Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Dexter

As I stated in my last post, I spent the last week at the Entwickler Conference with the Delphi crowd. One of the highlights of the conference was the technical keynote where they showed the next version of Delphi, code-named Dexter. First, a little background about Delphi. From version 1 thought 7, Delphi was written in itself. The IDE is an Object Pascal project, written using the tool itself (including the components available in the tool. This is nothing new, building a tool in itself, but it was an eloquent argument for the capabilities of the language and libraries. Starting in version 8, Borland re-wrote their IDE base, creating Galileo. Galileo was the base host IDE for both Delphi 8 and C#Builder, their competitor to Visual Studio. One of the key benefits of Delphi 1 through 7 disappeared overnight, because they had to start from scratch. Delphi 8 had a different look and a small sub-set of the capabilities of the version 7 IDE. It was slow, buggy, and had serious re-drawing issues (watching it try to launch an application caused so much flickering that it could induce seizures). This, by the way, was richly ironic to the JBuilder crowd, which had been suffering taunts about slowness and ugliness for years from the Delphi crowd. Flash forward a couple of years. C#Builder became a non-product, and was rolled into Delphi 2005, which hosted both languages. It was a little better but still only about 30% as capable of a really good IDE like IntelliJ.

This has changed somewhat with Dexter. I was pretty impressed with what I saw. As a development tool, it is approximately on par with Visual Studio now in all but stability (beta testers tell me it is still pretty scary). Microsoft has the luxury of beta testing VS for 2 years; Borland cannot afford even a fraction of that. Still, the environment looks pretty good. It finally has a reasonable number of refactorings available (Delphi 2005 had 4, and from the reaction of the Delphi faithful last year, you would have thought that Borland had invented cold fusion). In my estimation, it is about 70% of a real IDE now. It is still hosted on Galileo, but it has greatly improved over the last year or so. The same IDE supports both Win32 and .NET development and has all the Borland Secret Sauce components. The next release, due out mid-next year, will even support .NET 2.0. Still not compelling enough to get anyone to consider it as an alternative to Visual Studio for new C# development (unless you are deeply immersed in Borland's Application Lifecycle Management integration strategy) but at least it isn't an embarrassment now.

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