Delphi team focusing on FireMonkey, VCL winding down?

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.

3 thoughts on “Delphi team focusing on FireMonkey, VCL winding down?”

  1. According to the new/old RAD Tools Product Manager (JT) May the road(map) rise with you the future focus for Embarcadero tools is obviously mobile (ARM, Android, iOS) and cross-platform. VCL will be fine for Windows (and Win32/64 will have quite a long history), but it doesn’t scale up/down toward these needs … and looking to Microsoft, there is no much development there in this regard. Win32 like UI interfaces are already obsolete in the current times of “touch and swipes” … As a result Microsoft push for the PC/Tablet/Phone UI unification under the native WinRT/Metro …
    Embarcadero can success here even at a higher level (targeting more platforms) and fits well, and a FireMonkey 4 Win8/Metro might be also available in the future …

    From a developer point of view, I don’t expect much innovation to happen in the Win32 UI side of things … so the current offerings is just fine (we had Ribbons and gestures in VCL for some time … when MS will add Ribbons to WPF just in .NET 4.5 …haha!). So in the VCL arena we can’t complain to much … since now we also have x64 support.

    FireMonkey component development is starting to emerge so it will be definitely good for vendors to provide native cross-platforms components. In this regard Steema is already providing the well known TeeChart charting components for FireMonkey (actually the standard version is delivered with RAD Studio XE2)

    I’m not good at this :)… but I’m betting that we can expect soon some Fast-Report developments under the FireMonkey umbrella 🙂
    So why not DevExpress and others (TMS, LMD) follows the obvious trend here and start considering/developing FireMonkey components as a good investment in their own future.

  2. Just to clarify, there is a lot of the VCL which will work fine no matter what user interface technology is used. Only a class branch of the VCL seems to be winding down.

  3. I still have to see if Metro is good for *any* application. What I’ve seen till now is an interface good only of only a class of applications, the ones you can allow to run full screen, and working with a touch interface, which could not be the right choice for more complex applications requiring a different kind of interface and input devices, or when working with multiple applications at the same time. I believe the right interface for a 3.5″ or even 9″ screen running one application at a time under limited multitasking could not be the right one for two or three 26″ screens running several applications with full multitasking. IMHO the mobile hype is leading to very bad decisions at Embarcadero. MS can turn on dime when it likes, Embarcadero has the reactivity of a supertanker.

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