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Ex-Borland's Delphi owner re-ignites cross-platform dream

Linux and Mac not ripe in 2001

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Embarcadero Technologies, having itself been been bought by private capital in 2006, acquired Borland Software's CodeGear division just over a year ago.

CodeGear's developer products include Delphi, a RAD tool that creates native code Windows executables, and the JBuilder Java IDE now based on Eclipse.

These products have an illustrious past, but the deal had a strange smell to it: Borland had been looking to offload CodeGear for some time while database tools company Embarcadero brought a hint of the classic "yeah, we can make this work" VC attitude to the table.

So where are products now, and what's in their future?

Delphi is rolling on with a new release code-named Weaver that supports Windows 7 and a touch API in preparation for Microsoft's next operating system, but can it compete with Visual Studio? "We don't compete with Visual Studio, Visual Studio is a .NET IDE," chief executive Wayne Williams told me in an interview, dismissing Microsoft C++ as "not their focus."

Embarcadero is now betting on cross-platform for Delphi and its partner C++ Builder, which shares many of the same libraries. "The most important thing is native cross-platform, Mac and Linux. Some of our biggest customers have moved completely to Mac. Internationally we don't hear as much Mac interest, but Linux is really strong," Williams said.

Wasn't this tried before, at least on Linux, with a 2001 product called Kylix, which nobody bought?

"Two big differences," according to Williams, at least. "First, that wasn't a cross-compile approach. People are fine developing on Windows. I need to be able to debug against a remote machine, but I don't need the whole IDE over there. The other difference [is] they were too early as far as Linux goes, and from a visual standpoint now Mac matters. I've never been so sure about an opportunity."

Williams says cross-platform is now a higher priority than a 64-bit compiler, though both are planned, and that we will see the first cross-platform release next year.

Microsoft's commitment to .NET has left a niche for Delphi, but what about JBuilder? In the thoroughly commoditised Java tools market, does it make sense for Embarcadero to persevere?

"That whole market was disrupted by IBM's approach with Eclipse, which to me is nothing to do with open source," says Williams. "IBM bought OTI and wrote it off. In fact, Eclipse is slowing dramatically as IBM pulls its investment back."

"They're lopping heads out of Eclipse all the time, and it shows. They can't even get localization handled, we've been waiting years for localization. IBM pulled it. I think the shine has come off Eclipse, but the disruption that that acquisition and that write-off caused is still there and it's going to be there for quite some time.

"On its own, I would not be able to make a business case that we should go out and build a Java business. But we already have one, and All Access is a tool chest and Java's an important piece of that," Williams said.

All Access is actually two things: a subscription deal akin to Microsoft's MSDN, and a technology for no-touch deployment called InstantOn.

The latter is the more interesting aspect. Using application virtualization - which Williams says is "the worst name on the planet as it has nothing to do with virtualization" - InstantOn lets you run any of Embarcadero's tools from a USB stick or server without installing it locally and without elevated user permissions. Even the JVM and .NET runtime works, solving versioning as well as deployment issues.

But is Eclipse really slowing, as Williams claimed? I asked Eclipse executive director Mike Milinkovich. "There's no metric which indicates Eclipse is slowing," he says, though he agrees that there is "some amount of decrease" in the staff IBM has working on the project.

"Most people view the Eclipse project as largely stable and mature, so you're not going to get the same amount of investment," he added. " There's more investment leveraging the platform than there is in the platform itself... Key guys that worked on Eclipse like John Wiegand [IBM Rational chief architect] and Erich Gamma [co-author of Design Patterns: Elements of Reusable Object-Oriented Software and the JUnit testing framework] are now working on Jazz".

Milinkovich conceded IBM is still far and away the largest contributor to Eclipse. The computing giant has more than 120 active committers, and so far in just 2009 they've contributed more than 10 million lines of code. "Our goal is to increase the diversity on the Eclipse platform, and that's happening. I can't fault IBM for any of their action," Milinkovich said. ®

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