Origins And Description Of QPW



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High-Level Business Flow of the Borland QPW Development

Borland launched development for QuattroPro for Windows as a natural follow-up to their DOS spreadsheet offering. QPW offers spreadsheet and database functionality in the spirit of most spreadsheet products on the market today. The team I interviewed created QPW 1.0, the so-called base generic development for the product.

The initial development was to be heavily loaded with features. The project goal was to produce a product with the maturity and feature richness of a third- or fourth-release product. The team felt they had achieved that goal when the product shipped.
Like most Borland products, QPW is designed to be a self-contained deliverable that is compatible with other members of a product family. Its human interface is consistent with other Borland products. Its database interfaces allow it to interwork with other Borland products. Borland views itself as a vendor of individual business solution components, from which a customer can select combinations to meet their needs. The total code volume of all Borland products, expressed as original source lines, is huge: tens, if not hundreds, of millions of lines of code (my estimate). Products are largely independent of each other, yet share common infrastructure and look-and-feel (and, conjecturally, the code providing this functionality).

QPW had a small core team--four people--who interacted intensely over two years to produce the bulk of the product. Prototyping was heavily used: Two major prototypes were built and discarded (the first in C; the second, called "pre-Crystal," in C++). Four core developers defined an architecture, built early prototypes and the foundation code for the product, and participated in implementation through its delivery. Additional programmers were added after about six months of intense effort by the core of four. This is experience was one of our initial substantiations for the pattern BuildPrototypes.

The methodology was iterative. Except for the architectural dialogue, the core developers worked independently. Early code can be viewed as a series of prototypes that led to architectural decisions, and drove the overall structure of the final system. This supports not only BuildPrototypes, but also patterns outside the language like Cockburn's EarlyAndRegularDelivery [BibRef-Cockburn1996].

The programming language was C++. The final implementation stages of QPW stressed their C++ compiler--which was being developed in parallel with QPW--to its limits. There was uncharacteristically tight coupling between the QPW group and the language group. QPW was one of the largest and earliest projects to stress their C++ compiler release. Cooperation between the two allowed each to contribute to the quality of the other.

After the product took shape (after about a year), additional roles were engaged in development activities. QA (quality assurance), testers, and others were at last allowed to see and exercise copies of the code that had been kept under wraps during early development. These roles had been staffed earlier, but engaged in development only when the developers felt they had something worthy of testing. This gave us foundations for patterns such as EngageQualityAssurance and ApplicationDesignIsBoundedByTestDesign.

While the QA organization conducts its own testing, there is an active beta program to uncover bugs as only real users can. This is a luxury that tool purveyors enjoy to a greater extent than most telecommunications companies can (and that we enjoy to a greater extent than some contractors in, say, the aerospace industry). Beta programs are a form of EngageCustomers and, specifically, of SurrogateCustomer. Beta customers are "surrogate" because they are not paying customers and aren't really in a position to expect any level of performance or quality.

The QPW product entered the market to high acclaim. PC Sources said, "Borland International Inc's Quattro Pro for Windows spreadsheet software package makes better use of the Windows graphical user interface (GUI) than any other spreadsheet package to date" [BibRef-OMalley1993]. PC User says that "Borland International's Quattro Pro for Windows (QPW) is the world's best spreadsheet software" [BibRef-Whitehorn1992]. Computer Shopper quips, "Borland International Inc's Quattro Pro for Windows spreadsheet software outperforms the standing champion of Windows spreadsheet management, Microsoft Corp's Excel 4.0" [BibRef-Bonner1992]. InfoWorld [BibRef-Walkenbach1992], PC Magazine [BibRef-Stinson1992], and many others also offer positive reviews, which dominate the press perspective on the product. I found other reviews that are more balanced, but uncovered no reviews that found the product lacking in key areas.

The team members I interviewed included:
  • Charlie Anderson, the Director of Applications for Borland, who was one of the QPW architects. He is experienced and thoughtful, the apparent "spiritual leader" of the group, but only in a subtle sense.
  • Weikuo Liaw, a renowned expert on spreadsheet engines and one of the QPW architects. Wei is a highly revered developer, almost to the point of inspiring awe, but rather shy and among the most introverted of the group.
  • Murray Low, an energetic, darting, bright and witty engineer who worked on the QPW/UI side (user interface stuff) and who was a QPW architect.
  • David Intersimone, Borland Developer Relations, who facilitated my appearance at Borland but who was not part of the QPW development.
  • Dan Horn, also from Developer Relations. He helped put me in touch with the Borland people while I was at the conference to make final arrangements.

From almost any perspective (except gender) we found this to be a diverse team, with variation in experience, chronological age, ethnicity, and domain expertise: both DiverseGroups and HolisticDiversity. In particular, there was a very strong sense of DomainExpertiseInRoles.