Borland is famous for confusing its loyal fans; well, it sometimes confuses us. So, we asked David Intersimone and Jason Vokes to guide us through its roadmap, with particular reference to Delphi.
Delphi was originally a very strong competitor for Microsoft's Visual Basic Rapid Application Development (RAD) environment. David Intersimone (VP of Developer Relations at Borland) is usually known as DavidI and has been Borland's developer's mentor and friend for years. Jason Vokes is European product line manager for Borland's RAD products. Together, they were extremely positive about Delphi's future, starting with Delphi 2006, codenamed DeXter. However, Delphi, as a separate purchase is on the way out – next year, you'll buy Borland Developer Studio and download the language you want, and one of the options will be Delphi (others will be C# and C++).
There are now two Borland developer streams, DavidI explains. One is for small teams and individual programmers, built on Borland Developer Studio (BDS) and is where Delphi 2006 lives now. It apparently has a "long future". It's available for Win32 and .NET 1.1 this year, and for .Net 2.0 and Compact Framework next year. 64-bit support is also promised next year (C# has it already) and in another two years, we'll get native 64-bit Delphi (and C++) for Windows 64.
DavdI sees abstraction as key to moving developers into the 64-bit world. "Things like VCL [Visual Component Library] and database layers hide the details of 64-bit Windows programming," he says, "so we've put VCL on C++ and Delphi 32, and now on .Net. Next year we'll put it on compact framework and .Net 2.0. When Windows Vista Avalon comes out, we'll have VCL for Avalon and 64bit VCL for Windows 64."
Borland's other development stream is Core SDP, built on ECLIPSE. This is for multi-language, multi-platform enterprise development environments starting with teams of about 20 people (it's really aimed at much larger, distributed, teams), where people start differentiating themselves into development roles such as: Analyst, Architect, Developer, Tester.
In a small team people take on multiple roles and individual developers just dabble in UML modelling, and the BDS environment, with Delphi, C++ Builder and C# Builder, is appropriate. Nevertheless, Delphi extends its reach now with plug-ins for CaliberRM requirements management etc because, says DavidI, "at some stage you need true enterprise computing, multiple languages across multiple back-ends". So, BDS starts with products focused on coding, and just a little change management and modelling. It also includes (for example) a Star Team server with a license that can be added to, ending up with a comprehensive software change and configuration management tool supporting large, geographically distributed, development teams – when, or if, you need it.
Looking out beyond this, DavidI and Jason are still enthusiastic about Model Driven Development (in the form of the OMG's MDA). Delphi 2006 supports reverse engineering, rapid prototyping, and advanced IDE integration with UML modelling, requirements management, version control, bug tracking, and team collaboration. Jason doesn't see this as purely for big, enterprise, players: "Small organisations can better sell their services if they can prove their ability to deliver quality systems and frameworks" and models help them communicate better with the business.
This is a real issue today. We've met developer/consultants with an exemplary record of delivering working software who were sacked because after they'd helped make their organisation successful, its management then felt that a big system integrator (SI) would be more appropriate to their organisation's new status. And will the big SI deliver as reliably or cheaply? Borland promises to help the small developer demonstrate his/her capability to deliver, although that may not be enough, for some managers. According to Jason, this involves providing ways of saying (but perhaps not in the one sentence), "this is systematically the level of quality I have delivered, this is the resource that I've provided that's been vital to running your business over this period of time and here is why it's a valid resource and here is how it can be improved for less money than it would cost you anywhere else..."
DavidI claims that this is very much in the spirit of Borland's enterprise-oriented Together round-trip engineering tools (Delphi 2006 integrates with Borland's Together modelling). These let you start with code if you don't like modelling, or start with modelling, and end up in the same place (although we doubt that the thought processes of a modeller are ever quite the same as those of a coder). "Even if you only live in code, you can reverse engineer a database into an object model, generate some documentation, iterate between code and model views of, essentially, the same thing", DavidI says, also touching on Borland's ECO object-relational mapping and object persistence technology (which is available in Delphi 2006).
Nevertheless, although Borland is obviously thinking of model-driven futures and 64-bit computing, it still seems to be aware of development realities today. "It's interesting," DavidI says, "there are still customers in parts of the world on 16-bit Windows, and there are 8-bit DOS embedded systems, and for us, being in the developer tools business, we have to support these constituencies". There is no substitute for experience: "I remember the days when we moved from Turbo Pascal for DOS to Turbo Pascal for Windows," he continues, "and I said to Phillippe [Kahn], 'we're going to sell 100 thousand of these Turbo Pascal for Window 1.0 boxes in the first month everybody's going to go for this, it's got objects, it's got graphics, it's wonderful', and Phillippe just looked at me like I was nuts because he knew the inertia out there for people moving, even if it's just, basically, a recompile... I was surprised, but people simply hold off from changing working systems in local pharmacies, squash clubs etc."
So that's why Delphi and C++ Builder still support Win 32 while Borland moves forward to .Net, with Borland taking a more pragmatic approach than Microsoft, say, about moving its customers onto .Net 2.0. DavidI, genuinely we think, appreciates that Borland still has productive customers on Win32, but Borland, it seems to us, can't afford to let up on reminding its customers that it really loves them and demonstrating the practicalities of this.
Delphi 2006, C++Builder 2006 and C#Builder 2006, which make up Borland Developer Studio, are available for pre-order between October 17 and December 2005, with shipments scheduled for early December (Customers pre-ordering are entitled to a 15 per cent discount). ®