Fifteen years of Delphi

15 February 2010

Yesterday, Valentine's Day, was the 15th anniversary of Delphi. On 14th February 1995, in the middle of the Software Development conference in San Francisco (SD West), Borland launched this rather good language called Delphi, except that, of course, Delphi was rather more than just the language: it was the stunningly fast compiler, a brand new run-time called the VCL, and a complete RAD IDE with lots of controls.

MangoDiskette At the time I was working for a company called TurboPower Software. We had a booth at SD West but I'd drawn the short straw and wasn't there. Nevertheless, Brian Foley and Lee Inman were and demoing our new still-in-beta Delphi-compatible products, Orpheus and Async Professional. Or, rather, since the Borland booth was being completely mobbed by attendees wanting to see the new product, Brian and Lee were just demoing Delphi itself.

And no wonder the Borland booth was being mobbed. An IDE and language that enabled you to write controls in the language itself? Pow! Take that, Visual Basic.

We'd been using betas and early alphas for a while (I still have the "Mango" diskette set that Borland provided TurboPower — see right for the first one in the set — downstairs in the basement, with, of course, no diskette drive now to read it) and had been playing around with the new RAD technology (drop a button on the form and the code changes!) and features like exceptions. We were completely sold on the new ease-of-use and ease-of-development that Delphi provided — Turbo Pascal for Windows was just horrible — and I still remember that feeling of euphoria on writing my first control, installing it in the IDE, and dropping one on a form. Unlike Nick Hodges' TSmiley, it was a progress bar, if I recall correctly, and eventually became TovcMeter. Lee Inman and I wrote that first version of Orpheus, but apart from the meter, the grid (which we called a table) and its edit controls, I can't remember what other controls I wrote. I suspect that Lee wrote the rest, but I'd have to check with him.

About three or four years later, this upstart new company called Developer Express burst on the scene with, what I can easily admit at this remove, a rather better grid control than the one I'd written for Delphi 1. Of course by then Borland were up to Delphi 3, so it was all very much easier for them than for us pioneers. (Heh, I'd better watch out the next time I see the R&D guys...) DevExpress then proceeded to release a whole set of controls and to take over the VCL third-party UI control market (but don't let Ray hear I said so).

Of course, in the past 15 years, the Delphi world hasn't been totally plain sailing. There's the K-word, the myth that even-numbered versions sucked, Inprise, Borland, Delphi for .NET, is Borland selling it or not?, and so on.

But notwithstanding all that, there certainly has been some remarkable technology released under the "Delphi" banner. 32-bit Delphi 2 only a year after 16-bit Delphi 1. The ability to create OCXs and controls for VB. (Pow! Take that, VB. Mwhahaha!). Design-time data throughout the versions. Delphi Prism. Gesture support. Etcetera, etcetera.

And, now we're promised a Mac OSX version, and there are mutterings about a 64-bit version. It certainly seems the next 15 years are going to be an equally wild ride.

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