May 062004

Whoa, nellie. The reaction to Sunday’s kicking of the hornet’s nest has gotten a little out of hand. Even Scoble picked it up (in a nice way), which is as close as I want to get to being Slashdotted again. (Chris Pratley is doing a fine job of keeping the “net thugs” busy)

First off, I was not reprimanded or “in trouble.” This blog is not in jeopardy of closure. There was simply an internal email that said the blogs are great for customer relations and Borland visibility, but please don’t nail work-in-progress to specific products by name because it could sabotage midlife sales. It didn’t come from on high, it came from within our immediate group.

Secondly, the Sunday post was my venting against an entrenched corporate tradition (aptly dubbed the “Cone of Silence” by Nick Hodges), not a personal attack against any individual. To the individual who mistook the post as a personal attack, I deeply apologize, for that was not my intent.

A New Information Policy

Early disclosure of technology research is a new direction for Borland, and runs directly counter to decades of corporate cultural tradition of absolute secrecy. Early disclosure through blogging has been fully blessed by the Borland exec’s all the way to the top, even overriding the lawyers’ cries of concern.

Don’t begrudge the lawyers; they’re just doing their job to protect the company from undue risk. The executive override is: this risk is a necessary part of doing business in today’s software industry.

Borland’s new communication directive is clear and simple: Get the word out. Don’t worry about screwing up. Mistakes will be made. Be ready for them, correct them, and move on. Use common sense and good judgment on what to discuss and not discuss. Don’t wait for permission.

(Has anyone else noticed how exec’s tend to use very short sentences? The higher the post, the shorter the phrase. Occupational hazard? ;> )

Why We Blog

The root of the matter is that the software industry has changed from the days when secrecy provided more advantages than disadvantages. Sure, customers then wanted good information to plan their businesses around just as much as they do today, but the market was different enough then that vendors sought the safety of secrecy over disclosure.

Secrecy was the norm, to prevent an agile competitor from “scooping” an idea and bringing it to market first. But today, development tools and operating systems are so unimaginably complex that nobody can turn on a dime to scoop anything. There are so many major platform milestones on the horizon that it’s pretty obvious where the bulk of the tools work must go. I mean, seriously, does anyone really believe that a Delphi toolset for the “Whidbey” .NET 2.0 platform could not support generic types? Generics are a given, or die. So are many other platform artifacts.

.NET’s extreme interoperability between tools and languages tears down the vertical silos that locked customers into a specific vendor solution set. So how does a tool vendor retain customer affinity to stabilize and support continuing revenues? Capture the customer’s attention and keep their plans focused on your solution set. Maintain longer-term relationships and dialogs with the customer. This requires a constant stream of information to keep the customer tuned to your channel and feeling included in “the loop.” Traditional marketing and advertising engines are not enough – not enough volume, not enough detail, not enough frequency. Not enough eyeballs.

It’s not enough to have a strong record of products. You now also have to have a strong visibility and timeliness of information in the industry. This used to be brushed off as FUD and vaporware, but with the significant leaps in believable, verifiable technical detail and sheer volume over the past year or so, what we have now is something considerably more substantial than FUD or vapor. Sure, there’s plenty of garbage out there in the blogsphere, but the credible feeds with real content float to the top very quickly.

Leadership, credibility and mindshare are being won and lost months and years before the sale. Information – timely, continual, forward information – is the weapon in this battle.

That’s why I blog. It’s why Borland has started blogging. I’m pretty sure it’s a factor behind Microsoft’s blogs as well. Get the eyeballs.

Testing Boundaries

In testing the boundaries of this new information policy (maverick? who, me?), I stubbed my toe on a triviality. There wasn’t really any need for me to mention “D9” in the ongoing work teaser at the end of my Spring 2004 Tour post. I justified it in my head at the time of writing as necessary to make it clear that the new Win32 codegen work was not for the eminent Delphi 7.01 release, nor for a mythical Delphi 8 Win32 inline release, but for the next major product release.

There are a million different ways to make that distinction without nailing the work to Delphi 9 or giving any impression that a Delphi 9 release is eminent. Mentioning the product by name and number can lead customers to put their purchase plans on hold, which knocks the legs out from under the current product available for sale, which puts the funding for work on future Delphi product in jeopardy. Borland as a rule does not borrow against future earnings to fund development; current sales directly determines ongoing development funding.

So, we learn as we go. We’ll continue to discuss ongoing research items here in the blogs, but without pinning them to specific product releases. That’s as it should be, because research and development alone do not determine what goes into a product release. A complex feature may be fully implemented in time for a product release, but may be found to have unacceptable design limitations or stability problems, forcing it to be pushed out to a later product release or even abandoned completely.

The Powers That Be

One last bit: several folks have cast these early Borland ventures into the blogsphere as a battle of engineers against corporate powers that be. Well, Allen and I can’t use that excuse anymore. We’re now part of the powers that be.

Don’t worry, my sentences haven’t gotten any shorter.

Or have they?

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