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By: Danny Thorpe
Abstract: Linux? Are you people crazy?!?!? says Danny Thorpe, of Delphi R&D
I'd like to address some of the commonly expressed fears, misconceptions, and even misplaced euphoria that I've heard over the past few weeks. These are my personal opinions, not Inprise/Borland company policy. These questions may be paraphrased from actual conversations with actual customers. Responses may contain actual opinions and/or sarcasm. Be prepared to wash your eyes out with soap. Safe harbor statement: Forward looking statements are the fantasy we endeavor to make reality. If you buy high and sell low, well, that's pretty dumb isn't it?
From those Linux growth numbers, I seem to recall that WinNT was still well ahead of Linux in terms of installed base (like, 45% vs 15%), and WinNT grew a healthy amount, too. I believe Linux's growth is due more to cannabalizing the traditional Unix installed base (Solaris or HP Unix converting to Linux) than due to Linux taking over the WinNT market. Unix folks tend to be more confortable switching between flavors of Unix than switching to NT. People who do choose NT for their servers do it for the Microsoft name and perception of corporate stability and safety of investment. Those are not likely to move from NT to Linux anytime soon.
I'm not really that interested in where Linux's growth is coming from. Linux is the fastest growing OS (albeit starting from zero), and it is the only Unix flavor showing any growth at all.
Answer: Quality, Features, Support, and most of all: Choice. Linux is about choice. Any Linux advocate who says Delphi is not welcome in the Linux space is a hypocrite.
The $125 million was a settlement for a patent infringement lawsuit between Microsoft and Borland. As a settlement, one could reasonably assume that it is less than what Microsoft feared could be awarded at the end of a long and expensive legal battle. Inprise/Borland execs made public remarks at the time about the irony that Microsoft "blood money" would be poured into making products that did not support the Microsoft agenda - specifically: Corba, Java, and Kylix.
Ok folks, here's a radical concept to tattoo on your eyelids: Our success does not require the destruction of Microsoft. Say it out loud. Say it slowly. Lather, rinse, repeat.
Linux is succeeding in spite of the Microsoft monopoly. That's what makes Linux interesting. If there were no Microsoft, if Linux were the only OS in town, we'd have no reason to get excited about Linux, would we?
Linux can continue to grow by leaps and bounds and be successful in the presence of Microsoft. Borland tools for Linux can be a financial success even if Linux always runs a distant second to NT, and even if Linux never breaks through to the desktop OS market. "There can be only one" does not apply.
Borland's interest in Linux market is not that Linux will replace the Windows market, but that Linux is a market in addition to the Windows market.
As for Borland's testing of its Linux tools, Linux offers new opportunities. Unlike the Windows realm, chances are good that the many purveyors of Linux variants (er, distributions) will assist us with testing our products on their platforms. If they don't understand the incentives to help developers support their Linux flavors, they won't last very long. Linux distributions are becoming a commodity market, and commodities are distinguished more by name, endorsements, and availability (placement) than by actual feature differences.
Have you ever mused "Wouldn't it be cool if the VCL core packages were distributed with the OS? Then I really could distribute full GUI applications in just 50k and not have to worry about shipping the VCL packages" Realistically, the chances of getting Borland runtime packages included in the Windows platform distributions are pretty slim (trust me, we've asked), or at least very expensive. Linux, however, is not Windows...
The biggest risk for Linux is that true control of Linux features and progress lies in the hands of an elite few who manage the Linux source code archives. Personalities and egos can be as effective at steamrolling personal agendas into Linux as Microsoft's corporate OS agenda is for Windows. The Linux commmunity must be ever vigilant of abuse of power.
Granted, Win95's look wasn't all that new either - Apple tried to sue Microsoft for copying the Macintosh UI / trash can icon, until Microsoft pointed out that Apple got many of its Mac ideas (including the trash can icon) from Xerox ParcPlace. Xerox is probably still wondering why everyone is interested in their trash cans.
The greatest tragedy in the Linux community is that so many of its most energetic and vocal advocates know so little about their own technological heritage. Any new term or technology discovered while surfing around in the Linux source code must certainly be unique to Linux, or created in Linux and copied by Microsoft, right? And Heaven help anyone who says anything critical (or merely factual) of Linux, for flaming message threads shall rain down upon the heads of the heretics. Yea, verily.
With no knowledge of the past - or worse: revisionist history - the Linux community is at risk of realizing its own form of "1984".
After IBM, Corel is probably the largest commercial player (measured in actual annual income, not IPO splash value) in the Linux market. Like IBM and Borland, Corel is making a lot of noise in the Linux space because Linux is the new emerging market with the greatest growth potential. Whoever stakes their claim first gets to set the pace for the late arrivals. That's an exciting place to play, but the meat of the business is still Windows, and will continue to be so for many years.
That was the long answer. Here's the short version: "No. What kind of idiots do you take us for?"
Markets grow on an "S" curve: flat at the front, steep slope up, and then flat at the top as the market reaches saturation. Opportunity starts at the base of the growth curve. If we wait until the top of the growth curve, when Linux is established and there are a plethora of development tools available, then we're stuck in "the flats" - plain old 10% a year or less growth situation in a very crowded market space. (Sounds like Windows, doesn't it?)
It's very difficult to make a runaway success story from a standing start in "the flats" at either end of the growth curve. However, if you can hitch your wagon to a market "big bang", get into a market soon after it starts explosive growth, then your product can be swept up in the market's growth. That's how you get triple digit return on investment and marketshare. It's a relativity thing - you can't travel faster than the speed of light through normal space, but what happens if your space is expanding faster than the speed of light? When you take a step forward on an aircraft in flight, are you walking at 500 miles per hour? Would you rather have 10% of a large, stable market, or 10% of a smaller market that's doubling in size every year?
Remember that development tools have to venture ahead of applications by 18 months or more. You won't have a lot of really good applications on a particular platform until you have several really good sets of tools to choose from. Certainly, it's a little early yet to commit resources to developing end-user desktop applications for Linux. Linux has yet to really crack into the end-user desktop OS space. Whether Linux finds a foothold in the desktop space or remains a server OS, the time is right for development tools to move in.
If we do it right, Kylix has the potential to open the floodgates for Linux applications and Linux acceptance in the consumer markets. As noble as that may sound, we intend to make a buck on it too. These situations are very rare, but I firmly believe that Kylix is a market-maker opportunity - for Borland, and for Linux.
Given this broad base of experience in the Kylix team, Linux is more of another walk around the block than some radical departure never before attempted. Different faces to greet, different sights to see, same streets to walk, same shoes to walk them.
It's amazing (and frustrating!!) how many of the "new" platform issues we're discovering in our Linux work bear haunting resemblance to platform challenges discovered and solved in past Borland products. For example, Linux's Position Independent Code (PIC) specification for shared object libraries will require compiler code generation treatments conceptually identical to the DS segment switching required in exported functions in 16 bit Windows DLLs. Spooky, huh?
We've hired a lot of new folks to fill new openings in the Kylix effort or backfill openings created on the Windows side by senior team members shifting focus to Kylix. Shifting resources around isn't the end of the world: we do it all the time here at Borland. It's called resource management - putting the talent and manpower where it is needed to complete projects. As one release of Delphi ships, the team shifts focus to the sister release of BCB. As BCB ships, resources refocus on Delphi. Now we have a third ball to juggle: Kylix, in two flavors: Delphi and BCB.
Some folks have questioned the wisdom of having the majority of the senior staff "distracted" by this so-called Kylix "side-project." I wouldn't have it any other way. Who is best qualified to deliver a new product in an alien environment on an insane schedule and still be recognizable as a child of Delphi? The Delphi team, that's who. We've built a few of these component architectures and IDE things before, ya know.
I volunteered to work on Kylix for a number of reasons, including:
I'm working on Kylix not because I believe in Linux, but because I believe in Delphi.
Senior Engineer, Delphi R&D
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