Monday, May 19, 2008

Did Borland destroy design?

At JavaOne I tend to focus on the real world case studies rather than the vendor pitches or the latest shiny library. At a few of these when they talked about lessons learnt the old "wish we'd done more design/analysis" came up. Wandering around the floor I also noticed that not only were there a lot less companies than years gone by, admittedly this isn't a bad thing given the "buy our EJB container" stuff that used to be there, I also noticed that the amount of people talking about "design" and "analysis" on the floor was also incredibly low.

Now I know that software goes in cycles but this has to be one of the worst eras in software for design support and indeed design championing. So it got me wondering, what killed design? Back in 2003 (only 5 years ago) design was almost at its peak with Oracle, IBM and others all competing to demonstrate their design credentials. Back then however the question was largely about what Borland would do with TogetherJ.

Now there were other things around (and others have come on since) but at the time TogetherJ stood out, it had brilliant round-trip engineering, it had a fantastic quality metrics package and generally just helped you get your job done. They even listened to feature requests. Peter Coad dropped in to hear us vent (only slightly) about how the network license manager wasn't any good for us because we travelled quite a bit and couldn't use Together on the planes. What we'd like we said would be the ability to "check-out" a license so we could use it on the plane and on client sites while we sorted network access out. The answer? "I haven't heard that use case before but its a good one, I'll get back to you". The result? The next version allowed you to check out the licenses.

Then at the end of 2002 Borland bought TogetherSoft (the company that made Together) and.... well basically nothing. From that point on Together went from something that almost everyone I knew used to something that was used by practically nobody. Sure it took a few years for the software to become out of date but it happened and as there had been no really new features added to it no-one upgraded.

This left the field down to small players like Enterprise Architect by Sparx systems and MagicDraw and the beast that was Rational and became the even bigger IBM Rational. Back then Rational had one of the all time dogs of a product Rational XDE it was awful in comparison with TogetherJ, XDE was practically a one package project killing machine.

Now fair play to IBM, since then they've dumbed the whole ethos of XDE and built a pretty good new stack, its probably the strongest one out there today (IMO) if you are building large scale enterprise apps.

Clearly design hasn't gone away and remains as important as ever. Its back to (drum roll please) The Mythical Man Month and the fact that thought is the hard part not the coding or technology part. Design tools help with the thought part.

Now Borland may not have destroyed design but they certainly removed one of the most innovative companies in the market from play. Its sad to see JavaOne and the Java Community in general focusing on code syntax over full professional solutions.

On the plus side this current fad could completely screw up Enterprise IT infrastructures thus meaning that people who actually concentrate on the important things over the technology will have yet another mess to clean up after.

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Daniel Spangler said...

I think the mainstream interpretation of XP, Crystal and other methodologies killed design. Every shop I have worked at that call them selves "agile", use that as support that they don't have to properly design things. And not surprisingly, they have the shittiest architecture and most unstable code-bases. I'm not saying this is the case of all XP/Crystal/etc.. shops, but it's certainly been the majority of my experience.

Steve Jones said...

Good point Mr Spangler (and of course I remember you, still in Chesapeake?) XP et al are indeed part of the problem in the mindshift away from design. What I would say is lacking a "cool" champion design tool has also meant these woe begotten souls receive only the message of "code first, think later".

Daniel Spangler said...

I actually got married and moved to CA last year. I live a little south of LA now and am loving it. I do think a killer design tool would be great though. I take a look around about every 6 months or so, and always end up falling back on Visio...

ashetty said...

Steve: This strikes a chord. Frustrated with current design/development toolsets I find myself frequently remember the days when I could use TogetherSoft and work with pleasure.

Re. IBM Toolset, are you just being polite by qualifying your admiration for their tools with a mention of it being fit for "large-scale enterprise application" only? :-). I do agree that the WID etc are sophisticated, but seriously I had a difficult time getting things done using their toolset. Working for a services provider, I always crib to myself that if I were to deliver such software to my customers, they would hang me upside down and whip me; but the same customers happily pay a bomb and accept this crap that comes from IBM.

Sigh. Just my opinion. Not my employers ...etc.. usual disclaimer.