Straight talking 68

by Tim Anderson

Tim Anderson finds out what’s next for Embarcadero Delphi and RAD Studio.

HardCopy Issue: 68 | Published: February 26, 2016

In October 2015, IDERA agreed to acquire Embarcadero, home of the ER/Studio data modelling tool, the DBArtisan database administration toolset, and RAD Studio, including Delphi and C++ Builder, the application development product for Windows, Mac, iOS and Android.

Delphi has a long history. Based on Object Pascal, it was first released by Borland in 1995 as a rapid application builder for Windows. Borland renamed itself Inprise in 1998, then went back to Borland, then to Codegear for the developer tools only in 2007. Embarcadero bought Codegear in 2008.

So Delphi customers are used to changes of ownership. That the product itself has survived, together with its close cousin C++ Builder, is a testament to its quality, combining an easy to use visual development environment with native code compilation. In recent years that has been extended to Mac, iOS and Android, making it a valuable tool for Delphi users now developing mobile applications, or wishing to port code from Windows to other platforms.

IDERA is currently focused on management and administration tools for SQL Server in the data centre, and sees Embarcadero’s database tools as complementary products. “Embarcadero’s database modelling, administration and performance tools complement IDERA’s products with minimal overlap in functionality and business purpose,” explained IDERA CEO Randy Jacobs in an email to customers.

Atanas Popov

Atanas Popov joins Embarcadero to lead the new team.

What of Delphi and RAD Studio though? “We acknowledge this is a new opportunity for IDERA,” said Jacobs. “We formed a new leadership team that will focus exclusively on Embarcadero’s development tools and growing the business via innovations and opportunistic mergers and acquisitions. Atanas Popov, a long-time colleague of mine, has joined Embarcadero to lead the team.”
I asked Popov to clarify these plans. “The database business will merge into IDERA and IDERA will be the database company. Embarcadero will be exclusively focused on application developers,” he said. “We are going to keep the brand, but modernise it.” InterBase, the multi-device database manager, will remain with Embarcadero.

In the first stage of the acquisition, Embarcadero’s database administration products will shift to IDERA unchanged. “After a year, we will start evaluating the few overlaps and we may just retain whichever of the tools is better. We want to do a full analysis of the architecture, how they are developed, and make sure that if we rationalise tools, we are making the right decisions. It may not be the case; we may decide to continue tools in parallel, if we feel there is enough differentiation.”

Popov says that the future of those tools should be clear by the end of 2016.

Having Embarcadero focus exclusively on developer tools is a positive step, presuming it gets sufficient investment under its new ownership. “In some ways the developer tools market is bigger than the database market”, says Popov. “It’s a fragmented market. We can support the existing products well, and also be acquisitive and evolutionary. Our market today is fairly small, so there is a lot of growth opportunity. We see the IoT space as an opportunity, for example. That will help us market our cross-platform tools: build it once and work in many places.”

Despite the importance of cross-platform, Windows remains the priority. “If you look at our customer base, they are predominantly Windows people. VCL [Visual Component Library] is the most powerful platform on which to develop Windows apps. We need to make sure that we continue to evolve in a way that ensures this customer base is satisfied and receives incremental value.”

Embarcadero has been releasing new versions of RAD Studio every six months, a rapid release cycle that makes it expensive for customers to keep up without a subscription, and perhaps lessens the quality of each release, which may need patching before it is really production-ready. Might this change?

“Absolutely,” says Popov. “At IDERA, to make a product successful we ensure that it has high quality, that it is easy to use, and that it is scalable. All three of these are applicable to Embarcadero products. If you look at RAD Studio Seattle, a lot of the improvements are in quality and stability, especially with large projects. We have very good automated testing that we will implement with the Embarcadero products.

“The IDE is old and needs some love, the download process can be improved. Quality is our primary immediate focus. A lot of things are going to be improved. On the release cycle, that is something we have heard from everybody. It is just too short. We want to move the company to more gradual releases, probably one large release a year, with several small releases throughout the year.” The immediate plan, says Popov, is “a minor release early in 2016 and a major release in the autumn.”

Another key feature about which there may soon be news is Linux server support, for which the demand from developers has been “a consistent message,” says Popov: “The moment that we are ready to announce dates, we will.”

How will the transition affect the number of employees dedicated to working on the developer tools? On this matter, Popov prevaricates, observing that the Delphi community is larger than just employees, including partners and component vendors. As he put it, “We bring a lot of development resources. How many people are employed is not very material.”

There is no doubt though that IDERA intends to build the developer tools business. “You have a new set of eyes to look at the products, a lot more energy,” says Popov. “That should be exciting.”