Thursday, 12 July 2007

Business Case for upgrading Delphi

On July 6th, Nick Hodges blogged about a new wiki page he has created entitled the Business Case for Delphi. This is a great idea (admittedly not his own) and for a moment I thought he had stolen my thunder on a topic I've been meaning to write about myself. However, Nick's topic is about why Delphi should be taken on in the first place.

This is not that story.

About 6 weeks ago I wrote an internal document called "The cost & business case for upgrading Delphi". As I have stated before, we're using Delphi 6 here because it is stable, fast and I didn't need any of that .NET junk on my PC. Delphi 7 wasn't considered to be that great a leap from Delphi 6 and so here we stayed. Moreover, it's not just an upgrade of Delphi but also a reinstall of all the third-party components that one uses. And then the time taken to get your environment just right so it's intuitive. There just wasn't enough to make me move.

The first release in all this time that has really caught my eye and made me want to upgrade is Delphi 2007 for Win32. I downloaded a trial and loved it, it was the first time I'd used the new Borland Developer Studio IDE although I've seen it for years in the demos and tutorials. All the new IDE features (code folding, component palette searching, refactoring) made me want to kiss the screen, so I thought I'd put together a list of pros and cons as well as a price so that I could discuss it with the company.

The money wouldn't be the biggest hurdle I'd have to overcome - I'd need to explain why I couldn't move development forward for a particular timeframe whilst I ensured that every application, DLL, plug-in, utility, etc was recompiled successfully and working at least as well as it is now. And then, after all that, we'd be at a stage where the software works exactly the same as it did before I started.

"What, all that time spent and you end up with the same product?", I can anticipate hearing.
But you and I know that it isn't just about that. Time invested there means potentially time saved when we have a much better version of Delphi, an IDE with cool features which supposedly mean I can turn work out faster. Ah, I'm getting them back on side with that one.

So this document, which admittedly was very balanced and not at all as conclusive as I'd have liked (but I was being honest) went to the technical director who, predictably, said, "Doesn't really help either way, does it?". Which was fair. So I posted it on the Developer's Group newsgroups (a UK-based developer's group that we're a member of and that has a private newsgroup) to see what my peers could add to tip the balance. The result was frankly disappointing given that its members and regular contributors are well known magazine authors and conference speakers.

But then I received an email from one of the group's administrators who asked if she could include the document as an article in the next magazine as it would make an interesting discussion. I happily agreed although I had privately thought that if there was to be a discussion, it would have taken place on the newsgroup.

In the meantime, I wanted to discuss it here. I'm going to reproduce snippets of the document below to outline the salient points and then see what you have to add. Do you agree with the points I make, disagree with them, or have things to add to them? Can you tip the balance? My heart wants to move to Delphi 2007 with Software Assurance but my head is wondering if it worth the investment of time and money.

Why move?

When Delphi 6 was written, there was no Windows XP. We use third-party tools (JEDI) to allow our application to take on the themes supported by Windows XP and Vista. Whilst this particular example is free and the widely accepted alternative, my personal opinion is that the more we move away from third-party support (where Delphi offers the same solution) the better, as it enables future upgrades to be less troublesome.

For many of our third-party components, Delphi 2007 was not available at the time we purchased them. But, in a fortunate turn of events for us, Delphi 2007 fully supports any code written for Delphi 2006 (they called this a “non-breaking release”); this means that most of the third-party components we already own will actually work in Delphi 2007, because they were written up to and including Delphi 2006.

Other reasons to move are not necessarily end-user based, but developer based. In 7 years, CodeGear (formerly Borland) have added dozens of IDE enhancements that would make the life of the developer much easier. Many of these features result in writing faster code, which means things just get done quicker.

Why not move?

The minimum deployment platform is Windows 2000 and so any Windows 98/Me users could not use the software (according to CodeGear’s site, this hasn’t been confirmed).
Third-party vendors appear to continue to support older versions of Delphi (including v6) because so many users don’t upgrade to the most recent versions.

Note: after I write this, someone added a comment on the Developer's Group newsgroup that they have successfully deployed Delphi 2007 software on Windows 98 and Me with no special code.

It could take up to a month to get everything fully migrated across to the new version. This includes all the standard software as well as utilities and plug-ins.

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