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Thursday, October 14th, 2010

4D’s direction with v13 and Wakanda

UPDATE: A couple days after writing this blog post, Jean-Michel Biraghi, 4D's Director of Marketing, pulled me aside for a chat. I've revised the blog post based on that discussion...

I'm not doing a blow-by-blow blog of 4D Summit this year. But I am twittering things blow-by-blow - Check out my Twitter feed for all the little details - twitter.com/SummitNotes - instead what I want to blog is sorta a birds eye view of what's going on...

The future of 4D is Javascript development

A lot of time was spent going over 4D's new/future product - Wakanda. Wakanda is an object-oriented Javascript development environment that greatly simplifies the development of RIAs. It will be to web development what 4D is to client/server - and integrated approach where you can get a lot done relatively easily. Like other pure Javascript solutions, Wakanda is not for public facing web sites where you want organic traffic from search engines - there is nothing of substance in the HTML document for search engine spiders to digest. Instead, it's appropriate for use once a person has logged in - in the non-public areas of a web site, or for powering ancillary content in iFrames. Wakanda will take client-server like functionality and put it onto the web as easily as you deploy 4D today.

It's important to note that Wakanda is not a future version of 4D, though they do have plans to enable it to be integrated in a 4D environment. It's more like 4D Web 2.0 Pack on massive doses of steroids.

4D is doing well - and that may be a bad thing...

That's a little hyperbole, but let me explain... 4D SAS/Inc now has $9M sitting in the bank. They could go for 6 months collecting no revenue and still be OK. In a way that's good - it means 4D will be around for a long time. But there's a downside to it as well - they're not hungry. Jean-Michel made note of that comment and swore they were hungry. In rethinking it, Wakanda is a huge change for 4D and 4D is sinking so much money into it that I'm sure there is a certain hunger to make sure it's not a flop. Whether there's 'hunger' the way a New Yorker (like me) would define the term, has yet to be determined...

What is abundantly clear is that 4D is a technology driven company. You may think that's a good thing for a technology company, but what it means is that they're not a sales and marketing driven company. Yes, they're relatively innovative, but there isn't the deep desire to sell more or get more marketshare. However, while they're developer community feels like it's getting smaller, their sales are up, so they do seem to be doing something right when it comes to sales. It would appear they're getting (possibly) fewer customers to make bigger and bigger investments in their products.

Like someone selling books, 4D is in the publishing business in that the first product they sell costs them millions of dollars and every product after that is close to zero cost. Every additional customer they get is almost pure profit. I just wish they'd be a more aggressive in their attempts to get additional sales. Maybe they are and I just don't see it...

Can 4D get marketshare for Wakanda?

For years I and many other 4D developers were mystified by 4D's apparent lack of a marketing strategy. For example, try to find a description of 4D on 4D.com - it's not there. They have a paragraph or so that gives and overview, and they have descriptions of each product, but I'm talking about an overview page that someone with industry experience (a potential customer) could look at and understand where 4D fits into the technical landscape. Even the product descriptions - they describe the feature list, but don't give an overview of where that product fits into the overall concept. Take the page on 4D Server as an example - it has a features list including some of the ways you can interact with 4D Server, but there's no diagram or in-depth details explaining all the ways you can connect to a 4D Server (client/server, web, SQL, JSON, web services, etc.), nor are there benchmarks descriptions of 4D Server's capabilities and limitations. Giving customers a really good understanding of what your product is all about is Goal One of any website, yet the 4D website fails at that really basic objective. That says a lot...

But in their defense, the comment was made that getting additional marketshare in a mature market like client/server is extremely difficult and expensive. With their current product their lack of marketing almost makes sense (but not quite). They seem to be doing a decent job with actually selling 4D (revenues are up). But the real problem is that they've now got a new product in a competitive market, yet so far they haven't demonstrated a level of marketing savvy equal to that of their competitors.

It goes beyond not describing the product on the website. Let's take another really basic example - the name Wakanda... Apparently they're getting out of the technology business and they're getting into the resort business and moving to upstate New York. I know choosing a product name is extremely difficult, but these days you don't give a product a name unless you own the domain name. It's one thing to have a code name early on - Wakanda would have been a perfectly fine name at last year's Summit where the product was largely conceptual, but they presented Wakanda as a serious product they were going to launch in the not-t0o-distant future and they don't own wakanda.com. Jean-Michel told me that Wakanda means "the magic within" (in Sioux) and that they hired an agency to help them find the name. I know it's a difficult process but personally I'd offer the resort good money for the domain name or consider using another name - but that's just me.

Bottom line, I'm not convinced 4D has the skills they need to really make Wakanda succeed. There are plenty of other ways I could go into about how 4D's marketing could use some help - sites that aren't SEO'd, sites that aren't crawlable by search engines, etc., and just the general blank looks you get when you say you work with 4D. I hope they can get their act together for Wakanda, but I'm skeptical.

No big changes to 4D in the near future

At the summit two years ago v11 had just been released and they made it very clear that the 4D language was now 4D's big problem. The database engine itself had been reworked and was robust and modern, but the language, being single threaded on the OS level, was a significant problem - especially on server since all stored procedures and web requests had to queue in line to get completed. They promised that in "the next version" that would be fixed. Well, v12 is out and it's not fixed, and it won't be fixed in v13 either. I suspect Wakanda fixes it, but that's  a different product.

They were pretty clear that all the future versions of 4D in the next few years will be incremental. That means easy upgrades, but they won't really be fixing the product's core problem. Honestly, I'm hugely disappointed, but I guess it is what it is...

Tags:
Categories: 4D, AJAX

3 Comments

  1. Geoff Perlman Says:

    If you are looking for a modern, object-oriented, cross-platform development environment that has the ability to build web applications (in additional to desktop and console applications), take a look at REAL Studio. We let you build web applications using the SAME language you use to build desktop applications. No need to learn HTML, JavaScript, CSS, AJAX or PHP. There are videos on our web site and we will be shipping our new Web Edition before the end of this year.

  2. Jay Says:

    Great post. At least I am having some ideas already on how wakanda will be. It has been a puzzle for me on how will this product be. I have googled around but no luck. Actually I expected that you will be explaining about wakanda on the technical side. I mean, what will wakanda be? Which approach will it take. Approach by means of a framework. Will it be an MVC framework?

    I am sorry to open this topic here because I am just so curious.

  3. Peter Jakobsson Says:

    This is a great review as always. I’m not quite so pessimistic because I think at least they’ve got their priorities right – a badly marketed good product over a well marketed crap product.
    The problems with the language don’t worry me at the moment – I don’t really care if it’s multi-threaded or not – but I hope they can keep the quality up and get it done eventually.

    Thanks a lot for the read !

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