toolset and optimize for programming SalesForce’s APIs. Marc could also use Interbase as an engine for local caching of SalesForce.com data. If Marc buys, it could be really good for the Borland IDE tools faithful. But Marc will only maximize benefit from such as purchase if he opens access to the API to ALL SalesForce.com customers, not just Enterprise Edition and up.
- Google: This one’s a wildcard; they certainly could afford it! With all their web services and APIs Google is offering, it would make great sense for them to offer a great set of developer tools to the mix; they’ve already shown a willingness to provide downloadable software with Google Pack. I can see it now; all of Borland’s products would be freely available for download from http://devtools.google.com; talk about marketshare! Microsoft, be afraid, be very afraid. This is probably the best option I can think of for the Borland IDE tools faithful and will further upset the balance of power between the Big M and the Big G.
- Amazon: Similar to Google, Amazon has lots of APIs it wants to offer; why not provide developer tools optimized for calling their APIs?
- eBay: Same rationale as Amazon.
Whew! That’s all I can think of right now, but it’s alot, no? I’d say the best three potentials would be Novell, SalesForce.com, and Google. I didn’t mean this to be an exhaustive list so if you have ideas for potential suitors I did not mention or if you think differently about one of the potential suitors then please by all means post your thoughts as a comment below.