Review of Delphi 3
Shawn M. Gordon
Well it’s time for what is turning into my annual review of Delphi. Version 3 of this popular Borland development tool became available 2nd quarter of 97, appx 1 year after version 2, which was 1 year after version 1. Delphi is what’s called a RAD (Rapid Application Development) tool, and is well suited for building effecient 32 bit Windows applications quickly. I tested on my 133Mhz 586 with 16MB of RAM.
There is a lot in this product that I want to touch on, so I am going to tend to jump around a bit. First let’s take a look at the IDE. A look at figure one shows an example of a standard type program. This particular example is a vanilla web browser that is included in the Internet section of controls. There is a whole slew of Internet protocols and goodies in here, I had a blast just messing with the demos. In any case, you can see the form in the foreground, the code window behind it, the properties editor to the left, and if you click on the Events tab of the Object Inspector, you can quickly get to the events for the object. I really like the uncluttered component bar at the top, with the organization, and the scrolling, you have a very effecient, space conserving way to get to all your compenents, and Delphi 3 comes with a slew of them.
There is a nifty new feature in Delphi 3 that helps you complete your code. Take a look at figure 2, you will see that we have typed “button1.” and then Delphi poped up a window with all the different methods for button1. This allows us to just select from a pick list of options if we wish too. Figure 3 shows an example of more code completion wizards, here we are going to assign a value to “button1.Caption”, in this context the pick list is rather useless since we will probably put a text value, but it does illustrate the point.
Delphi 3’s improved support for Client/Server architecures allow you to build true high performance multi-tier applications. The thin-client strategy allows you to allocate application code among a client, database, application and Web server. The large collection of wizards, accelerated coding and debugging technologies, and support of COM and DCOM, plus excellent support for creating Active/X controls put Delphi 3 at a level above Visual Basic 5.
Actually the enhancements to Delphi 3’s database features are tremendous, it’s faster, easier, more robust and supports multiple servers and databases simultaneously. The new Business ObjectBroker, and Remote DataBroker are two integrated components of an optional, tool set called MIDAS, which allows each client to comunicate to a back-end database. This allows for centralized administration and allocation of database connections. A nice feature of the Brokers is their ability to build truly thin clients because they transmit only the changes made to data, not the entire data sets.
I think I mentioned the plethora of Wizards available in Delphi 3, one of the coolest ones is the One-Step ActiveX Wizard. this will convert any third party component control into an ActiveX control, any of the VCL from Delphi or C++ Builder is a candidate, or you can create them yourself. This actually makes it pretty easy to “web enable” a Delphi application.
One of the really neat things I found was the Decision Cube component. this allows you to build three dimensional data modules that you can click on and drill down through. This was similar to the PowerHouse product called PowerPlay I believe, but it’s built in as a single compenent. Actually all the reporting is much better now in Delphi 3, they finally got rid of that horrible ReportSmith, and put in some really nice high level tools.
The only thing I found strange and annoying was if you create a .pas code module that isn’t associated with a form, there is no pick list of procedures and functions like Visual Basic has. This means that you have to scroll through the code to find it, or use the editor search functions. This just seemed strange to me.
I can hardly touch on all the features of the client/server suite, but it’s a real nice package.
Usability (also installation)
The installation is CD-ROM based, and follows your standard setup procedure, you can choose many different options for installation, but make no mistake, this is a BIG product, smaller than MS Office 97, but getting close, I believe with the options I selected it was around 80 MB.
The software interface follows the same standards as the previous two releases, so no big shock there, unlike Visual Basic which seems to change dramatically from release to release, Borland actually got it right the first time so they haven’t had to revamp the product. This is a large product, so you will probably stumble across features for a while.
Well Delphi 3 is a Windows program, so it suffers from some of the same delicacies that all Windows programs do. However I never lost any code, and the environment was very solid, I think I got locked up once, but I think it’s because I was running VB 5 at the same time.
As usual Delphi creates very fast executables, I can’t see much difference with C++ executables anymore. And even though Visual Basic 5 can generate a true executable, Delphi is still faster. However the IDE takes longer to load now, and seems to be more sluggish than it use to be. I imagine this is due in part to all the wizards running that check your syntax and make suggestions as to what to type.
Supportability (including Doc)
As with most PC products your better going to the Internet or CompuServe for support from your fellow users. I found this to be true with Delphi 3 as well. I like the organization of CompuServes forums much better than Internet newsgroups, but Borland is officially monitoring the newsgroups now, and not CompuServe. For all of my questions in both environments I got quick useful responses from fellow users.
The documentation hasn’t really gotten any better than the last release, you really need to pick up one of those gazillion training books that you see at CompUSA or Frys. The Dummies series is good, and the Delphi 3 Super Bible is a good reference work. I’ve got four different third party books now, and will probably pick up one or two more.
As always let’s start with some complaints; I don’t understand why the IDE seems so much slower, there isn’t anything dramatically new about it other than more bundled components. Also the fact that straight code modules don’t give you pick lists of functions is very annoying.
Borland has once again done a fantasic job with Delphi. Other than the fact that I had to learn Pascal to use it, I have been very happy with it. I know a number of you will lament the viability of Borland as a company, but I feel confident that even if Borland goes belly up another company will pick up Delphi, there are too many users out there, and it’s too good a product.
Delphi executables from what I can see are still faster the compiled Visual Basic 5 applications, and the upgrade from 2 to 3 source appears to be totally seemless from the few projects that I tried. The inclusion of such sophisticated componenets such as the Internet stuff, and Decision Cube data modeler, really add a lot of value. This is just a good product, give it a try.
Delphi version 3
Borland International, Inc.
Scotts Valley, Calif
Software is $1,999 for the Client/Server suit which includes a development only Broker License, full version of MIDAS is $5,000 per server, $799 for the Professional Edition, and $99 for the Standard edition. Support is usually easiest to come by from CSi GO BDELPHI32, or the Borland newsgroups which can be found at www.borland.com/newsgroups/.