Community Beats Borland to the Punch with a C++ Open Letter

Slashdot recently posted an article highlighting the unhappiness and frustration of the Borland C++ Builder community at the lack of attention paid to the product line by Borland. The community voiced their collective opinion in an open letter, which details some of the of large organizations relying today in BCB and the impact of Borland’s inaction upon these organizations. One of the chief organizers of this effort, Paul Gustavson, also wrote of this predicament in a blog entry this week.

The BCB community’s complaints regarding the product line seem quite reasonable and valid, and they can be boiled down to the following:

  • Lack of product updates for C++Builder 6, leaving key issues unaddressed and users without the latest development features.

  • Minimal support for C++Builder features in the newer C++Builder X product line, including no support for VCL-based projects or C++Builder 6 project files.

  • Many failures in communication with Borland’s C++ user community, most notably a much-promised open letter to the community that was never delivered.

I have to agree that these guys have a legitimate beef. Borland’s C++Builder user community has been treated rather poorly. It’s one thing for a company to simply stop updating a product, but it’s quite another to release new versions of similar products that seemingly abandon existing users and then to compound the problem by remaining mum on what the plans are for those existing users. It’s clear that somebody wasn’t minding the C++ store at Borland.

At the same time, I have to wonder just how effective the community’s open letter will ultimately be, seeing as how it seems to be written more from their hearts than from their minds. Yes, large companies and government organizations depend on C++Builder, and yes, their efforts may be hamstrung by Borland’s inattention to this product line. However, what the letter fails to do is make a strong business case for continued investment in C++Builder technology. It’s not enough just to say that if Borland doesn’t take care of C++Builder users they might lose some customers. There needs to be a legitimate case for making money with C++Builder technology. The list of signatories for the open letter is impressive, but we all know that it doesn’t necessarily translate into sales.

Let’s face it: Borland isn’t going to invest much more than lip service in C++Builder as a community service. Their grandiose past notwithstanding, Borland is a relatively small company with comparatively modest resources. As such, their management is going to insist – rightfully – that business units invest in endeavors that pay real cash dividends. We can find wisdom in the Flying Lizards’s 1979 hit here. The community’s love may give Borland a thrill, but it don’t pay the bills. They want your money.

As an occasional user of C++Builder, and one of the developers of the tool during my own days at Borland, I sincerely would like to see this situation work out in such a way that the technology lives on. For this to happen, the C++ product team needs to be able to build a business case around it. If I may offer my advice to the C++Builder community, this business case would be great place to focus their own evangelism efforts. For example, what evidence is there that producing a new C++Builder 7 will sell enough to make it worth the effort? Or how can adding VCL support to C++Builder X result in more sales? Does open sourcing some of the technology make sense? Can a case be made for C++ support in Borland Developer Studio, supporting VCL and VCL.NET? Microsoft all but admitted they dropped the ball with managed C++ in the 1.x version of .NET, so there is certainly opportunity here.

Borland has committed to making a final call on the C++Builder product line by December 14, 2004. That a little more than a month away. No matter how the situation is resolved, at least we won’t have to forever this time around to find out.

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