Thinking through some necessary changes to our VCL suite

ctodx
05 August 2007

At a recent meeting with the VCL team here at Developer Express, I led a discussion on what we might do over the next few months to drive the native VCL products forward. This meeting was also a result of some other discussions I've been having with various interested VCL customers.

In essence, it seemed to me that we need to streamline how we approach the development and releases of the VCL components, especially with regard to the changed market for third-party VCL components. We're spending too much time -- time that could be spent on implementing new functionality -- in supporting old compilers and operating systems. We need to move forward with the new features coming out from CodeGear in the Delphi and VCL space otherwise we'll be left behind. We need to rationalize what we have as products: stop selling some, freeze others, concentrate on producing what customers need now and in the near future in the native component space. After all, we've been given some very clear directions from CodeGear about what's going to be happening to Delphi over the next couple of years, so it's well past time we align with them. We also need to provide a roadmap of sorts for our VCL customers, so that they can know we're still driving forward with our VCL products and when they can see new functionality appearing.

Issues that I see are:

  • Releases are too often seen as just "maintenance" releases, we need to separate them (classify them?) as major/minor, upgrade or update, new versus maintenance.
  • We need to get on a regular release schedule like our .NET suites that emphasizes something new appearing every quarter to every four months. That means committing to three or four major releases a year (and by "major" I mean a release with major new functionality or a new product). And, in between major releases, maybe two or three minor bug-fix releases.
  • Alongside that we should explore the possibility of turning some individual products into subscriptions. This of course reinforces the need for a regular release cycle and for several updates per product per year.
  • We must simplify what we support in terms of environments, that is, compilers, run-times, OSes, and the like. For example, I was amazed to find we currently support compilers all the way back to Delphi 5 (this was released in 1999 remember, and is no longer supported by CodeGear). Every possibility or combination we have means more testing time, more support time, more time taken with other things apart from writing new code.
  • To a lesser extent, we could rationalize the versions of our own products that we support. I say "to a lesser extent" because in general we don't suffer too much from time taken by supporting very old versions of QuantumGrid for example.

The discussion we had covered all of this and more. In the end we came to some conclusions and also some action items.

  • We will start to use the three/four major releases per year development plan. For internal logistical reasons, we will offset the major VCL releases from the .NET releases by a month or so.
  • Action item: decide which future build will be the first "major" release under the new release plan. Quite probably this will be the release that contains ExpressSkins.
  • The next release (build 27, due next week) will be the last one that officially supports Delphi 5 and 6 or C++Builder 5 and 6. You will of course still get technical support as you always have for these compilers; it's just that we will no longer actively use them or do any testing for them after build 27. (We won't of course be stripping out version-specific code from these components, so it's likely that future builds will continue to work with these older compilers for a while.) That means build 28 will support Delphi 7, 2005, 2006, and 2007, as well as C++Builder 2006 and (eventually -- we're still waiting) 2007.
  • The next release (again, Build 27) will be the last one that officially supports Windows 2000. We argued about this back and forth at some length, but we finally decided that Win2K had too many deficiencies with regard to painting for us to spend so much time in trying to circumvent them. Action item: OK, some valid comments below are forcing me to reconsider this particular point, so we'll have to discuss further how we can avoid issues where we rely on some OS functionality that's just not available in Win2K. Graceful degradation, in other words.
  • Along with these last two decisions, build 27 will continue to be available and maintained in minor versions for the indefinte future in order to fix minor bugs for these deprecated compilers, run- times, and operating system.
  • Action item: come up with suggestions for new functionality for the next few major releases after the ExpressSkins release (this is still in beta, of course). Publish this list as a roadmap.
  • Action item: decide which individual products could benefit from being subscriptions. It seems clear that Express QuantumGrid is one of those, but which others?
  • Action item: research when to drop support for Delphi 7. After Highlander, perhaps?

Now I know that, although some of these items will be welcomed by our VCL community, some are going to cause concern. Please feel free to comment here or to email me with feedback. Lots of this is not set in stone and, if there are some good ideas, we're certainly willing to tweak.

48 comment(s)
Anonymous
John Wilfong

Supporting new features of the language and/or compiler can severely hamper future enhancements or developments if support for older versions of the compiler is a requirement. I fully support your decision.

Codegear is definitely moving forward. True development in the past caused many folks to not upgrade. For these you will have older versions of your product available. However, in determining what version should be dropped or when should not be determined by how old it is but by how compatible it is to newer versions and whether it lacks critical functionality needed for new development by DevEx.

For future products I would like to see....

  The addition of Express Reports

  The long awaited update to Express Layout

  The addition of Express Charts

  Update Express Spreadsheet

The one I vote for the most would be Express Reports. Make it compatible with it's .Net counterpart should migrating to .Net becomes necessary. I've heard that DevEx dropped plans for this in the past as there are quite a few reporting solutions out there. DevEx has the reputation of doing things better than anyone else and has competitors to virtually every component made so this shouldn't be a deterrent. Hopefully you have the R&D funds to do this as it is a critical piece missing in your offerings for VCL.

I really appreciate the talk of a roadmap and development cycles. One of the most frequent questions that come up when considering a subscription is 'why? What's new, what's planned?' Hearing that DevEx does not disclose such things does nothing to help make a renewal decision. This change is much needed and welcomed.

Thanks for this timely blog and sharing the contents of this meeting.

5 August, 2007
Anonymous
AT

Yes, these coming changes may be painful for some but it is time to move on. I came to the same conclusion about my shareware applications that still support Windows 95 -- next major release will be 2000 or newer, or perhaps even XP or newer (about 93% of my web site visitors use XP).

On the other hand I'm amazed that some interesting software like Team Coherence is still written in Delphi 5!

5 August, 2007
Anonymous
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5 August, 2007
Anonymous
Lars Sondergaard

I like most of your plan. However, dropping support for W2K is maybe a bit premature. We sell our product to hospitals worldwide and we estimate that 15-25% of computers found in hospitals are still running W2K.

I am guessing this might be true for other "gov/public" places as well.

5 August, 2007
Anonymous
Tracy McClarnon

Good news for us Delphi programmers. The vcl components were REALLY lagging behind the .net ones and I was seriously considering learning c# .net. Ick. I really dislike the complexity of Microsofts programming environments. Thank you for making my life a little easier. ;)

Cheers!

-Tracy

5 August, 2007
Joachim Meyer
Joachim Meyer

few questions:

1) does less "maintenance" release, more "major" releases mean more revenue for you and more cost for the customer?

2) turning products into subscriptions means that somebody who uses only 1 of your products must buy the more expensive subscription and cannot buy the cheaper product separately?

3) what branch does DevEx focus on, VCL or .NET? To me it sounds like VCL is not your favorite child anymore

Kind regards,

Joe

6 August, 2007
Anonymous
Gary

Nice to hear more about the VCL products. The ExpressSkins has me very intrigued, .Net looks without all the disadvantages.

My company recently tried out the .Net DevExpress stuff and while it certainly looks nicer it had numerous problems. It was slow to load (general .Net problem). Numerous features were missing from the devexpress components that the VCL versions had (no column quick selector, bad editor validation, poor grid editors, column names that don't propagate, etc). However, the most annoying was the poor databinding model that .Net uses. VCL uses a record at a time and allows very fine control over what gets posted whereas .Net uses recordsets at a time and has very poor control when things need to be posted/canceled. On the other hand the .Net controls looked very good, use the nice C# language, and use Microsoft's great IDE. As a bonus I also was surprisingly able to get the .Net DevExpress forms loading within our VCL DevExpress MDI program.

As a C++ Builder 6 user though I'm a bit concerned but it's probably time to move up a version. The thing holding me back the most is actually other company's poor support of new versions of C++ Builder.

6 August, 2007
Anonymous
Ireneusz Ciesluk

1. I think, after You will end support Delphi 7 and Windows 2000, You will kill a lot of programmers. For now Delphi 7 is a best release of Delphi, and Windows 2000 is a best version to work. I have almost all of Your VCL. I buy all new releases. Most of my clients work on Windows 2000. In last two years, I changed all my product for Your components. Now I use ONLY DevExp components (+ FibPlus to connect to database). Looks, like I will have to stay witch current version, and for sure I will not buy new releases.

2. About releases: "If something works, do not change". So I download if I find bug and You fix it or onece / twice a year.

3. Since I foud Your component, I was always saing for all my friends: If You want have very goog components, and dont want have problems: buy DevExp. Now I wil say: "There is no more good companys selling components"

4. FOR SURE: "it sounds like VCL is not your favorite child anymore"

6 August, 2007
Anonymous
Alexander Elagin

One item is worth special attention: Windows 2000 compatibility. While this operating system is not widespread anymore, it is (and will be - for a few more years while equipment works) widely used internally by many companies. And the 'internal' applications, i.e. which will never appear to general public, are the main playground where Delphi still has a large market share. In Europe, at least.

6 August, 2007
Anonymous
Eamonn

It will be a very sad day when you stop supporting delphi7!  I have newer versions of delphi but still prefer D7 for most jobs.  Is it possible to keep D7 and drop support for D2005?

I'd like to see some good surveys coming from devex to really gauge what is important to your customers, but for those to be useful to you they need to be as frank and open as your posting here.

e.g. if you ask 'would you like us to continue support for D7?'  99% of people will say yes.

but you could ask 'we are going to stop supporting either delphi7 OR D2005, which would you rather keep?'.  A tough but honest question like that could tell you what peoples reall priorities are.

6 August, 2007
Shloma Baum
Shloma Baum

Julian,

I'm really happy to see DevEx put more emphasis on VCL, in overall I like all the above and they definetly make sense, however one thing of a concern to me is that we can't drop support for Win2000 as there are so many business PC's out there that still run this OS, this is of a major concern to me.

Regards,

Shloma

6 August, 2007
Tim Sullivan
Tim Sullivan

My biggest concern about getting rid of Win2K support is that MS has committed to supporting Win2K through 2010. Yes, it's the "extended" support phase, without upgrades or anything, but it's still something that companies can reasonably expect to use for at least another 2 and a half years.

It was easy for me to say "we're dumping with Win9x support" when MS stopped supporting it completely a couple of years back. It's harder for me to do the same for Win2K before 2010.

Having said that, I'm a big believer in pushing forward, and is requiring XP is something I'll need to force, then I'll definitely consider it, but it makes my life and the life of my company more difficult.

6 August, 2007
Anonymous
Craig Stuntz

Dropping D7: No problem for us. We haven't used it in ages. In general, I don't usually have a problem with component vendors dropping compiler support for old versions, because we can always upgrade when ready.

OTOH, dropping Win2000 support could be a big problem, because we can't tell our customers they have to upgrade. Not while MS still supports the OS, anyway. We generally support OSs for six months or so after MS drops support.

But how much of a problem it is depends upon what the "lack of support" means. If it means that a few new features won't work or there are minor cosmetic issues, then we can probably live with that. If it means the components won't work at all, then we'd have to not upgrade (I note you'll continue to maintain build 27) or find a replacement tool.

In general, I'd rather see you, for example, drop D7 support sooner and Win2000 support later, in terms of how you allocate your "compatibility" time, because I'd rather that I have to fix something on my end instead of my customers having to fix something on their end.

We prefer to buy everything -- compilers, components, etc. -- with subscriptions.

IMHO,

-Craig

6 August, 2007
Claudio Piffer
Claudio Piffer

Hi Julian

Great news!!

I'm really happy to see DevExpress team put more emphasis on VCL!!

Thank You very Much

Best Regards

6 August, 2007
Scott Woods
Scott Woods

Thanks for the great news.  We have a major project that uses the VCL and Dev Ex components.  There is no foreseable reason to move it to .Net and we plan on using VCL for some time, even with future projects.  I like the idea of major releases and a roadmap.

6 August, 2007
marshall fryman
marshall fryman

More attention to the VCL, that's awesome news. I wish you guys continued success!

6 August, 2007
Jens Fudickar [DX-Squad]
Jens Fudickar [DX-Squad]

Hi Julian,

i agree with Tim.

All point are ok for me, except the win2k drop.

I know a lot of companies which use win2k allready.

So please think about it. Maybe no skins for w2k, that's no problem.

Greetings

Jens

6 August, 2007
Arturo Martínez
Arturo Martínez

Hi Julian,

Thanks for the good news. It's good to see that the VCL side of DevEx is getting more attention. There are many of us on the Delphi side who count on DevEx for our applications.

Our only problem is that we can't drop the Win2K support in our applications (we have almost 500 Win2K clients). In fact this is one of our advantages vs the .Net ISV: our support to older clients (Win2K Pentium III, 128 MB RAM).

Regards,

Arturo Martínez.

6 August, 2007
Julian Bucknall (DevExpress)
Julian Bucknall (DevExpress)

All

OK, I take on board your comments about Win2K, especially about it being in prevalent use in internal environments where OS updates aren't often done. I'll have a chat with the team about what we can do for that functionality where we depend on OS features that aren't available in Win2K. I'll amend the post accordingly.

Re D7. Confession time: several members of the team actually prefer doing most of their development in D7. It's just faster.So, it's not likely to be dropped in the near future. However, we'll be migrating to Highlander (and later) in order to develop against the newer VCL.

(Aside: Eamonn's suggesation of dropping Delphi 2005 instead of D7 made me laugh.Reminds me of the old adage about Delphi versions: every other one under Borland's stewardship was seen as bug-ridden, slothful, and a waste of money. Remember Delphi 4?)

And I'll repeat it again: the VCL market for us is very much smaller than the .NET market. That may change as CodeGear get better at what they do, but at present we'll of course be putting more R&D dollars into .NET than we will in VCL. However, we do have a dedicated (in both senses of the word) team for the VCL products and they want to make our VCL offerings better and more full-featured.

Cheers, Julian

6 August, 2007
Bernhard Schirm
Bernhard Schirm

Hi Julian,

we use your VCL components in almost all our projects. Therefore I really appreciate that Devexpress shows a strong commitment in the VCL line of products - it did sound a little bit different some weeks ago (community.devexpress.com/.../fahrenheit-vcl.aspx), maybe I just missunderstood ...

It's fine for us if you get rid of the older compiler stuff, but for the moment being, especially in the industry we are working for (pharma and chemistry) a lot of W2K clients are still alive.

Best wishes,

Bernhard

6 August, 2007
Anonymous
John Wilfong

I would like to see a change in the installer. Currently, if I select only D2007 then my D2006 and D7 will be uninstalled. I have some older projects on D7 that I would like to leave alone. Could you change the behavior of the installer to prompt for or require a checkbox to be checked to uninstall non-selected versions? This will become very important as support for prior versions of Delphi are dropped.

6 August, 2007
Martin Lawrence
Martin Lawrence

Really great to hear that the VCL product line will be getting serious attention again.  I'm looking forward to decent upgrades to QuantumGrid and Scheduler in particular.

Maybe like others I really need to continue using D7 for a couple of years at least.  Much as I like D2007 the logistics of coordinating a complete upgrade for my client base means that I need to take a deep breath before embarking on it.

So - please hold back a little Delphi 7!

Thanks

Martin

6 August, 2007
David Taylor
David Taylor

Great news concerning your VCL components! We develop commercial and vertical market applications using many different tools and technologies, but keep coming back to Delphi, Win32 and your superb VCL components. The productivity, performance and versatility of Delphi are hard to beat.

Sunsetting support for the older compilers makes sense especially now that Delphi 2007 is available. Delphi 7, however, is still widely used and will probably continue to be important until CodeGear releases the next  must-have version :)

I must agree with the comments in favor of keeping W2K support for a few more years. Win2K is showing its age but is still very much a mainstream platform in some circles. Up until recently, even large companies such as USAir were still running large numbers of 95 clients!

6 August, 2007
Graham Wideman
Graham Wideman

Hi Julian:  FWIW, I've been using EQG and EVG more or less happily for several years.  Obviously your attention to making the business to be viable is essential -- so best wishes on that. For my part, I don't care if you drop D7 -- because I'm contentedly using D6 :-).   Might be getting near time to move up to D2007 though.

As for "what to do for future", I think my number one vote would be "conveying your components' concepts more clearly". This is invariably where I get stalled trying to use some new area of functionality in Express, or even returning to some Express-related code after a lengthy interlude.  So, clearer concept docs, and clearer navigation of the features in the design environment. (On the flip side, three cheers that Express components at least *have* the features worth trying to wrap one's mind around!)

6 August, 2007
Martin Hart
Martin Hart

I may be alone on this one... but here goes!

I still use BCB6 (I've tried BDS2006, but it's too buggy), and I can't yet port to Codebase C++2007 (as you know all too well), so I won't be able to use any of the updates.

Please reconsider BCB6 support - at least until CBC2007 is up and running!

Regards,

Martin.

7 August, 2007
Anonymous
Mohammad Sanati

I think this ia right decision.

I also like to see these feature and products (from a developer view):

1- Right to Left direction for components

2- Gauge Components (Like Dundas Gauge)

3- Frameworks. I think it's not impossible to providing strong Object Oriented Frameworks in Delphi

4- Powerful and enhanced Report Engine

Good Luck

7 August, 2007
SOS GmbH
SOS GmbH

It is important for us to work with Delphi 7 for another some years. because we use some older components, which not works with newer versions of delphi. it will take some years of work to substitute them with other components (e.g. DevExpress components).

7 August, 2007
Matthias Schlegel
Matthias Schlegel

Hello Team DevExpress,

thank's for Build 27...

thank's for Win2K  support ...

thank's for delphi 7 support...

Thanks for a great job!

Matthias Schlegel

7 August, 2007
Teksdata Yazılım ve Otomasyon Sistemleri Ltd. Sti.
Teksdata Yazılım ve Otomasyon Sistemleri Ltd. Sti.

Matthias Schlegel  

+1

7 August, 2007
Shloma Baum
Shloma Baum

Thanks Julian for the comments about Win2k !!!

You guys are awesome in listening to your customers.

7 August, 2007
Laurent PIERRE
Laurent PIERRE

All I can say is, if DevEx still stays on VCL market, please make offers that VCL developers cannot find in any other competitor like ExpressSkins and almost at my point of view, ExpressLayout. How many years I'm waiting the version 2 ?

I don't mind redundancy components like ExpressReport and ReportBuilder, QuickReport, FastReport...

DevExpress is my favorite VCL components provider. I'll be so happy to see new VCL components on main DevEx web page...

Is the VCL community is still alive ? Sometimes, I wonder

Th

7 August, 2007
Gerhard Stoltz
Gerhard Stoltz

Hi Julian

Your plan makes great sense and it is time to move forward and consolidate your resources on the latest technology.

I hope this makes it easier for you guys and the "slow pokes" out there just will have to upgrade their compilers.

Glad you are moving forward on this now.

Best regards

Gerhard Stoltz

8 August, 2007
Andy Bell
Andy Bell

I'm still using BCB 5 - why? Because it does everything I need and with addons such as Jomitech's Twine compiler and the ulink linker it's stable and reliable.

It'll be a sad day for me if you drop BCB 5 support is dropped, although I understand why this is happening...

9 August, 2007
Anonymous
Ebikekeme Ere

We have been using the EQG since 2004 using delphi6. It is defficult for us to keep upgarding to the latest delphi versions because of the volume of sales. most of our client are using win200k and win98 with a few using XP. For us it will be suicidal not to support these platforms. The only exception is if  we jump on the Lazarus bandwagon.

9 August, 2007
Anonymous
Lars

Please don't drop support for D7 until you make a new version of coderush that supports a new compiler. I just can't imagine working without coderush!

10 August, 2007
Galet Michel
Galet Michel

As anyone i comletely agree...

Express report, Layout 2.0 , and perhaps a re-mix bettween Bars and ribbons arre realy needed.

I think Delphi 2007 will kill all older releases thanks to codegear

10 August, 2007
Ruediger Kabbasch
Ruediger Kabbasch

For me Delphi 7 and W2K support are essential.

As others also mentioned in this group does Delphi 7 what it should and I find it curious to update Delphi just to be able to use some components.

10 August, 2007
Anonymous
Ottar

One more vote for ExpressReport!

11 August, 2007
Anonymous
Inoussa OUEDRAOGO

Hi

First : congratulations for the Good job .

My main concern is D7. D7 support for me is essential. I try D2005+ and I still stick to D7, please reconsider this point. This poll( www.developpez.net/.../showthread.php )  from the greatest french dev community show clearly that D7 is by far the most used version of Delphi!

Thanks.

11 August, 2007
Anonymous
Francisco Morales

For me too. Delphi 7 and 2007 are the two releases I use and I need support for both. For how long? I don't know, but at least one more year

13 August, 2007
Anonymous
Heiko Behrens

I would highly appreciate ExpresLayout 2.0, please don't drop Win2k support

17 August, 2007
Anonymous
vanilla

oops im late.

i just wanna say if u investement your new VCL products,

u should take Unicode support into account, or ur investment  will be waste soon.

Im not gonna create new Ansi Apps any more. Creating them is waste of time or somthing for me.

31 August, 2007
Laurent PIERRE
Laurent PIERRE

Since 2 months now, all our delphi projects run under Delphi 2007. We've said hello to D7. Our products are design for WinXP and Vista.

Thousand thanks to CodeGear and thousand of thousand thanks to DevExpress VCL team.

We are waiting for ExpressLayout 2, ExpressSkins and ExpressNavBar component version.

Thank you

6 September, 2007
Ron Gommers
Ron Gommers

Same here. At least 30% of our customers are still on W2K and Delphi5 and 2007 are the two releases we use. We need support for both, at least another year.

20 September, 2007
ANDREW SIMARD
ANDREW SIMARD

We support a lot more Win2K systems, but as others have posted, these are on computers that are perhaps not used by the most vocal users so they are often overlooked.  In our case its more like 85% Win2K vs. 15% XP and 0% Vista.  

As far as compilers go, it took awhile to move from D7 to something newer but we've gone through that.  I can certainly appreciate (given our experiences) that others wouldn't be in any rush to go there unless they absolutely had to.  It was a lot more work than one might think.

For priorities on the VCL, any attention is great.  Look at your blogs... VCL posts?  Zero.  Kinda sending a message there, I think.  

Our biggest non-DX tool investments (both cost and development time) are in TeeChart and ReportBuilder, so not as much interest in DX versions of those, though no doubt you'd eventually do a great job on them.  We'd rather you focus on more radical improvements to your core tools and maybe some brand new VCL products.  The skins product was a great surprise.

It would also be good if, as the writing seems to be on the wall, that some other future directions were opened up for us VCL developers.  I'm not moving to .NET anytime soon for many, many reasons, but I don't want to lose these great tools.  CodeGear has certainly released some new projects that have gotten my attention but without support of companies like DX they're not going far, fast.  DXVCL4PHP?  

23 September, 2007
Jens Fudickar [DX-Squad]
Jens Fudickar [DX-Squad]

Hi Julian,

is there any timeframe for the roadmap?

No pressure, but it would be interesting to get a little bit more infos about the next steps.

Greetings and thanks

Jens

1 October, 2007
Laurent PIERRE
Laurent PIERRE

Just to know... What is the next VCL product on the waiting list ? ExpressLayout v2 ?

Thanks,

Laurent

14 October, 2007
George K.
George K.

if you will stop releasing your components for Delphi you will definately kill my company.

Killing our companies = killing your company. At least the VCL department.

12 December, 2007

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