I recently got into an email exchange with David Intersimone of Embarcadero, during which a number of questions came up. The answers I gave to those questions I think are worth sharing, as they also reflect where I think Embarcadero are going, and have been going, wrong.
I cannot say what the questions themselves were as these would be covered by the confidentiality clause in the boiler-plate footer of the relevant emails from David I, but if you know how to play “Jeopardy” then figuring out the questions I was asked should be fairly easy from the answers I gave.
Yes, Violating an NDA is Bad
I do think that if someone has willingly signed an NDA then they should not break the confidentiality that they agreed to maintain with respect to that NDA.
However, I also think that NDA’s themselves are drawn in shades of grey (50? More? Less? ). How restrictive an NDA is something that is entirely under the control of the party presenting the NDA itself. Clearly there are differences in the way that different organisations approach their NDA’s, both in terms of what is covered but also perhaps in how they choose to enforce any transgressions.
I Think I Already Asked For That
Being a Delphi customer on SA (“Software Assurance”) I am entitled to expect to receive the next release of Delphi, assuming it is released while my subscription is current (should Embarcadero fail to deliver a release in this time frame then I shall have to consider my options).
As such I consider I have already paid for this next release. And as a consequence of that, I consider it implicit in my SA subscription that I wish to be kept informed about that release.
I should not have to ask for that information. Or rather, if Embarcadero think I should ask, then I refer them to my SA payment as suggestive that I already asked.
A Secret That Everyone Knows
It has since been offered – publicly, so I am not violating any confidence by revealing this – that anyone that wants advance information about Delphi can ask for it and get it … under an NDA.
Seemingly Embarcadero are not willing to volunteer this information (when was the last time the Delphi “roadmap” was updated?) but if anyone wants this information then they can get it simply by asking, as long as they then promise to keep that information to themselves.
Let’s keep it a secret, even if it’s a secret that everyone (potentially) knows.
This strikes me as frankly ridiculous.
Yes, some of the behaviours that I criticise are of course those of Embarcadero. In particular I think that issuing “take down” requests to remove comments that contain – in part – some sensitive information is both misguided and counter-productive.
A comment was posted to my blog that I regarded with some skepticism, reserving some doubt in my mind as to the authenticity and credibility of the claims it contained, doubts which I anticipated that readers of my blog would share. Having been told that this comment violated confidentiality agreements does nothing but serve to remove any such doubts.
But of course in this day and age, by the time the comment itself is removed not only has it already been read by many people, but some of those have reproduced the content in whole, in part, verbatim or paraphrased, elsewhere on the internet.
As I anticipated, many of those people themselves harboured – and some even expressed – doubts as to it’s credibility. But, lo and behold, the sensitivity of the information is revealed in the action and the attempt to suppress it! (an exercise in futility somewhat akin to a game of Whack-a-Mole)
I am Not Just Picking on Embarcadero
In pointing this out, I am not singling out Embarcadero, although obviously and unavoidably given that this specific incident involved Embarcadero then of course the discussion of it revolves around them. But the point of principle involved applies equally to anyone and everyone that regards their customers as some sort of threat from whom information must be withheld unless and until absolutely necessary.
Who else thinks this way ?
What if we look at some other companies, perhaps some that might have been suggested I look at as comparable to Embarcadero…
I am not a Microsoft customer. I have, at various times, downloaded and installed the “Express” line of FREE products for software developers that they make available (oh dear, already the comparison with Embarcadero is less than favourable). In the past I was an MSDN subscriber, but my subscription expired many, many years ago.
So how is it that some months ago I became aware of some controversy surrounding the changes that Microsoft were making to their still yet to be released version of Visual Studio ?
I was not, and am not, a customer of Microsoft, yet somehow I was aware not only of what changes were coming, but how other people felt about it…. I wasn’t the only one privy to this information – it was being openly discussed and commented upon!
There must have been teams of lawyers herding hordes of people through the courts for violation of their NDA’s.
Or maybe not.
In fact, far from suppressing the information and the discussions it engendered, it seems that Microsoft took some (at least) of the criticism on board and actually took steps to respond to the criticisms directed at their future product, and took the opportunity to produce something less abhorrent to their customers.
Just exactly what they are about to offer I – and anyone else – can find out, not only by reading about it but by downloading a Release Candidate of the product itself.
I fail to see how this makes Embarcadero look better by comparison.
Can anyone help me out here ?
Disclosure: I am an Apple customer.
Not only did I buy one of their computers, I also signed up for their developer program. This is a subscription based program with an annual cost of US $99.
This is on top of the cost of the purchase of the development tool chain itself of course which is an additional…. oh, my mistake. That’s included in the $99 subscription (again, already things aren’t looking particularly rosy as far as comparisons with Embarcadero go).
So, having signed up for the developer program, I gain access to the latest development tools and SDKs. In the past year I have also received regular and frequent communications from Apple, keeping me informed about future updates and forthcoming changes, even going so far as to make available beta and preview releases of updates to tools and SDKs.
I didn’t have to ask for this.
I didn’t have to apply to be accepted to top-secret beta program or commit to providing any sort of level of feedback or contribution to qualify for membership. They just send me this stuff presumably because they think that it’s the sort of information a developer would be interested in.
This insight is so cutting edge that I guess it eludes the management at Embarcadero. No wonder it takes a company like Apple to see this sort of thing. They really are geniuses.
Yes, all of it is “confidential”, which I am reminded of with every email I get, but since I know that this information is volunteered to ALL other Apple Developer Program members, then (discrete) discussion about and requests for assistance with the new stuff is not a problem.
It just means I can’t tell my fiancée about the great stuff she will be getting on her iPhone/iPad until Apple lift the lid on it to the general public themselves.
Again, can someone point out to me where Embarcadero comes out better by comparison ?
OK, so let’s look at the situation with Embarcadero:
By a very large margin, theirs are far and away the most expensive tools out of the three companies in this comparison.
The only communications I have received from Embarcadero in the past 12 months – aside from take-down requests – have been spam emails, inviting me to purchase products I have no interest in or to upgrade to products that in some cases I already own!
“Last chance to upgrade to Delphi XE2″… thanks guys, but I got mine some time ago. I figure you might already know this .. ?
This does not inspire confidence.
On top of this, of the three companies – Microsoft, Apple and Embarcadero – Embarcadero are the least forthcoming in terms of keeping their customers informed with respect to not only progress toward achieving their plans but what their plans even are in the first place!
The “Delphi Roadmap” has always been so difficult to find that it often felt like a huge achievement when you finally managed to find it. A sense of achievement somewhat tempered by the fact that you could never really be sure if what you were looking at was the real thing (and that what it contained and the way it was presented … um, left a lot to be desired).
It always seemed so out of date and hardly ever bore any relation to what actually seemed to be delivered (in retrospect), leading to this uneasy sense that it frankly wasn’t worth the effort (perhaps this was the idea… to make people give up on the idea of even wanting a roadmap).
In the days of Borland the #1 excuse trotted out for not providing this forward looking information was SOX. Strangely SOX never seemed to present such an insurmountable obstacle to other companies even then, and these days Embarcadero do not have this excuse.
Terms of Engagement
Embarcadero need to wake up and smell the internet.
They need to realise that their customers are not the enemy, with whom engagement is best achieved by carefully selecting a battlefield, covertly establishing fortified positions from which to spring a surprise spin-attack on the market and hoping to finance their next campaign from the spoils that they manage to scoop up before scurrying back in to their bunkers.
David Intersimone referred someone to a list of 10 rules for innovators, strongly suggesting that these were considered relevant to/by Embarcadero.
It is frankly worrying that this is considered some sort of standard that Embarcadero aspires to or applies to itself, containing as it does such gems as:
- #2 Don’t worry, be crappy
- #7 Eat like a bird, poop like an elephant
And some they seem to be taking very literally indeed, without actually understanding the message or – indeed – what an evangelist actually is:
If I have learned anything from 20+ years in software development, it is that the single biggest driver of success is not “being crappy” and “pooping like an elephant”, but Expectation Management.
Clearly Embarcadero have some lessons to learn.
I for one hope for the sake of Delphi, that they realise this. And soon.
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