By Gary Flood Why is everyone going so crazy about Visigenic Software Inc? In the space of less than a year the San Mateo, California based database and Internet connectivity software supplier has been wooed by Netscape Communications Corp, Forte Software Inc, Oracle Corp, Borland Corp, and now Novell Corp. This on top of a […]
By Gary Flood
Why is everyone going so crazy about Visigenic Software Inc? In the space of less than a year the San Mateo, California based database and Internet connectivity software supplier has been wooed by Netscape Communications Corp, Forte Software Inc, Oracle Corp, Borland Corp, and now Novell Corp. This on top of a solid tie-in with Microsoft Corp itself. Rumors are now flying around Silicon Valley to the effect that one of these players may well decide to mess with their opponents’ plans, and acquire Visigenic in order to throw their ORB (object request broker) plans into chaos. This attention surprises some of us who remember Visigenic as the company which was trying to make Microsoft’s Open Data Base Connectivity (ODBC) into something real, mostly to everyone’s indifference. Visigenic’s original vision was very much in character with its founder, Roger Sippl, a man who has always promoted the importance of standards-based computing as the way to achieve real interoperability. Sippl, who founded and led relational database company Informix Corp through the 1980s, but who left after recovering from Hodgkin’s Disease, started Visigenic as a pure-play ODBC supporter in 1994. The idea was to take ODBC and extend it from its habitual client/desktop environment to midrange servers like Unix. This was cool with Microsoft, which really only cared at the time about opening up its productivity applications to a wider range of back-end data sources: plus, the commitment of Sippl, who had been highly visible in standards bodies like the SQL Access Group and X/Open, made it seem as if ODBC was actually made of nobler stuff than cynics claimed. In any case, Visigenic kind of stumbled along between 1994 and early 1996, when Sippl seemingly got Web and Object Management Group’s Common Object Request Broker Architecture (Corba) fever. In April 1996 (CI No 2,903) Sippl swooped on privately-held Mountain View, California-based ORB specialist PostModern Computing Inc, adding its object request broker expertise to his ODBC and Java Database Connectivity standards products. In particular, of most interest to Visigenic in the tiny (15 strong) company was a Java-enabled ORB called Black Widow. This product – renamed VisiBroker soon thereafter – has really put spring in Sippl’s company’s step. For PostModern had built a Corba Internet Inter-Orb protocol (IIOP) implementation that really made this nascent standard mean something. In June, two months later, Netscape, Platinum Technology Inc and Cisco Systems Inc paid $8m between them for a total stake of less than 10% in then still-private Visigenic. In July it won a high-profile deal with Netscape, where the VisiBroker Java and C++ object request brokers get to be integrated with Netscape’s Communicator client and SuiteSpot servers, in order to provide seamless access to objects on Corba- compliant servers from Netscape front-ends. In August the company was finally able to go public, at $7.50 per share, and yesterday was trading at just over $9, half of its 52-week high. The company relaunched itself in Europe in November, and then last month (CI 3,094) Oracle joined the party, licensing Visigenic’s Java and C++ ORBs which it will integrate into its products, and resell to customers and ISVs. Oracle is also licensing Visigenic’s VisiBridge connectivity tool (formerly known as VisiBroker for ActiveX Bridge), software that enables Corba objects to be accessed from Microsoft Corp ActiveX controls implemented in Web pages, Visual Basic applications or OLE- enabled applications. Oracle will further integrate the Visigenic technology into its Web Application Server, database server and tools. Earlier this month Borland announced it will integrate VisiBroker for Java with its Jbuilder application development tool. And finally, only two days ago, Novell signed up too, announcing that it would license VisiBroker for Java and C++ with its IntranetWare platform. The network operating system player hailed the move as a way to offer developers immediate support for CORBA and native IIOP w
ith the ability to deploy distributed applications on IntranetWare. The two companies are also to jointly fund a technology lab for research and development of CORBA services and Java integration. An enviable set of partners, then, all won in a very short time frame. So all is hunky-dory in the Visigenic world? Not necessarily. The company is not expected to achieve profitability until the third quarter of 1998, according to First Call analysts. A $12m charge for purchased research and development associated with the PostModern buy really hit Visigenic’s figures its current fiscal. Net losses for the third quarter were $2.3m, up from $991,000 the previous year, as revenues rose 194% to $3.8m. But nine-month losses were $15.9m, after the write-off, up from $1.9m losses last time. So would Sippl cash out by letting one of his new-found friends make him an offer? A Visigenic spokesman pooh-poohed the idea, predictably, but with a good basis: Visigenic gets substantial amounts of money with each of these deals, not just good PR, with the Novell one being the largest so far, and hence its business model is viable – albeit that profitability is not scheduled to happen for some time yet. A weaker reason that makes us believe Visigenic is not in play is that keeping the ORB vendors like Iona Technologies Ltd independent gives more general street credibility to the whole IIOP movement, which at the end of the day is all about giving Microsoft something to worry about. So Visigenic becomes a core technology supplier, someone to partner with in the same way that one partners with, say, Netscape. Take those 10% investors: Platinum is believed to be considering Visibroker technology for use in its systems administration software tools, having put the Visigenic ODBC drivers in virtually all its software already. Cisco is hedging on possible success of IIOP: If it really takes off, a company like Cisco would be interested in anything would help handle the extra network traffic. So why is everyone going crazy about Visigenic? Because we all like a standard that gives for an open playing field – like Corba and IIOP – not ones that really only help one big player, like ODBC. And it’s only been since Sippl realized that, too, that his company has become really worthy of interest.