I got this request from a friend recently:
"Well, I'm finally going to finish building my quad core PC. It may be overkill as I don't play games, but I'm sick of having a slow computer! About the OS, it seems like I have a few options: pre-order Windows 7 upgrade, get Windows XP-64, or get Windows Vista Ultimate. I'm looking for some quick, brief advice, and I respect your time and opinion. I don't have experience with anything beyond regular XP... What are the advantages and disadvantages of Vista? Are there UI improvements that make Vista really worth the upgrade? Are there enough improvements in Windows 7 that make it worth waiting for?"
Between my home office desktop, my son's computer, my wife's computer, a laptop, and the machine I use at work, I use XP-64, XP Pro, Vista Ultimate, Vista Home Premium, and Vista Business 64, so have a lot of experience dealing with a variety of applications in a variety of environments. In addition, I'm playing around with Windows 7 in a virtual machine. Being a developer, I read a lot of technical journals, RSS feeds, and newsgroups. Knowing all this is what prompted my friend to ask for my opinion.
Here is my response.
Every time I turn around, there are new modules, new themes, and more people using Drupal, a solid content management framework for building a huge variety of web sites.
I was visiting a client recently who asked about a new feature for their web site. Sure enough, not only was this module available for Drupal, there are several different ways to do it and some related modules for additional functionality the client will be delighted to hear about.
Delphi is one of the greatest development environments every produced for Windows. It has an easy to learn, yet strict language that leads to less confusion than C++ and better coding practices than Visual BASIC. Unfortuneately, it has been marketed by a company that has made so many changes in direction and name that people have laughed it off. One more change has happened recently, here is the story, which actually starts over 25 years ago, before Windows.
In November, 1983, Borland released Turbo Pascal 1. It was an inexepensive DOS-based Pascal compiler written by Anders Hejlsberg in Denmark and only produced .COM files. But it did them well and did them fast. Hobbiests and students snapped up copies, and the phenomenon was born.
I started using Turbo Pascal 4 professionally in 1988 and in a few years, Borland renamed it to Borland Pascal, upped the price, and entered the professional developer market, competing directly with Microsoft. With Borland Pascal 8, you could use OWL (Object Windows Library) to create 16-bit Windows applications. But it was a huge library and not many were brave enough to tackle it.
Fortuneately, there was a new and much better solution coming. In 1995, Borland released Delphi 1, the first development tool to use the concept of visual components placed on a form to encapsulate library code--which is now prevelent in nearly all IDEs. The next year, they released Delphi 2 to address the 32-bit capability of Windows 95; this version also added visual form inheritance.
Delphi 3 was a solid product and added some nice IDE enhancements, but more importantly added support for ActiveX and introduced WebBroker.
Delphi 4 came during a time when Borland was entering some troubling years. The company was renamed to Inprise Corporation, supposedly to align it with more enterprise-level customers and break into more application-life cycle products. The developer community was not happy--especially since Delphi 4 was so buggy. However, the IDE continued to break new ground and add new features that have been adopted by other companies.
In 1999, Delphi 5 was released and was a very strong product (still in use today by some hold-outs). Again more features and IDE enahancements were made, including support for ADO. By this time, everyone realized that renaming the company was a mistake, so the product was branded as "Borland Delphi 5--by Inprise Corporation."
With the new millenium, came another version, Delphi 6. Many changes to the compiler broke backwards compatibility, but allowed for cross-platform development with Kylix, the company's Linux experiment that died after only 3 versions. But more significantly, support for web services was added and many other internet, COM, ADO, database, and IDE features and enhancements made into the product.
Many say that Delphi 7 was the last great Delphi. It used the same familiar IDE that existed in Delphi 1, used the fast WinHelp online help system, and was faster and more solid than Delphi 6. The company had changed its name back to Borland by now and developers were very happy (and productive) with Delphi.
But Microsoft .NET (architected largely by Anders Hejlsberg who left Borland in 1996) was here and Borland had to address the new technology. So they added a .NET preview compiler as part of the "studio" package for Delphi 7 on the 8th anniversary of Delphi.
Delphi 8 was the "real" version of the .NET compiler for Delphi. In fact, if you bought the "studio" package, the Win32 compiler part of the deal was actually Delphi 7. However, Delphi 8 had so many problems as to be practically unusable.
Delphi 2005 finally married both Win32 and .NET development in a single IDE, and even though it was still terribly buggy, at least it worked. Borland made huge efforts to keep backwards compatibility to help bring Win32 devlopers over to .NET by providing VCL for .NET. This actually worked amazingly well--for the most part.
One of the biggest complaints of Delphi 2005 was the radical departure from the fast and familiar WinHelp to the new Microsft Compiled HTML Help format. Even though this new format was more flexible, it loaded far slower. Worse yet, very little of the old help text had been ported over to the new format and resources at Borland were stretched to the max for supporting several different products, technologies, and newly acquired companies.
With a buggy compiler, a slow and inadequate help system, and Borland's increasing interest in ALM and decreasing interest in developer tools, many customers around the world began looking at other solutions, or simply did not upgrade from Delphi 7. Confidence in the company was shaken and many questions were raised about the future of Delphi.
Borland continued to promise support of Delphi and delivered that to some extent the next year with a much improved Delphi 2006. The enterprise versions of the "studio" package included requirements, modeling, version control, testing frameworks for both Win32 and .NET, multiple database support, installation, and of course all the languages: Delphi Win32, Delphi for .NET, C++Builder, and C#Builder! It was quite an impressive package, but still developers were uneasy and asking hard questions.
The grumbling about the departure from Delphi 7's efficent editing never seemed to stop. But other concerns were escalating. With Borland acquiring more ALM companies and putting out buggy products with incomplete documentation, developers couldn't help but wonder if the speculation over the years about Borland's eventual demise would finally come true. Or if it stayed afloat, would there be enough support for them? Many jumped ship, but others stayed on to see what would happen.
What did happen was quite surprising to many. In February, 2006, Borland announced that it was going to sell off the Developer Tools Group, the team that worked on all the development and database tools. Lots of speculation ensued--and the future was still uncertain. (The original announcement has been taken down, but an InfoWorld article still exists that talks about it.)
The DTG started "evangelizing" Delphi by offering tutorials, soliciting customer feedback, and even reviving the old DOS-day "Turbo" name by offering Turbo Delphi, Turbo C++ and other "Turbo" products for free. The products offered had some limitations of course, and were basically the single-product versions of Borland Developer Studio 2006, but probably did some good in bringing back fond memories, or at least reminding people that Delphi had some serious history. (I'm not sure if the key reason for the Turbo products--to raise awareness for Delphi and bring in new customers--was terribly successful.)
A new level of excitement arose (albeit mixed with trepidation) and in November, 2006, Borland officially formed CodeGear as a wholly owned subsidiary from the Developer Tools Group.
Many saw this as a very positive sign that not only was the group of people working on the products going to stay, but they would manage their own company and focus solely on developer tools. To answer this, CodeGear released Delphi 2007 only four months later. While mostly a bug fix for Delphi 2006, it introduced a few nice IDE features and Blackfish SQL (a revamped JDataStore). But more importantly, it was a sign that the new company was active and committed to producing a quality product which addressed the customers' concerns.
A little over a year later, Embarcedero purchased the CodeGear division from Borland. Delphi had finally left the company that took it from learning tool, to serious programming language, to enterprise-wide development platform. But even with a full suite of languages and platform support and now with the backing of a company who really wanted the products, the story had another twist coming.
In 2008, Delphi 2009 for Win32 was released with unicode support--the most significant upgrade ever for the Delphi line. Strangely missing was the .NET component.
Meanwhile, another company, RemObjects (which had produced several Delphi libraries) had written the only other Pascal compiler on the planet (well, since Microsoft Pascal for DOS in the early 1990s), but instead of providing a rich development environment like Delphi, built it as a plug-in to Microsoft's Visual Studio IDE. This product was named Chrome. There was no upgrade path from Delphi Win32 or Delphi for .NET, but that was by design--they didn't want to bring along lots of historical baggage. Their release for Visual Studio 2005 had been slowly gaining ground.
Then in October, 2008, RemObjects and CodeGear jointly announced Delphi Prisim which was the Delphi IDE coupled with RemObjects Pascal compiler for .NET, or version 3 of Chrome that works either in Delphi or as a plug-in to Visual Studio 2008.
The story will continue, no doubt, for several more years. I am still developing most everything in Win32 Delphi--as a vast number of Delphi developers are. I suppose someday, Microsoft will force the issue and stop supporting the platform, but when I look at the applications stil coming from them, I'm not worried that it will be any time soon.
The .NET platform is well-engineered and has lots of features built-in that currently require 3rd-party libraries or lots of programming for equivalent functionality in Win32. I am excited about learning the new technology, but there is always a learning curve and there must be a good reason to move.
For now, I will continue to support and trust the Delphi product line. I still believe it is a very solid product and I also believe there will be a company behind it for quite some time.
I recently upgraded my home network server from Windows Server 2003 to Windows Server 2008. It has a nice interface, better security, and is noticably faster than its predecessor.
The server is in a big vertical rack in a corner of my office with no chair or desk space in front of it, so using it as a console or desktop station is uncomfortable. But it's a server, so none is needed, right?
For a long time, I've enjoyed a handy method in Delphi's TStringList class to read in and write out a CSV-formatted line of text. For example,
is a typical CSV string with each field delimited by commas and each string delineated by double quotes. The CommaText function turns that string into a list of 4 strings:
- Fred A.
- Lake Oswego
Notice that both the field delimiting commas and the string quotes are removed from the parsed fields.
Now what happens if a string has an embedded quote?
TStringList.CommaText falls apart. And well it should because the double-quotes are being used for two purposes: both as a field delimiters and as string quotes. Unfortunately, CommaText doesn't have any way to handle this.
There's another drawback to using CommaText, but it is a minor one. When exporting text, it only adds the string quotes if it really needs to. For example if I have the following fields in a TStringList:
- Fred A.
- Lake Oswego
and use it to export a CSV line, only the first and third would actually contain the string quote marks:
This probably won't be a problem in most cases, but is inconsistent and if the application that needs to import this text expects string quotes, it will have problems on the fields without. Worse, if importing or viewing with a spreadsheet, unquoted numbers may be formatted or even interpreted incorrectly.
If you're still using Delphi 5, you're stuck with CommaText, using a third-party string library, or writing your own routines to handle these deficiencies.
However in Delphi 6, a new method appeared in the TStringList class: DelimitedText. This now allows the programmer to set the QuoteChar, a quote character that encompasses a string, and the Delimiter, a character to separate the fields. The default QuoteChar is a double-quote (") and the default Delimiter is a comma (,). Thus, by simply replacing all instances of CommaText with DelimitedText and doing nothing else, you'll have the same functionality as before (easy migration).
But with DelimitedText, you now have the capability to handle embedded quotes by using a different string QuoteChar. For example, with the pipe character (|) as QuoteChar, the following text will now be read in and parsed correctly:
And if you need to, you can even replace the field Delimiter with something else:
So why am I mentioning this now, when Delphi 6 came out 8 years ago in 2000? Because having used Delphi since Delphi 1 and Turbo Pascal before that, I've developed a set of routines for doing a lot of different things over the years and don't always read all of the What's New list in each version--especially since I don't always purchase each version. DelimitedText is actually a new find for me and just in case someone else finds themselves in the same position, I thought I'd share my late discovery.
Last night, I decided I would read a couple of documents and migrate the old Windows NT 4.0 Server over to the new Dell computer with Windows Small Business Server 2003. It turns out the process is quite involved and after the third long document in tiny print, my eyes were getting bleary and time was swiftly flying by. There's a long checklist of things to make sure are in place before doing the big switch and there are many warnings that if the software is not updated, or if any of the settings are wrong or if you don't follow the directions exactly, the migration will fail!
Well, it's been a while since my last blog entry. But after the triumpful ending of my last post, it was hard to admit what ensued next. Yes, I finally got VMWare installed on Linux CentOS, but that was as far as I got with it. Try as I might, I could not get any version of Windows to install on the virtual machine I had created. It kept crashing with strange errors and in one case, even booted my whole computer (yes, the physical one, not just the virtual one).
In the old days, playing around with Linux and installing programs and such was quite a chore. Typically, only students and geeks without any social life knew how to make their systems sing and dance. All the business professionals know that time is money. So Windows was the natural choice because to install a new program, you just insert the CD and click Next, Next, Next.
But over the last few years, things have been changing. Linux is getting easier because there's been a big push to hide a lot of the gory details and just present a nice interface with buttons and rounded corners and all. I suppose you could say it's looking more like Windows (or like Macintoshes!).
I should've stayed with my first instincts, but I'm a fiddler. No, not the kind that makes music with a bow, but the kind that just isn't satisfied with how things are and must keep fiddling with stuff seeking that constantly elusive state of perfection.
With the USB keyboard and mouse attached, I started the new Dell server's "Installation" CD before doing anything else. Somehow, it knows I haven't done this before and presents the typical user agreement form that must be accepted before continuing. Actually, that happened at the BIOS boot-up level, come to think of it. (Dell has gone beyond the average computer distributor!)
Then the CD sequence starts up and it goes through some questions asking about the time zone and how I'll be using the machine. Finally the part I've been a little apprehensive about arrives: the RAID configuration.
I opened the box of the new server for the Beaverton SDA Church and was reminded that we didn't order a keyboard or mouse to go with it. At first this makes sense--why not just use the one we have on the old server? Well, the old server is, uh, old! Like over 8 years. That's an eternity in the computer industry. Some people alive today haven't even heard of the OS we still have on that machine, Windows NT 4.0.
But still, keyboards and mice don't wear out quickly on servers--they just sit there and collect dust over the years. You blow them off twice a year when you actually need to use them. So why get new ones?
I'm on the computer committee of the Beaverton SDA Church and we need to replace the old server (which is used mostly for file storage among the 4 office staff). Some believe it to be at least 8 years old. We're all amazed it's still running. It has SCSI drives that are starting to make a lot of noise and we're getting quite nervous. So at a recent meeting, we decided to not push our luck (or faith) too much further--it's time to to get a new server.
I've heard it said in many conversations, blog entries, and articles that people automate tasks because they're lazy. I disagree. Often, this "laziness" is in the context of programmers writing scripts to do some mundane operation over and over. They're supposedly lazy because they don't want to do the task themselves.
Have you ever wondered what a Blog is? OK, that term may be an every day verb/noun by now. But what about DHTML or Landing Page or Reciprocol Link? Do you know what a Spider does? Have your heard of ODP or know what your Page Rank is?
All these terms and more are listed on the Glossary of Web Terms.