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Inprise warns of another bad quarter

The software company also announces its new, interim chief executive Dale Fuller amid speculation that it may be seeking a buyer.

Inprise today said it has hired former Apple and WhoWhere executive Dale Fuller as its interim chief executive and that first-quarter financial results will fall significantly below Wall Street expectations.

The struggling software firm also announced it is exploring whether to split the company into two separate entities and has hired investment banking firm Hambrech & Quist to advise Inprise's board of directors on "strategic alternatives," which generally means seeking a buyer, investor, or partners.

One Inprise executive today declined to state whether one option is to sell all or part of the company, saying Fuller is committed to increasing shareholder value. He's apparently not on board for the base salary: Fuller's salary is $1 with stock options, according to a source close to the company.

Inprise said the company expects to report a first-quarter loss of 54 cents to 56 cents a share. Inprise also expects to post a loss for the full year when it reports earnings on April 22. First Call, a consensus of analysts, had predicted a break-even first quarter and fiscal year earnings of 14 cents per share.

As reported earlier, Fuller replaces Del Yocam, who resigned from Inprise on March 31 after two years at the helm. The board said it had requested Yocam's resignation over philosophical differences in company strategy.

Fuller, 40, is former president and chief executive of WhoWhere, before the online directory was sold to Lycos. He is also former vice president and general manager of Apple's PowerBook business unit.

"My focus will be on developing a strategy for achieving substantial long-term growth through focused investment in the company?we are determined to restore market share and to protect and build the company's leading technological service and support capabilities," Fuller said in a statement.

Inprise--which has two divisions, middleware software and development tools--has struggled in recent times. In the fourth quarter, it laid off 190 employees after reporting a net income of $3.5 million on $48.2 million in revenue. Sales were $1 million below Wall Street estimates.

Analyst Anne Thomas of the Patricia Seybold Group said Fuller's hiring is surprising, because it was so soon after Yocam had left. "It's hard to find a CEO. It's one of the most challenging tasks," she said.

Fuller faces a tough chore in turning the company around, Thomas said.

"They need a wicked awesome marketing blitz. They have to somehow represent themselves as a force to be reckoned with, a company that an enterprise-class corporation can bet their business on," she said. "It's really hard to come out of the hole if you have this reputation of being a company going down the tubes."

The company has good technology, but it faces formidable competitors. Its software development tools compete with Microsoft, IBM, Sybase, Symantec, and others, while its middleware products compete with Oracle, Sun Microsystems, BEA and all the other application server vendors.

"Inprise has astonishingly good technology, probably the best regarded object request broker in the market, perhaps the best Java development tool, a competitive application server, and distributed application management technology," Thomas said. "That puts them in a strong position. The problem is the tools market is fading, you don't make a lot of money in tools and it's hard to make money on middleware."

Thomas said the quick hiring could also mean that Fuller was hired to sell the company. Suitors could include Sun, Oracle, and even Microsoft, she said.

Inprise said it is conducting a search for a new chief financial officer to replace Kathleen Fisher, who resigned the same day as Yocam.