February 24, 2006

Delphi: Open Source or Community Driven?

Someone posted on my blog about making Delpih open source or creating an open source clone... I'd rather see the product community-driven.

In a talkback about an unrelated post, a reader (Nikola) suggests abandoning Delphi for an open source tool like FreePascal/Lazarus claiming it is impossible to sell an IDE if you have to compete with a monopolist (Microsoft) and many other existing free offerings. In short, I disagree, but the issue deserves a longer answer.

Let's first examine why open source softare exists. There are many reasons. Many OS projects were started by groups of developers with a common need (for example, GNU/Linux). Other OS projects are totally abandoned proprietary tools the users community keeps working on (like InstantObjects in the Delphi components world). In other cases, the owner open sources a software to get it out of a small niche and plans to live on consulting, training services, and possibly a high-end version of the tool (there are many examples!). Finally, another category is that of software aimed to clone an existing paid offering that is monopolistic, too expensive, not responding to user needs (MS Office vs. Open Office come to mind). Far from being exhaustive or complete, this gives you a starting point for discussing.

Will Delphi fall in any of these categories? Right now, no. Could the NewCo open source it and live from services? I really doubt? Can we all help building a Delphi clone because Borland/NewCO is monopolistic not driven by user needs? I disagree, but opinions can vary. Certainly compiling Object Pascal to new platforms (like the Mac) is something only FreePascal supports right now. Is sofware development a Microsoft monopoly? Absolutely not, with tons of other languages and tools widely used (from Java to scripting languages to the only Win32 development tool left, Delphi!).

Of course, to draw any conclusion we'll have to see who buys Delphi or if a new company is formed (something "detractors" seems to downplay but I see as the best future for Delphi). We'll judge on facts, but for now I'll keep supporting Borland Delphi with my books, articles, and work. My clients use it and need help on it. Period.

There is an interesting scenario I've mentioned in my "Delphi dream" post. A community driven IDE. Delphi 2005 and 2006 have benefitted from contributions from the community in areas like routines optimization in which Borland has decided not to invest, but the FastCode project has decided to put a lot of effort. This could become more and more relevant in the future, but is already now. There are tons of third part components, libraries, IDE plugin, you can use to customize Delphi they way you need it. The community is working today and has worked for years to make Delphi a better tool. It has supported niche usages Borland has not reason to go after. Let's Borland/NewCo build the compiler (and move it to other platofmrs) and the core of the IDE, and we'll keep providing added value on top of this base infrastructure. The infrastructure should be properly priced (and a free GPL version would be nice), use a subscription model, revived, etc.

I think we still need a bunch of top-notch engineers paid for their great work, like those sitting on their desks in Scott's Valley working on 2006 patches and Highlander while we blog and chat about the product they build and we use. Long live Delphi!





 

11 Comments

Delphi: Open Source or Community Driven? 

Let's face it: the big, successful OS applications 
have big companies behind them that support them and 
pays core developers. It happens for Open Office, 
Eclipse, Apache and so on. They support those 
applications because they need it, and OS is a smart 
way to have good applications without investing too 
much - if they aren't your core business.

Could it work for Delphi? I think it can't.
First, it would need some strong support from 
someone, and I can't see who can do it, it's a too 
small market. Just some smart guys somewhere in the 
world working in the spare time won't bring it too 
far.
Second, and it is a corollary of the first statement, 
Delphi is a whole platform, from the compiler to the 
library to the IDE. The Eclipse guys don't have to 
write their own compiler and RTL. They use the 
already available javac - and JDK.

Without a core team totally dedicated to the project, 
any development could be too slow and fragmented. I 
do not know FreePascal/Lazarus well, but it seems to 
me they did not reach the level and complexity of 
Delphi yet. And if they didn't yet, should it happen 
now? Just because Borland sells Delphi?

Eclipse become what it is in spite of excellent tools 
like JBuilder on the market. If FP\Lazarus could 
replace Delphi, it would have done already. And I 
don't believe current Delphi developers will for 
free, unless someone pays them for working on Delphi 
for free :)

Look at, for example, to Syabase Watcom C++. It's 
open source now. It's evolving sooooooooo 
slooooooooow. It's cross platform, and once was a 
very praised compiler. Who uses it now?

I'd by far prefer a company who focuses on good 
compiler(s), core libraries (including core DB 
libraries) and IDE. I don't care to have three web 
tecnologies in the box, third party tools can be 
choses to suit each developer needs far better.
If this company is open to the community suggestion, 
help and work, and able to repaid it in a proper way 
(licenses, subscriptions, etc.) to enhance the core 
product, and able to keep the current excellent third 
party market Delphi could still compete in the dev 
tools market far better than a niche OS product 
moving onward slowly.
Comment by Luigi D. Sandon on February 24, 14:27

Delphi: Open Source or Community Driven? 

 I could write a long comment here but I'll just say
this:  The idea of open sourcing Delphi is easily one
of the four silliest ideas I've heard in the last ten
years.

One of the other ones is deep fried Snickers bars.
Comment by Nick Hodges [http://www.lemanix.com/nickblog] on February 24, 17:11

What about a little trade? 

I totally agree with Marco and Luigi, and I think a
solid community can do (and has already done) a lot of
good things, as seen in the "FastCode project".

As I said in the title, what about a little "trade"
between the Delphi community and the new DevCo?

The community will do its best to provide support,
materials, source and other stuff; the new DevCo, in
exchange for that, should give documentation,
articles, discounts on buying Delphi magazines,
organize usergroup meetings (and put a little money in
it) and other services and facilities to let members
spread the "Delphi word" and produce good software,
which is always a real proof of a development tool
potential.

Delphi has a huge and really passionate community: I
think Delphi can be profitable for DevCo if the
company understands that you have to work on it, for
it and with it!

Bye,
  Marco.
Comment by Marco Breveglieri [http://www.marco.breveglieri.name] on February 24, 17:48

Delphi: Open Source or Community Driven? 

"Finally, another category is that of software aimed 
to clone an existing paid offering that is 
monopolistic, too expensive, not responding to user 
needs"

how come Delphi didn't come to mind there?

Delphi 8 and Delphi 2005 costed probably ten times 
more (at least) than the actual value of the product.
And how exactly did Delphi 8 respond to the user 
needs? by coming out with another version that you 
had to buy?
how was that not expensive?

it would be interesting to know how many customers 
who bought Delphi 8, also bought Delphi 2005 (and now 
Delphi 2006 because the other two versions were not 
good)

I am not saying that Delphi should go open source, 
but your point there was really weak
Comment by Eber Irigoyen [http://ebersys.blogspot.com] on February 24, 19:37

Delphi: Open Source or Community Driven? 

Eber, 

Delphi 8 was aimed at Delphi developers interested in
.NET development. It responded to their needs, not
those of the Win32 Delphi developers. 
I disagree that Delphi 2005 costs ten times more than
its value. You don't need to buy the highest SKU and
should consider upgrade prices.
And I don't understand "a version you had to buy". You
can choose to buy a version of Delphi or not...
When I wrote that, anyway, I know that some Delphi
users have that perception, including the post taht
triggered my blog entry. I can understand, but I feel
free to disagree.
Comment by Marco Cantù [http://www.marcocantu.com] on February 25, 00:44

Delphi: Open Source or Community Driven? 

IMHO "Delphi" 8, CBuilder X and a few others 
(including D2005 bad quality) were bad decisions 
taken by the Borland management, and demonstrate 
that they would have needed to listen to 
their "community" better instead of being actracted 
by a few large orders, and without looking outside 
USA.
I am sure Delphi and CBuilder should be available on 
different platforms, but that was not the way, 
especially when they disappointed the current "cash 
cows" while chasing butterflies in some dead ends.

And I am afraid that "Open Source Delphi" just 
means "free Delphi" to many people - I do not need 
a "free tool", I need a "great tool".
I understand hobbyists and students, they should 
understand the professional developers too - price 
is not always the only decision parameter.
Comment by Luigi D. Sandon on February 25, 21:01

Delphi: Open Source or Community Driven? 

Well since I heard mentioned before that e.g. Skype 
was programmed with Delphi. Then I suppose Skype/Ebay 
should have an interest in supporting Delphi and they 
are not really poor. If they could pay that much for 
Skype then it might be worth supporting further 
development of Delphi?
Comment by Mats on February 26, 19:19

Delphi: Open Source or Community Driven? 

I think that the situation is not going to be good 
for Delphi. Object Pascal, although my favorite one, 
is a very weak player in the field of programming 
languages. And the open source world is a little 
biased with C++. So, i believe that if a company 
buys the department and wants to invest in the 
glorious VCL (be it Open Source or Commercial), it 
will be do so for the C++ Builder product, not 
Delphi...
Comment by objectref on February 27, 12:44

Delphi: Open Source or Community Driven? 

"Finally, another category is that of software aimed
to clone an existing paid offering that is
monopolistic, too expensive, not responding to user
needs (MS Office vs. Open Office come to mind)."

Just for clarity sake.
FPC/Lazarus definitely falls into this category.
It started when it didn't exist a Delphi for Linux, it
almost stopped when Kylix was first released and it
rewamped when Kylix was abandoned.

I don't think that making Delphi OpenSource could help
NewCo, unless they will be so wellfounded that they
could afford to lose a lot of money for some years,
just to let an OpenSource Delphi to gain market. 

As a matter of fact a very good closed Ide could
compete with opensource ones, IntelliJ is an example
but there are many others for Python and Php.
But it has to be very cheap or a lot better than OS ones.

Comment by Uberto on February 27, 13:19

Delphi: Open Source or Community Driven? 

What made Delphi a winner?  It was 1000 times better 
than VB, and many times more productive than any C++ 
environment, except perhaps Borland's.

In the Win32 environment this is still true.  If 
Delphi is to win in the ASP.NET world it will have to 
do a better, simpler, faster job than VS 2005, else 
people will stick with VB.NET or C#, even though VS 
2005 is far from perfect.

Delphi should be able to rule the Win32 platform for 
a while, but it will need to become the best 
development tool for the new platforms that are 
coming.
Comment by steve burch on February 27, 23:33

Delphi Open Source or Community Driven? 

Uberto wrote:

"Just for clarity sake.
FPC/Lazarus definitely falls into this category.
It started when it didn't exist a Delphi for Linux, it
almost stopped when Kylix was first released and it
rewamped when Kylix was abandoned."

This is totally nonsense. Not one single bit is true.
FPC originates not in Delphi, but in Turbo Pascal, and
ran for years on Linux (1994-5) before the first
Delphi compability was added(1997-1998), which in turn
was long before Kylix came out.

None of the FPC core stopped when Kylix came out (and
actually nearly all 1997 members are still with the
project now). This is partially also because when
Kylix 3 came out, FPC already supported 20 platforms
in total, and the PPC - OS/X support was coming. It
never adapted many Kylix improvements because it was
clear from the start that Kylix was too linux/x86
centric (and then even certain kernel versions).

The "Revamp" never happened. It is true however that
since +/- 2005 the project grows a lot faster rate. 

This is mostly due to fact that the Delphi compability
started to work well enough to start compiling
reasonably clean (or cleanable) Delphi codebases
without many modifications, and Lazarus coming of age.
Nothing of which had to do with Kylix.
Comment by Marco van de Voort on December 2, 16:48


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