Borland stuck in the middle of Web services battle

TORONTO — Borland wants to be the king of interoperability in the emerging Web services market.

Ted Shelton, the Scotts Valley, Calif.-based software company’s vice-president and chief strategist, was in Toronto Wednesday to discuss Borland’s role in the Web services arena.

“We are an implementation company,” he said. Borland’s strategy is to equip developers and businesses with tools to develop applications that are platform-agnostic and allow legacy systems to interoperate.

“There are three core areas that we as a business are engaged in with our customers: development, deployment and management,” said Shelton. “We’re not trying to provide applications or vertical expertise.”

Borland also finds itself in the heart of the Web services battle, with the two major sides being Sun Microsystems of Santa Clara, Calif., and Redmond, Wash.-based software giant Microsoft. Sun is building its Web services vision with Java, while Microsoft is entering the Web services market with support for multiple programming languages, including its own alternative to Java, C# (pronounced “sharp”), under its .Net umbrella.

“The conflict between these two sides seems daunting,” said Shelton.

He said Borland sees itself sandwiched between companies providing software solutions at the top end and the companies offering infrastructure on the bottom.

Shelton said Borland isn’t picking sides in the Sun vs. Microsoft Web services war. “Microsoft has done some great things with .Net,” he said, adding that a .Net architecture does not necessarily have to be a Windows-only environment. “Technologically it’s possible for them to extend it to other platforms.”

In fact, Shelton believes that both worlds will have to co-exist, citing Gartner Group research that indicates 45 per cent of all projects will use both Java and .Net technologies. He also pointed to German software behemoth SAP’s recent announcement that it will support Java and use it to connect its own applications and others its customers require. That’s not to say it doesn’t see Microsoft as an important partner, noted Shelton. SAP simply realizes it can’t abandon Java users.

Web services marks a shift to decentralized and distributed computing, said Shelton. “Web services is going to be the key to interoperability.”

For the near future, Web services is going to be an enterprise application technology, he said, and Borland’s developments tools — Delphi, Kylix and JBuilder — will be used to develop applications and code that will allow various platforms and legacy systems talk to each other. More importantly, developers will only have to write their applications once, even if their organization or customer decides to change platforms down the road. “We want to help our developers avoid lock-in,” said Shelton.

He said its Borland strategy to adhere strictly to Web services standards such as Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP), Universal Description, Discovery and Integration (UDDI), Extensible Markup Language (XML) and Web Services Description Language (WSDL).

While Microsoft has helped to establish Web services standards with other large vendors such as IBM, Kevin Dean, a developer using Borland tools with Mississauga, Ont.-based Dolphin Data Development Ltd., said he doesn’t have much faith in Microsoft to adhere to those standards long term, even internally.

“What’s defined as a standard today may not necessarily integrate with the standards of tomorrow,” he said, and added that Microsoft traditionally has not offered easy migration paths. “Microsoft not supporting legacy systems is going to hurt them. Legacy systems tend to last longer than their intended life expectancy.”

While not too long ago, Borland’s future was in doubt — even Shelton noted that it was voted least likely to make it to the new millennium — Dean said the Borland name is proving beneficial when he deals with clients. “I’m getting more traction when talking to my clients about Borland, especially JBuilder.”

Ultimately, said Stephen Pollock, vice-president of research and development at Markham, Ont.-based ISV Insystems, it comes down to providing services to disparate groups of people, and the “heavy lifting” in many enterprises is still being done by legacy systems.

“Web services is about integration of existing infrastructure,” said Alister Sutherland, analyst with IDC Canada in Toronto. “The return on investment is much greater for a company than not doing it.”

At a media briefing a day earlier at IBM Canada’s software lab in Markham, Tom Turchet, the company’s vice-president of software sales, said it’s important that Web services is not seen as a brand. “This is plumbing. It’s important in your house and in the computer industry.”

Even more importantly, Web services are not a revolution. “My customers don’t want to hear revolution. They’re sick and tired of it.” Customers want to take advantage of their existing infrastructure, he said.

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