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 Journey to the Center of TheKompany: Shawn Gordon

OrangeCrate is pleased to present an Interview with Shawn Gordon, President of TheKompany, a well-known and beloved (by many of us) software company that develops cross-platform applications. I believe this exchange was a little different than a normal interview, and I thank Shawn for taking the time to respond to my questions, it is appreciated.

 (Submitted by Chuck Talk Fri Aug 6, 2004 )

  Everyone is pretty much scratching their heads wondering why Sharp is even coming up with new devices when they don't appear to want anyone to use them. This has been the biggest lost opportunity that I remember seeing in recent years. Sharp really made some great devices but just couldn't decide on how they wanted to pursue the market and dropped the ball.

Unfortunately the other half dozen or so units that other companies were working on that we were familiar with never saw the light of day either. So at the moment we've got 2 major initiatives we're working on, one is Smartphones, specifically Symbian although we're talking to the guys doing the Linux ones like Motorola. The other is a really exciting product/service we will launch in mid-September called "Mindawn". I can't say much else about Mindawn at the moment other than it will take a lot of people by surprise.

In addition to the new things we have some working going on with existing products. Our Visio style tool Kivio has a totally revamped engine that we are testing now that will allow for some really amazing features to be put in to a diagram. QuantaGold is getting some updates, especially for PHP5,DataArchitect is going to be getting native Oracle and SQL Server support soon, and dbRadar has a major new release coming. Lots of minor stuff as well, but those are the highlights.

Chuck Talk: Do you see the consolidation of the major Linux distributors as a good thing for your business? Will having larger companies support and promote Linux help TheKompany in the long run?

Shawn Gordon: Having less distributions helps us to the extent that it is easier to support, although with our new method of packaging we can pretty much run anywhere now with a single small binary. It took a lot of effort to develop, but now it saves us a lot of time. With that said, I've never found a big company easy to work with, it is so difficult to get anything accomplished or to reach the right person.

I can still get a hold of the "right" people at Mandrake pretty easily for example, but I've spent about eight months now trying to reach the "right" people at Novell since the SUSE ones aren't the right ones now. I've never been able to have a stable and proper contact at RedHat, we finally gave up trying with them.

Since our software runs on Linux, Windows and Mac OS X we aren't particularly dependent on Linux distributors although we do provide a lot of software and tools that would make sense for these distributors to look at as they can aid in migration for companies looking to migrate off of big iron on to Linux servers.

Chuck Talk: I am curious about dbRadar, as it is a cross-platform administration tool, do you see it primarily as a tool for use with Linux databases, or do you see a future path where it might integrate with tools like Novell's DirXML to allow the exchange of data regardless of the database?

Shawn Gordon: I'm not actually familiar with DirXML, but with dbRadar the idea is to support the major database players and because it is an administration and tuning tool you can't generalize it enough to work on any database. Currently it is highly optimized for Oracle, MySQL and PostgreSQL with support for DB2 and SQL Server in process. Outside of that, there are a small handful to look at, but that depends on the market. What's nice about dbRadar is that it competes pretty well with products like Quest's "TOAD" but at just a fraction of the price, and it works with more databases and operating systems.

Chuck Talk: One of the questions that has come up in passing conversation is whether TheKompany will extend XUL into any of your IDEs. Do you currently have any plans to do that, or have you examined that possibility?

Shawn Gordon: We actually spent a bit of time looking at XUL for our Kobol product, we haven't made a decision on it one way or another yet, but we'll continue to investigate and test and see what we can come up with.

Chuck Talk: Given that TheKompany develops QuantaGold for web development, how do you view the recent announcement by the Mozilla Foundation and Opera that they are seeking to develop open standards to remove the potential Microsoft lock-in through their Avalon framework?

Shawn Gordon: Microsoft's Borg-like absorption of the Internet scares the hell out of me. I almost never use Internet Explorer, primarily it's Opera, Konqueror, and Safari, I just can't quite get use to Mozilla. The problem is people that use proprietary extensions at all, if you do something that works in Opera and not IE, then you are going to be in bad shape.

I run in to sites all the time that don't work properly in Opera, it's frustrating, but at the moment it is the nature of the beast. I don't see that what Opera and Mozilla are doing is actually going to have any impact, that kind of thing rarely does, but I'm glad they are doing something to try and push back.

Isn't the story of Avalon about people who see visions of what they most want so they won't leave the island? It's been a long time since I've reviewed it, but that seems pretty appropriate.

Chuck Talk: With the advent of open-source COBOL compilers appearing for GNU/Linux and Java byte-code, do you foresee a comeback in COBOL use?

Shawn Gordon: The only open source COBOL that I'm aware of that works is TinyCOBOL and it is missing a lot of stuff. As far as COBOL making a comeback, it is the most widely deployed language in the world, comprising over 80% of all code currently in use around the world. I don't think it has any coming back to do.

The problem with COBOL is that it is too good at what it does. COBOL is designed for business applications, and in that application it is pretty much unparalleled in its efficiency and ease of use, although I could see Python replacing it.

Now, because COBOL is so easy to use you don't have magazines for it, or huge conferences for it or anything else, and because of that it doesn't get the same sort of name recognition. You could argue that the very difficulty in using C/C++ is what contributed to their success because when you go to the book store or magazine shop, all you saw were books on how to use and program with those languages, so it was given a perception of wide use.

I remember when I first learned C about 18 years ago, I thought it was really cool until I tried rewriting some business apps in it and found them to be twice as big as COBOL and much harder to write. The key here is to use the right tool for the job, you don't use a hammer to change a spark plug. What I'd really like to see is people just use the right tool and not be language bigots.

Chuck Talk: Certainly are many COBOL programs still in corporate use; How do you think KOBOL will be received by companies and developers in the COBOL industry?

Shawn Gordon: Kobol has been very well received, it's really an excellent tool for porting off of mini and mainframe computers. We even have code specifically to support the COBOL extension that HP added on their HP 3000 line of mini-computer systems that have now been discontinued.

The main issue is getting name recognition and visibility which goes back to your last question. There really isn't a magazine or widely seen/read source that we can target, so we have to go through a lot of roundabout efforts to get people to know about it. Since we price all our software under $100, we don't employ a sales force to go out and make those cold calls.

Our Kobol generates native binaries for Linux and Windows with no run time costs and is only $60 per developer. This is an order of magnitude less than our closest competitor, so we think we have a compelling argument to make. Our whole point is penetration, we want to get after those 4 million active COBOL developers.

Chuck Talk: What are your views on the upcoming Perl6 and Parrot projects? Do you have any future plans for Parrot IDE/Compilers?

Shawn Gordon: We haven't done anything specifically with Perl other than syntax highlighting support in our QuantaGold product. We've been discussing a Perl specific product and have a lot of it written, but I'm not sure when we might release something. As far as Parrot, I've been hearing about it for years, but nothing of real note happening, at least the last I looked, and I never saw the point of Parrot quite frankly.

Chuck Talk: What do you think about the idea of KDE and GNOME interoperability? I know there have been attempts to do this before, but I am interested in your perspective. Do you think that it would always remain a compromise, or do you see that as an achievable goal?

Shawn Gordon: It's an admirable goal, but remember I've been in this for 5 years now and I've seen a lot of people come and go and a lot of talk come and go. Fundamentally KDE is just a kick ass design, really superbly done and in the true spirit of open source, this thing is totally designed and deployed by consensus, seems like the original Greek democracies.

Interoperability to me is simple things, like being able to cut and paste between applications, print and network services, themes (which KDE addressed a long time ago). Since 95% of our apps are Qt-based, this only marginally affects us any more, but those are the same issues we were dealing with.

Outside of a few things, I don't see a need to go overboard with it, I think this might be one of those areas where they might over-design it without thinking about how people might actually need to use it. That's pretty common with developers, especially developers that have never worked at a "normal" company and seen how people normally use computers a software, it is an eye opening experience. My 20 odd years of working with corporate America has given me a good perspective in this regard.

Chuck Talk: Finally, is there anything you would like to say to my audience?

Shawn Gordon: Keep the faith, everyones hard work and enthusiasm has been making a dent. Five years ago Microsoft didn't care about Linux, now it is the biggest threat they are facing. SCO will disappear one way or the other soon, and that headache will finally go away. So as IBM said on a t-shirt I have - "Live, Love, Linux”.

Chuck Talk: Thanks Shawn, I do apprecite your time and opinions. I hope everyone gets a better picture of what you are doing with TheKompany. :)

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