Borland's Turbo Gambit

Borland Software's soon-to-be-spun-off development tools group, known internally as DevCo, is today unveiling a new group of tools under an old label. The newly christened ''Turbo'' line comprises four, single-language versions of Borland Developer Studio 2006, the company's development environment for Microsoft Windows and .NET applications.

When I say ''old,'' I mean venerable, because, as my fellow geezers know, Borland's Turbo Pascal was the first IDE. It shipped in November 1983 on a single floppy disk, and it launched an industry category.

The new Turbo line is the first group of products developed by the DevCo group operating as a separate entity. The initial release will include Turbo Delphi for Win32, Turbo Delphi for .NET, Turbo C++, and Turbo C#. The Turbo tools are designed to give developers everything they need for rapid development of high-performance GUI, database, Web, and Web services apps for Windows. Turbo Delphi for .NET and Turbo C# both support the Microsoft .NET and ASP.NET platforms.

The company is making each version available in two editions: Turbo Explorer, which is a free download, and Turbo Professional, which will sell for under $500. The professional edition is designed to accept thousands of third-party tools, components, and plug-ins, the company says.

When I spoke last week with Michael Swindell, the DevCo group's senior director of product management, he hammered home the point that the brand is a classic, but the technologies and capabilities in the new Turbo editions are ''leading edge.''

''We're bringing back a classic brand name, but with all of our latest, technologies,'' he said. ''It's all part of our efforts to reinforce in the market our focus on developers and development.''

The pitch here is that Borland is offering ''low-cost, language-specific rapid application development capabilities for students, hobbyist developers, occupational developers as well as individual professionals.'' In other words, the DevCo guys are reaching out to an exceedingly broad set of potential customers, and stretching the definition of ''developer'' to include just about anybody who wants or needs to write a little code.

''People have looked at Borland's enterprise focus and wondered if DevCo is just going to be an enterprise company,'' explained David Intersimone, Borland's VP of developer relations and chief evangelist. (He joined the call, even though he had to bring his lunch into the conference room to do it.) ''And we are going to be an enterprise company. But we're also going to be an SMB company, and individual developer company, a student developer company, and a hobbyist/non-traditional programmer company.''

Why reach out to what amounts to every conceivable level of developer? Partly because there's a growing need for that very approach, Intersimone said.

''Compare the number of professional developers working today with the amount of software that needs to get built,' he said. ''A lot of companies are focusing their developer resources on very large enterprise solutions. So who's building the next recipe-sorting program for 'Iron Chef' aficionados?''

''We tend to think about software development as either an IT thing or something you farm out to consultants,'' Swindell added. ''But over the years, we've made programming, not only very powerful, but very simple. Now you've got all kinds of people—people who've never done any programming—who are starting to think like programmers.''

But there's another, more fundamental driver at work here: Development is in this group's DNA.

''That's our company,'' Intersimone said. ''We're the developer company. That's what we're all about. We're all developers who care about development. And the company is going to provide tools and technologies for developers of all shapes and sizes.''

Conspicuous by its absence from this announcement is JBuilder, the one-time reigning kind of Java IDEs, effectively dethroned by the open-source Eclipse tooling framework. No one mentioned a ''Turbo Java'' edition, but Swindell assured me that the DevCo group is working on a product line for JBuilder. And the company did announce JBuilder Foundation Edition 2006 in May at JavaOne.

The efficacy of this brand-resurrection strategy remains to be seen, of course, as does the DevCo group's approach to the market. But on a personal level, I can't help but be moved by their sheer enthusiasm for programming. These are people who are still genuinely excited about building applications, who still remember how fun programming can be, and who believe that anyone who wants to can do it. I wish them well.

Investor negotiations are proceeding apace, Swindell said, and he expects the DevCo group to leave the Borland mother ship sometime in the third quarter.

The new Turbo products are still in beta, but they're set to go GA on September 5. The Turbo Explorer site is set to go live today. Look for the retro red-yellow-an-black boxes based on the original Turbo Pascal packaging. The site will provide videos, code samples, how-to info, and a countdown to product availability.

BTW: You can actually download a copy of Turbo Pascal 1.0, as well as other ''antique'' editions of Borland software at the company's Community Software Museum.

Striking-While-the-Enemy-is-Limping Department

Speaking of JBuilder's uncertain future, if you're connected at all with the Java community, you probably received on of the recent ''news blasts'' from Sun Microsystems about its new JBuilder-to-NetBeans migration program. It would be hard to miss the banner: ''Got the Borland Blues? Migrate Your JBuilder Projects to NetBeans for Free.'' (I'm not judging; I'm just saying.)

The program includes a migration workshop, tutorials on NetBeans, and 60 days of email support. Additional support contracts are also available for larger organizations that need additional training and certification.

I spoke yesterday with Sun's Dianna Yee-Stauffer, Group Marketing Manager for the Sun Developer Network Program about the JBuilder migration plan. The plan isn't merely a response to an opportunity in a competitive market, she said, but part of her company's ongoing mission to promote open-source technologies. This is just one example of the advantages of a lively open-source community (NetBeans) over the uncertainties of the shifting market for proprietary products (JBuilder).

''We've always had these services available,'' Yee-Stauffer said. 'And we're an open-source company, after all. NetBeans is an open-source tool with a strong community committed to its evolution. There are a lot of people out there working on taking it into the next generation. And we're here to provide support to the larger organizations who need it.''

More details are available at the Sun Developer Network site. There's also a blog on the campaign that's worth a look.

About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached at [email protected].