Visual Basic and Kylix

Are VB developers ready to down tools and move over to Delphi and Kylix?

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Inprise/Borland is pushing for Visual Basic developers to port applications to Linux using Delphi (see the press release). The logic goes something like this. First, Delphi is just like VB. It is form-based, drag a button here and a listbox there, double-click to add some code, and away you go. Second, developers will love the idea of building applications for both Windows and Linux since it increases their market. So there it is, a no-brainer.

I have been developing with both Visual Basic and Delphi since the early days of both products. I was there when the beta of Delphi 1.0 was presented to the press, and we were asked what we thought it should be called. (Borland wanted AppBuilder, but at the time Novell had a product with that name). Right since that first presentation, it's been clear to me that Delphi is a better product than VB. There are two core reasons for this. The language is better designed, more logical, more consistent, more powerful, more pleasant to work with. And the Visual Component Library (VCL) is superior to VB's black-box visual objects. I have even told the world. On numerous occasions, I have written comparative reviews which end up by recommending Delphi as the most productive Windows development tool. You might imagine therefore that I would be right behind this latest campaign. But I find myself sceptical.

Let's look again at that logic. Is it true that Delphi is like VB? Visual Basic has some specific strengths. It is a safe and cosy environment, at least until you get into hard-core VB hacking. It is the macro language of Microsoft Office and quite a few other applications. It does a good job of hiding the complexities of COM, letting you build ActiveX libraries that you can call from any COM client, or from Active Server Pages for web applications. It works smoothly with Access .mdb data, again as used by Microsoft Office, as well as SQL Server.

Now, Borland/Inprise is arguing that Delphi is sufficiently like VB that developers will move with little pain. The interesting question though is why haven't they moved already? Delphi has been around a long, long time, in the crazy accelerated time scale of the IT world. Yet it only has a fraction of the market. There may be all manner of reasons for this, but surely a strong factor must be that those VB strengths mentioned about really do matter. If Delphi's many superior features haven't counted enough to make these VB guys move on Windows, why on earth will they now be persuaded by a Linux version?

Let's be clear about something else. The Windows-specific features that will not port easily from Delphi to Kylix are even more important in the VB world. Little things like COM, ADO, DAO, and ActiveX controls. Bear in mind, for example, that VB's success in its early days was driven by the widespread availability of VBX and later OCX components. Is Sheridan's Data Widgets coming to Kylix? Or Spread/OCX? Or any number of other popular controls. Delphi developers by contrast tend to use these things less. You don't need to tell me that in many cases use of these controls can be avoided or worked around or substituted by other, native Delphi components. I know that, but I also know what kind of effort is involved in this kind of migration.

Here's another thing. No COM, and no data access API compatibility. Now we're not talking little details here. In many real-world applications, the data access stuff forms the heart of the code. Remember too that Microsoft has been telling VB developers, at least since the release of VB 4, that COM is the way to go. The advanced VB applications that I've seen have taken this message to heart. They use automation servers, they integrate with Microsoft Office, they break the application down into components. When it comes to web development, Microsoft Transaction Server (Component Services on Windows 2000) is a leap forward in scalability, and again COM based. How easily will this stuff port to Kylix? Simple, it won't.

The other key issue of course is just how much developers will gain by building cross-platform applications that run natively on Windows and Linux. This could be a big deal, if you consider that developers can offer their clients applications that run on a free-to-deploy operating system. I'm not convinced though that Linux as a workstation operating system is ready to go. That's a whole other debate, but I couldn't look a typical corporate client in the eye and advise them to kick out Windows and do all their word processing and DTP and spreadsheeting and so on with Linux. On the server, for sure, particularly web applications. However I doubt this is a big enough market to make Kylix sing.

I do want to be convinced. I'd like to see Delphi go from strength to strength, although I worry that Borland/Inprise will be too busy rubbishing Windows and talking up Linux to maintain Delphi's pre-eminent position on Microsoft's platform. I can also see that a strong open-source alternative to Windows is great news for anyone who values a competitive and innovative IT marketplace. In the end though, Kylix will have to succeed on its own merit, not by pretending to be just like Visual Basic (but somehow better).

Copyright Tim Anderson 1st July 2000. All rights reserved.

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6 comments
Comment posted on 2003-06-22 19:21:21 by: Naveed.
hi how fast can a person learn kylix and start implementing it with mysql
Comment posted on 2002-11-24 06:12:33 by: Mike.
I had a look at Delphi, Kylix, Java, C , Python and C# (and of course VB because I am a VB programmer) and here are 10 reasons why I wont be jumping on any bandwagon soon:

1> Pascal isn't that popular - really.
2> COM objects written in Delphi won’t port to Kylix and there are other things VB programmers would require that wont work in Kylix.
3> C# now runs on Unix, Linux and soon on Mac OS-X.
4> C is not that tough to learn and can compile to run on ANY platform that matters to most programmers.
5> The Internet is the only OS independent platform - *web services* are the wave of the future.
6> Good C compilers are free
7> L-A-M-P is free
8> Browsers are free
9> Delphi isn't cheap either (http://shop.borland.com/kylix)
10> If I have to learn a new language it wont be a new language like Kylix/Delphi/Pascal, but rather the tried and true, ubiquitous, matters on my resume, often imitated, good ol' C

Comment posted on 2001-12-28 21:43:55 by: Siddesh.
how to port my visual basic application into kylix
is ther any tools to convert or port vb code into kylix

Regards
siddu

Comment posted on 2001-12-02 00:35:57 by: Mike M.
Before I ended up here, I was researching the question: "Is Java Dead?". Of course the opinions regarding that question are different, and there's no sure answer yet. Many people feel that .NET will be the last nail in the Java's coffin, but nothing is ever said of .NET in relation to Kylix. Does Microsoft even know or care about this?

As a VB developer, even I can see that Kylix will eventually be a necessary addition (not a replacement**) to a developers toolbox, but it also seems to me that it will help to get rid of Java.

(** Since when can any valuable developer get EVERYTHING done with only one tool?)

-Mike
www.vbnevada.com

Comment posted on 2001-07-18 07:17:28 by: Tom van der Vlugt.
Since a month I have purchased a copy of Borland Kylix and I love this tool. Now there is a VB-like RAD tool working under Linux. Kylix-IDE at this time is very pristine and not perfect now but already very good, but it is a lot better than VB 6 in it latest service-pack! I have discovered a bug maybe related to Wine and it is happily reproducible and I have sent a report to Borland. Because it is reproducible, it might be easily ironed out... I think that if Borland succeeds in removing WINE from the IDE, Kylix will be perfect and practically bug-free. It might be WINE that there are some small bugs remaining in Kylix. The advantage is that Kylix does not abort abruptly, but degrades; the user is able to save his/her work and exit.

It is nice to mention that applications generated by Kylix do not use WINE and that is very good news! This means that Kylix-apps are already perfect!
Another nice news is that Borland does a price action: $199 for a copy of Kylix Desktop Developer!
Borland also included a companion CD with helpful tools and a bunch of free and open-source third-party components. Just a few are time-limited evaluations.
Even a Delphi 1 application might be converted to Kylix, when it is not badly cluttered with low-level issues.

Thank you Borland!

Microsoft remains expensive and every new version contains a bunch of stinging bugs leaving the user with cryptic error messages.
Every new iteration of VB becomes more expensive!
VB does include a CD with third party components, but none of them is free ; they're all time-limited evaluations.
Later when VB.NET arrives, there is a lot of work to do for VB developers: VB.NET is completely different from VB!

I can say:
Borland is the winner!

May Linux/UNIX beat Microsoft, they deserve it!
Tom

Comment posted on 2001-03-29 18:40:30 by: Dave K.
VB is not dominant because it is oh so good. It's because most people know how to spell and pronounce it. :-) My company for one had some guy somewhere who once used it for some small project. The next thing you know just about the whole company is using it. I've tried to stop the tide in the past but it's made by Microsoft so it must be good...yeah right. So far every(every!) project written with VB has been over time and budget. I see guys having to reinstall VB and/or their whole OS. I've managed to stay away from most of this VB stuff and have worked mainly with Delphi. This because the system I support is an older Clipper/Advanatge system. My personal system has remained staple and I have about a two to one ratio for applications written compared with my VB counter parts.

I'm really not trying brag on my programming skills. I don't think its because of them alone that I'm that much more productive. I think most of it is due to the fact that, I spend most of my time on the main focus of the project and not on what my RAD is doing to me now.

Now to what I have to say about Delphi/Kylix. I've written about this in the past and still feel very strong about it. I think Kylix should be at least half of it's $1000/$2000 price tags. I want Borland to become huge again because they build the best tools. They're not perfect but they are very good.

just my $10.57 worth of muck. :->

Comments are closed.