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Stand up and be counted

How many Delphi programmers are there? Where and how is Delphi used? And how is its reputation spread?

Last week I had an interesting conversation with a British friend. I learned that a major Formula 1 car-racing team uses Delphi for collecting and monitoring data about vehicles during races. I also learned that NASA uses Delphi. In addition to programs mentioned in a case study on Inprise's Web site, I've been told of many impressive uses of Delphi. For example, the first astronaut ever to vote from space did so using a Delphi application. Dare I describe Delphi as "intergalactic"? Or "out of this world"?

From shareware to utilities to the Web

I prepare the HTML pages of my Web site using HomeSite 4, I upload files with Leach FTP, and I compare directories of my computers with Beyond Compare. What do these programs have in common? They are written in Delphi, like thousands of other programs from shareware to utilities.

Ordinarily, different development tools have been evaluated in terms of the numbers of programmers using them. Could the tools be evaluated by checking the products built with them instead? Delphi-produced applications are literally everywhere, and they work great. Of course Delphi fans tend to use tools built with Delphi, as you can see from the many postings on the newsgroups. Delphi's use extends far beyond this faction, however.

Delphi programs are flourishing on the Web. From HTML editors to newsgroup clients to mail managers, a lot of these programs have been written in Delphi -- thanks to the complete support of Internet protocols using built-in or third-party components. Delphi developers distribute small applications and they don't have to install DLLs and ActiveX components. Add to this the speed of Delphi programs, and you understand why Delphi is heavily used for this type of development.

Spreading the good news

How do you tell if a program has been written in Delphi? Borland has thought about this, trying to promote the development tool through the resulting programs. On the Delphi section of Borland's Web site, there are specific logos to be used voluntarily in Delphi applications and Delphi-powered Web sites. This is part of the "Stand up and be Counted" initiative. However, none of the programs mentioned above clearly shows that it has been built with Delphi. This is certainly unfortunate.

One solution is the Powered by Delphi campaign hosted on Richey's Delphi-Box. The campaign aims to "show the world (and its software managers) which great products are realizable with this tool." Other Delphi sites host similar bitmaps and promote the same idea. 

A group of German developers has even started a Web ring for software powered by Delphi -- another interesting initiative, though some lack of coordination is evident.

Delphi programmers are often both proud of the tool they use and eager to promote it. This passion for the tool contributes to what I called the Cult of Delphi in my first Developer News article, and it seems to be shared by most Delphi developers.

Power in numbers

Borland marketing also tracks some of the major applications written in Delphi by or for large companies, producing countless case studies. Actually I have counted them: there are 53 studies of Delphi applications built in the most diverse countries and situations. The results of these studies can be used to promote the product, as in the case of the AutoByTel poster indicating that the company used Delphi to build its Web site.

Many things blur the picture when we try to make clear comparisons of  Delphi to other development tools.  Microsoft's case study of an Italian home banking system is one example. Though first built with Microsoft technology, the system was later partially rebuilt with Delphi to correct architectural faults (too many ActiveX controls) and other technical problems. The case study was prominently displayed (on both MSDN and Microsoft sites) long after the company had rewritten the system with the competing tool.

Speaking of counting developers, there is a nice initiative on Compilers rating. Delphi currently rates  highest, not because it has more votes (though it does) but because the average Delphi vote is so much more favorable than the average vote for any other tool. I wonder what will happen if Microsoft pushes die-hard Visual Basic developers to the site. This rating is far from a scientific study, but it shows that Delphi developers, on average, like the product they use better than any other group likes theirs.

My feeling is that Delphi is a subterranean tool. Many people use it but it gets almost no press coverage because of the limited marketing = behind it. Ethical or not, you get far more press coverage if your company also buys a good amount of advertising. From the first, Delphi's good reputation has spread mainly by  word of mouth -- as Inprise seems to acknowledge on its "Stand up and Be Counted" page. The existence of underground information and enthusiasm is a good reason for Borland to listen to its customers (including the small shops) even more than it has in the past.

Lacking numbers, my argument could be considered mere speculation, but the fact remains that Delphi is actually much more widely used than its technical press coverage would imply. Otherwise, how could a Delphi book be among Amazon's best programming sellers last week?

Originally written for InPublishing LLC for publication by Inprise Corp. Copyright 1999 Inprise Corp.