Peter Dunne posted a suggestion in the Delphi Developer group on Facebook that a kickstarter project could be started to fund the acquisition of Delphi by the community itself (assuming that Embarcadero or Idera put it up for sale, of course). How realistic is this ?
Numerous people have chipped in with “calculations” to determine the level of investment needed by a given number of backers of such a project and a strange sense of purpose seems to have descended on the resulting exchange of more or less random numbers that this exercise has produced, ranging from as little as $40 to $4,000.
As attractive as this might sound (to paraphrase: for the price of a license each, we could acquire the whole business), I hate to cast a shade of reality over this little fantasy but it’s not just a question of the purchase price. There is also the small matter of funding the on-going business once it has been acquired because it seems unlikely that it is self-sustaining on its own.
OSS vs BAU
Even if the plan were to turn the whole enterprise over to a community supported, open source project, there would almost certainly be wind-up costs to deal with, not least in cleaning up legal issues around licensed technology in the tools (which could easily thwart any OSS ambitions entirely) and of course then laying off the entire current work-force.
Or perhaps we would just turn the enterprise into a community owned co-operative, running it as an on-going business ?
Of course, being a private company we have no real idea of the true financial health of the dev tools business and to what extent it is perhaps propped up by the DB tools side of things. But we do have a number of available indicators we can consider.
First of all, it is widely known that the sale of the dev tools business to Embarcadero was valued at around $25-30 million at the time. We also know that the Idera acquisition of the entire Embarcadero Technologies business is being bankrolled to the tune of $425 million. Even allowing for (imho) Borland having sold the tools short or an optimistic assessment that Embarcadero have overseen a doubling of value of the dev tools business, this means that the entire dev tools business accounts for perhaps $60 million of an anticipated $425 million valuation. That’s just 14% of the business.
So what commercial value does that 14% represent ?
Have I Got a Deal For You!
Well the never-ending “special offers” (not so special when they run more or less continuously), changes to upgrade pricing criteria (the limit on upgrade pricing to the 2 previous versions has now been lifted) and continual waving of big sticks to coerce if not force subscription uptake… all of this does not exactly indicate a business that is doing well.
Without the numbers it is of course impossible to say for sure, but whilst there are businesses where the underlying commercial model is one of perpetual sales, special deals and sharp practice, this is not typically a feature of profitable technology businesses and certainly not of tools vendors.
Even within Embarcadero it is interesting to note that the DB tools do not seem to be subject to the same sort of aggressive discounting, dealing, bundling and license tweaking that the dev tools are, so this practice w.r.t the dev tools is not simply a consistent part of a strategy adopted across the Embarcadero business as a whole.
It seems to me that any purchase of the dev tools business is likely to be more akin to the purchase of a house with a mortgage: An initial exchange of funds to secure the change in title but with an on-going and potentially much larger financial commitment attached.
Mortgagee sales occur when on-going commitments can no longer be met, not on the day of initial purchase.
A Potential New/Old Home for Delphi
Of course, if all this is accurate, then there remains the question of what Idera might do with the dev tools business if they are interested only in acquiring the seemingly more profitable DB tools. It certainly does not seem to be the sort of business interested in branching out into development tools.
If they have no appetite for continuing to financially support the dev tools they might choose to sell them off much more cheaply which might make it an attractive proposition for some of the larger ALM tools vendors, especially those operating in the legacy space rather than fighting it out on the cutting edge.
In other words, it’s exactly the sort of business that might be of interest to Micro Focus.