Borland's New Guy
- By John K. Waters
It remains to be seen what the new man at the helm of Borland Software will do for the Valley's
venerable toolmaker, but one thing is certain: Tod Nielsen is a good story
teller. And that might be just what Borland needs.
To be fair, you can say a bunch of other stuff about, him, too--that he is
considered the driving force behind the success of Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN), for
instance, or that he held executive positions at Oracle and BEA.
(He joined BEA after its acquisition of Crossgain; he was the CEO.) But as he
took the stage at Borland's annual developer conference, wrapping up
today in San Francisco, to deliver a short, funny, focused keynote on his first
day on the job, it was Nielsen's ability to tell his new company's story that
struck me as potentially his greatest asset.
Many industry watchers have faulted Borland over the years, not for its
products, which everybody loves, or for failing to support its incredibly loyal
customer base, but for its apparently genetic inability to get the freakin' word
out. A few years ago, a Borland exec told me with some pride that his company
has always been a word-of-mouth operation. ''We can never compete against the
guys who can spend billions in a week,'' he said. ''We’d rather put that money
behind our research and our customers, and give it to our shareholders. We’re
being strategic in that area.''
Word of mouth is good--great, even; it's often the very best proof of the
value of the products and services a company offers. But it's just not enough in
a market that is so damned Darwinian. To wit: Borland lost $17.5
million on sales of $66.6 million in the second quarter. The third-quarter
report was a little better: the loss was $4.8 million on sales of $67.9 million.
Borland is a survivor. It survived the tech downturn intact,
which was basically a miracle. Dale Fuller, Nielsen's predecessor, was actually
hired to break up the company and sell off the pieces. It survived one of the dumbest
name changes in the industry's history (remember Inprise?). And now it
has to survive the tectonic shifts in the developer tools market wrought by the
And a lot of people hope it will. I don't know why that
is, exactly. Sure, the JBuilder fans and the cult of Delphi are going to be
pulling for Borland, but there's just something about this company that makes
you want to root for it. Maybe it has something to do with its origins in the
Silicon Valley gold-rush days, or the fact that Borland invented the IDE. Maybe it's because its products
are platform-neutral. Fuller once called Borland ''the Switzerland of software,'' but not because the company's platform
neutrality. He drew a comparison, instead, with the banking industry. ''Why is Switzerland
the leader in banking?'' he said. ''They have the cutting edge technology, and
they have the absolute trust of their customers. And they never get
forced into picking sides.''
Nielsen has noticed this phenomenon, too. ''Everybody in the industry
wants Borland to win,'' he told his audience. Nielsen also told what is destined to be one of my favorite
developer-vs.-management stories. I won't do it justice here, so I refer
readers to the conference Webcast.
I'll just say that it involved some interesting product code names (''Beavis''
and ''Butthead'') and an invitation for someone to bite something. He cited it
as ''indisputable proof that developers rule the world,'' and I can't argue with
I can convey a couple of the new chief's bon
''The software-empowered economy is now a reality.''
''Software development has become the core ingredient for driving economic
''Our goal is to empower you to be on-budget, on-time, every time.''
And his golf analogy: ''Our goal is not for you to get the occasional par, but
to make sure that every time you step into the T-box, you par or birdie every
hole... We want to make you scratch developers.''
The Self-Indulgent Non Sequitur: So I gotta ask: What's with David Intersimone's beard? When
he appeared onstage to launch the conference, I couldn't tell whether I was
looking at David I, Borland's vaunted technology evangelist and most senior
employee, or the headmaster at Hogwarts. That thing is heading into ZZ Top
territory. Some Borland folks told me that David lets his beard grow every year
for Christmas, implying that he plays Santa. Is this true? For what occasion
does he don the red long johns? I'm just asking, one round, hairy guy to
another. (Check out Mr. I's blog here
John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached