I am among the many who had used and loved Borland's development tools, such as Delphi, but had grown concerned as the company endured a significant transition during the past year. But judging from the showing at its developer's conference a couple of weeks ago, Borland still has that development-tool magic.
The short history of Borland is the stuff of novels: a flamboyant French mathematician, Philippe Kahn, moves to California (while on a tourist visa) in the early 1980s. With his fetish for Pascal and solid development skills, he creates one of the fastest and most innovative compilers that the young PC industry has seen. Building off this product, the company grows into a Silicon Valley success - only to get stupid in its fight with Microsoft. As a result, Borland becomes a bloated and unfocused software company, whose CEO loses interest in running the company.
The story might end with the "coulda beena contenda" cliche, but late last year, Borland began to pull itself together. Management finally decided that the company is a tool company and should focus on what it does best. However, this focus came only after Borland's tools group suffered serious "brain drain" when its charismatic leader, Paul Gross, and several other key developers defected to Microsoft.
Del Yocam, a strong sales and operations leader, was brought in to ensure that the greatly reduced company stayed on track.
Although Borland showed developers it still had its act together when it released Delphi 3, many were perplexed by the company's acquisition of Open Environment.
So, Yocam and the whole Borland team had quite a challenge when more than 2500 corporate and independent programmers attended what turned out to be Borland's largest developer's conference.
In his keynote speech, Yocam explained the rationale behind the acquisition of Open Environment. As a tools company, it needs to enhance its ability to address a growing corporate-development market - a category it calls "InfoNets". Building on the premise that intranets can be development platforms for database-oriented solutions, InfoNets is an interesting concept. But what really managed to take the developer's breath away was Borland's newest tool, JBuilder.
Executives showed the audience that they weren't caught up with Java as the industry's Microsoft equaliser or as a new operating-system layer, but rather for what it really is: an innovative development language.
With its tools history, Borland executives pledged to combine some of the best traits of the company's Delphi and C++ products, while truly addressing the range of needs for today's Java developer.
I'm not pretending to review the product here, but JBuilder (www.borland.com/jbuilder) shows that Borland is still a serious tool vendor and seems on the solid road to recovery.
(Then again, we haven't seen what Microsoft - having hired Gross to lead its Internet development tools group - has up its sleeve).
Yocam and his team have shown developers that they still have that development-tools magic to make cool products that can lead the market.