When Sterling Software Inc bought Texas Instruments Inc’s TI software subsidiary for $165m in February this year, there were bound to be problems as the two companies found a unified approach. Although the product direction appears intact, TI Software customers are concerned that Sterling formulated its product strategy in a vacuum without consulting them. A few criticized the new COOL:Stuff branding as a bit flaky for developers involved with bet-the-enterprise projects – TI Composer’s traditional customer base. The main event to rock the boat came from outside, as Microsoft recently announced that Platinum would become the implementation partner for the repository originally designed in conjunction with the former TI Software. Microsoft and Platinum Technology will collaborate to further develop the Microsoft repository, which Platinum will also port to MVS, AS/400 and Unix, and additional relational database system (Oracle and DB2 being the prime targets). Microsoft was impressed by Platinum’s decade of repository experience (principally through its RelTech acquisition), and a presence in 400 of the Fortune 1,000 (which, coincidentally, will come under pressure by Platinum to move to the new Microsoft solution).
By Kevin White
By contrast, TI Software’s Encyclopedia repository was a Johnny- come-lately. The Platinum mission is to help develop non-NT versions of the repository which will support team development and have integrated version control and configuration management – three key functions conspicuously absent from Repository 1.0. Before the repository slipped by almost two years, TI Software was supposedly going to do these kind of things, especially develop and sell non-NT versions. Both Microsoft and Sterling jointly assert, however, that the former TI Software was never more than a design partner, and was never meant to take on implementation. This is a sudden switch from statements coming out of Texas just a couple of months ago, when TI Software staff said the company was dropping its long-standing plans to write its own repository (as in software) based on its joint work with Microsoft. In fact, only recently we were hearing that there were still some TI/Sterling engineers on site at Redmond working on the repository. Apparently they were working on a new Open Information Model (OIM) Microsoft has brewed up to define a common way for development tools to work together across the software development life cycle. On the face of it this is a rebuke. Beneath the covers it starts to become apparent that Platinum’s role is not really consistent with Sterling’s component-based development (CBD) direction, which is Windows NT- based. Although we have had mixed signals from Sterling as to its post-Platinum repository strategy – much of which could be attributed to post-merger confusion – Keith Short, a key CBD marketing executive based in London is unequivocal. We will continue our [repository] license agreement with Microsoft, and will embed it in our products. That will come as a relief to users such as Emery Worldwide, a major Composer site that was one of the first to get neck deep in CBD. Its future strategy was banking on the Microsoft repository, a strategy that at this point appears vindicated. Of greater question is the fate of Encyclopedia. For now, it is positioned as a more complete solution for the COOL:Stuff family of products, although there is no clear timetable as to when the Sterling products will add Encyclopedia support. In fact, the real story is likely to be a horse race: can Microsoft (possibly with Platinum’s help) beef up its repeatedly-delayed repository to the point where companies like Sterling no longer feel the need to maintain their own loss leaders? That remains a big if. You will never get agreement on how everybody’s everything will interact, said Short, referring to tool-independent repositories such as Microsoft’s. But the critical thing is to agree on component specifications using the UML (Unified Modeling Language). Despite all the hoopla, Meta Group believes a usable Microsoft repository is unlikely before 1998/99. The advice coming from the analysts is that users seeking metadata modeling tools should wait for the more mature repository to emerge in 1999; and use other options such as LogicWorks’ ErWin, or products from Cayenne to provide a tactical bridge until then. All things said, it is clear that Sterling doesn’t intend to be in the repository business.
Says Short, Sterling’s future is the tools. With Sterling’s announcement of product and organization plans in place, TI Software customers have so far noticed little change in their sales or customer service representatives. We contacted three major Composer accounts and none of them reported any changes in the account management teams that Sterling inherited from TI Software. As would be expected, there was some management revenue. Brian Morrow, director of marketing of TI Software’s new CBD products, and someone heavily identified with TI’s new product direction, departed in June. He was respected tremendously as a pioneer, noted Debbie McEver of the National Association of Securities Dealers, a four-year TI customer and one of the earliest users of Composer. But the person coming to replace Morrow, Mike Jones, has also been identified with CBD development from the outset. It also appears that CBD research and development, based near London and Texas, survives and continues to play a core role in Sterling’s future product plans. The fruit of its efforts, now dubbed COOL:Cubes, is due for release this autumn.