Julian Bucknall at componnent vendor DevExpress writes a thoughtful post arguing that Embarcadero will focus on Delphi’s new cross-platform FireMonkey framework in future, and that the VCL (Visual Component Library) which has been at the heart of Delphi since its first release will receive little future investment.
Bucknall notes that ex-Borland employee Danny Thorpe tweeted about 1/3 of the Delphi VCL and IDE team being laid off in Scotts Valley, USA; while Embarcadero’s Tony De La Lama blogs about new posts in Europe. FireMonkey was originally developed in Russia.
The VCL is a mature framework by any standards (Delphi was first released in 1995), and now that the 64-bit VCL has been released the most pressing demands of developers have been met.
Further, Microsoft itself is slowing development of the Win32 API on which VCL is based, in favour of the mobile and touch-friendly Metro user interface and the new Windows Runtime on which it is built. The VCL will never adapt to Metro, but FireMonkey might do so. The Windows Runtime has an API which is represented by metadata in same format used by .NET’s Ildasm. If Embarcadero can adapt Delphi to read this metadata so that you can easily call the API, then a Delphi for Metro seems plausible, but it would not use the VCL.
Delphi already works well for Windows applications, so from Embarcadero’s point of view, growth will come from cross-platform and mobile development using FireMonkey.
The main snag is that unlike the VCL, FireMonkey is far from mature, and developers are complaining about lack of documentation as well as limitations in the current implementation.
There is also a philosophical difference between VCL and FireMonkey. VCL is a “heavyweight” GUI framework in that it depends on native Windows controls, with the advantage that you get a truly native look and feel in your Delphi application. FireMonkey is a “lightweight” GUI framework which renders the UI entirely through custom drawing, which is great for cross-platform consistency, but poor if you want a native look and feel. Performance-wise, and despite the name, heavyweight frameworks often feel faster because native controls are optimised for the operating system.
The key question then: will FireMonkey be as good for cross-platform, as the VCL has been for Windows? Based on my first experiments I am not sure at the moment, though I expect it to improve. I would be interested in views from others who have worked with it.