Saturday, May 25, 2013

Is Delphi Software Development Dead?

[Additional discussion update: see my October-2014 blog about Delphi programming popularity, which references this article.]

I was a long-time user of the Embarcadero Delphi (formerly Borland, Inprise, and Codegear branded Delphi) RAD (Rapid Application Development) IDE, programming language (which is object-pascal) and VCL (Visual Component Library) -- having used it since the Delphi 2 days in the mid 1990's.  I have written about Delphi on this blog before, including my thoughts about Delphi XE2.   Since then, Delphi XE3 has been released, as has the newest Delphi XE4 variant (which, seems to me as XE3 with additions almost solely focused on iPhone/iPad/iOS targets.

With recent releases of Delphi (like XE4), one could assume that Delphi was still going strong and holding market share.  But, think again!  If you happen to read the TIOBE Programming Community Index (as of May 2013) site (FYI, the TIOBE Programming Community index is an indicator of the popularity of programming languages), you will encounter this (quoted material):
May Headline: Delphi is on its way out
Delphi/Object Pascal was once far ahead of its time. The Delphi development environment supported software engineers to create cool applications in a fast way. Moreover, since the underlying language of Delphi was Object Pascal, the "generated" applications were scalable and relatively easy to maintain. This in contrast to its competitor of that time, the rapid application environment Visual Basic of Microsoft. 
Delphi's major market is development of applications for the Windows platform (although they tried to get some Linux market share as well, remember Kylix). As a result they have to fight against the fierce competition of Microsoft's Visual Studio. A battle that inevitably has been lost.
Well, that certainly does not sound good for anyone that wants to make a career of developing Delphi applications!  Delphi has just dropped to 17th position (popularity) in this index after previously being at 14, and it is teetering on dropping out of the "A" category of Status/Relevance as a programming language. [Feb-2017 update, and a shocker at that: currently Delphi stands at a respectable 9th position, just behind VB.Net at 8th, and JavaScript at 7th position! Though, I am still not seeing any matching uptick in job advertisements for Delphi gigs, so I have no idea what is driving this ranking unless it is people like me posting my old Delphi code on blogs like this as OSS software, or if it is the cross-platform apps-development market now.]   Even these latest updates to Delphi (XE2, XE3, XE4) are unable to stop Delphi's slide into obscurity.  Instead, the TIOBE index puts Delphi at .7% usage-popularity as compared to C# at 6%, C++ at 9%, Java at nearly 17%, and C at nearly 19%.   Needless to say, when I search for jobs requiring Delphi expertise, I see these numbers play out in real economic sense -- i.e., there are "no jobs" (essentially) for Delphi developers as compared to C, C++, C# or even Python for that matter.

Time will tell if Embarcadero can dream up some way to increase market share, but I personally have my doubts given the trends I am observing (jobs, etc) and the trends that places like TIOBE are reporting.  In addition, Delphi can be a rather costly development tool/environment compared to all the open-source options out there for working with the leading popular languages.  That is not helping things... especially when Embarcadero thinks that I will be forking out $1000-$3000 year after year (per license) to keep getting "upgrades".  Sorry, I am past the point where I can justify purchasing new versions of the product year after year with little chance of having paying software development gigs that demand Delphi expertise.

I cannot help thinking Embarcadero has simply priced their way out of the market and into further obscurity.  With all the free and open-source software out there (including things like Microsoft's "Express" version of Visual Studio 2012 and so forth), coupled with the fact that I need to also pay extra for all sorts of Delphi 3rd party components (for functionality I can find for free in other languages/platforms), the management at Embarcadero really seems to not understand the macro-movements in the software development market.

IF they did understand, perhaps they'd release a very capable Delphi version that can compare to the Visual Studio "Express" line... but, I can nearly guarantee they will not, and it probably does not matter at this point as all the numbers are pointing to Delphi having secured its own fat: obscurity and an inevitable death.  I'd be nice if I was wrong and Delphi experienced a resurgence, as I really would like to put my nearly 20yrs of Delphi experience to use for paying gigs!).