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Borland won't give up on Delphi

Borland International is getting ready to go toe-to-toe, again, with Microsoft and its Visual Basic.

To prove that it can still put up a good fight, financially troubled Borland International is getting ready to go toe to toe, again, with Microsoft and its Visual Basic.

The company is readying an upgrade to its flagship development tool under the name Delphi 97. The upgrade is now in beta test and is slated to ship in the second quarter as Delphi 3.0, sources close to the company told CNET.

Borland's plan is to break Delphi out of a Betamax vs. VHS scenario that has robbed the tool of the market success many predicted it would enjoy. Many developers still believe Delphi to be technologically superior to Visual Basic, but VB has managed to corner the Windows desktop development tool market thanks to Microsoft's marketing muscle.

Delphi 3.0 is in fact the first part of a three-tool product blitz Borland plans for the first half of this year. The previously announced C++ Builder is scheduled to ship this quarter, and the Java-based JBuilder toolset is due by summer.

The company hopes the trio of products can resuscitate interest in its products. Borland last week reported a 33 percent drop in revenues and a $29.4 million loss for the quarter, even worse than analysts had expected.

While the list of Borland's other problems is long, Delphi has long been Borland's great hope to turn the company around. A merger with Open Environment last year was originally expected to add much-needed three-tier development capabilities but failed to really pump up the interest level in the tool.

But Borland thinks it has at least one more chance to make Delphi a contender.

To give the tool added appeal, Borland is outfitting Delphi 3.0 with features for building distributed applications and support for ActiveX component technologies. The company is also adding native programming interfaces to link Delphi applications to Microsoft and Netscape Communications Web servers, according to sources familiar with Borland's plans.

In Delphi 97, Borland is taking a fresh approach to all of Delphi's features, including its compiler, language, database support, and component development features.

The compiler, for instance, will produce smaller, faster executables through a technology called configurable packages. Applications can be generated as executable files, or as dynamic link libraries for Windows 95 and Windows NT.

As part of a new "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" strategy, Borland is also making Delphi applications cross-platform and ActiveX-ready by supporting Microsoft's component object model and distributed COM interfaces.

Delphi 3.0 will introduce tools for building ActiveX controls, and for transforming existing Delphi code into ActiveX controls so it can be used in thin-client applications, or reused in other development tools that support ActiveX, such as Visual Basic, Visual C++, or Powersoft's PowerBuilder.

For building distributed applications, Delphi 3.0 will allow developers to separate user interface code and business logic.

Like the current version, Delphi 3.0 will be sold in standard, professional, and client-server editions. But Borland will also introduce an Enterprise version that will include integration with cross-platform messaging software the company acquired through Open Environment.

The Enterprise version will be targeted at high-end developers and at OEC's installed base of customers, sources said.

No pricing information is available, but the current version of Delphi is priced from $199.