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Microsoft, Inprise in Unlikely Deal

Some people get help from their friends. If you're a teetering development tools vendor, you get help from your enemies. This at least fits the profile for Inprise Corp. (www.inprise.com) who's receiving an investment from longtime competitor Microsoft Corp., $25 million to be precise.

For the cash, Inprise will agree to:

  • Support the Microsoft Windows 2000 operating system, including the COM+ and the Windows Distributed interNet Applications (Windows DNA) architecture.
  • License the latest version of the Microsoft Foundation Classes (MFC), the standard C++ class library for developing applications for Windows. MFC will ship with Borland C++Builder.
  • License the latest version of the Windows platform software development kit (SDK) through the Microsoft Open Tools licensing program. Elements of the Windows platform SDK will be incorporated into Inprise's Borland family of Windows-based development tools.

In return, Microsoft made a long-term commitment to provide Inprise with technologies related to the Windows platform and Internet technologies. Microsoft also paid Inprise $100 million for the rights to use Inprise-patented technology in Microsoft products and to settle a number of long-standing patent and technology licensing issues. This makes the total investment really $125 million.

Things couldn't get any hairier for Inprise, formerly named Borland. The company kicked off the month of April by dropping CEO Delbert Yocam and CFO Kathleen Fisher, followed by announcements of a dismal earnings report. Then the board of directors brought in Dale Fuller as interim CEO.

Even thought this isn't a lot of cash the deal may still seem unlikely to some. Not only do these companies vehemently compete on several development products; not only do many developers specifically use Inprise products because of an ABM rule they follow; but Inprise has publicly accused Microsoft continuously of stealing Inprise's own developers.

It would seem both of these companies have associated needs. Due to recent econimic troubles, Inprise may need the money. Microsoft needs development tools that can support Windows 2000 other than Visual Studio. It also needs competitors around so it doesn't wind up in a Washington D.C. federal courtroom again.

A report released today by Zona Research Inc. (www.zonaresearch.com) points to Inprise's VisiBroker ORB as an attractive technology because of the CORBA access it provides developers. "Oracle, Netscape and Sun have already licensed the VisiBroker ORB, and Microsoft's licensing of it would give an underlying unity to application development tapping into CORBA objects," explains the report.

It also outlines other technologies that the deal gives Microsoft access to such as voice over IP technology that Inprise has been working on in conjunction with AT&T, and Inprise's JBuilder which could become a potential augmentation to Microsoft's Visual Studio. Microsoft does not have the rights to JBuilder itself, but its underlying patents. -- Brian Ploskina

About the Author

Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.

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