Defectors Will Strengthen Windows

Competition sparks improvement. Olympic runners once thought the four-minute mile was an unbreakable barrier. Remarkably, as soon as Jim Bailey became the first American to break the barrier, every subsequent world-class runner has bested his time. It’s incredible how competition causes humans to achieve the seemingly impossible. And while the Department of Justice’s ruling against Microsoft signaled renewed hope for competition in the development world, the courts cannot create the same motivation and results as pure rivalry. So I was excited for the Windows platform when I heard about the recent merger of Corel Corp. and Inprise Corp., a move that the two companies claim will create a Linux powerhouse.

Both Corel and Inprise have a stable of Windows products that have lead the industry in the recent past. Corel made its name with its innovative and affordable Corel Draw suite. In an attempt to compete on equal footing with Microsoft, Corel acquired WordPerfect, Quattro Pro, and Paradox -- the later two from Inprise. Inprise sold Corel its desktop assets to concentrate on its core business: turning out great development tools. Inprise holds the highly regarded development products Delphi, C++ Builder, JBuilder, and VisiBroker ORB. Both companies, however, have suffered eroding market share, partly attributable to their lack of platform control and their inability to compete with bundled offerings from Microsoft. After all, the race was run entirely in Microsoft’s coliseum, and if Redmond didn’t like the results, they just wouldn’t invite you back.

Without a doubt, the most interesting part of the Corel-Inprise press release is that Windows was barely mentioned. The message was clear: These two mainstays of the Windows landscape are defecting to Linux. Not only are they defecting, but they are planning on dragging others along. According to the Corel merger slideshow, the future company intends to "lead the migration from Windows to Linux." Should we be worried about the future of Windows 2000? On the contrary, I think we should be excited. Let the games begin!

Visual C++ is an example of a product whose progress has been glacial compared with hungry competitors like Inprise. Two years ago I wrote about a handful of COM+ extensions that Visual C++ would introduce to ease development -- features we will finally see in releases of VC++ that follow Windows 2000. By contrast, the new C++ Builder release from Inprise includes the same seamless support for front-end and back-end development for Internet and desktop applications that Delphi 5 deftly demonstrated. If you compare the C++ Builder development paradigm to the Visual C++ paradigm, you might marvel that the same core language underlies both solutions. The only reasonable explanation as to why C++ Builder has taken so little market share from Visual C++ is that the operating system vendor blesses the latter product.

By introducing an alternate platform, namely Linux, Corel forces Microsoft to battle on a complete-solution basis. Forcing developers to learn an entire suite of technologies -- Visual C++, Visual Basic, COM, and Visual InterDev -- to create a scalable Internet solution won’t win the gold anymore. Furthermore, Microsoft will be unable to freeze the development market with a simple press release. Vaporware deliverables from Redmond will now mean not only a loss of a few development licenses, but also the loss of recurring operating system and application licenses, as well. Redmond has attracted some of the best talent in the industry, and I believe Corel’s announcement is going to force them to either deliver or pass the torch.

I think one of the interesting outcomes of this merger is that companies wishing to hedge their development bet can now choose something other than Microsoft. In fact, when Inprise ships the Linux version of its popular RAD tools -- JBuilder is already available -- the cost of targeting both the Windows and Linux operating systems will likely be less than the cost of targeting just Windows using Microsoft products exclusively. That is, unless the competitive fire flares up in Redmond. In either case, Windows development is about to get noticeably better. --Eric Binary Anderson is a development manager at PeopleSoft’s PeopleTools division (Pleasanton, Calif.) and has his own consulting business, Binary Solutions. Contact him at ebinary@yahoo.com.