I recently did an email interview with Martin Strohal of the Delphi-Treff Team. I got permission to publish the original English version (Since my German is a little rusty...)
Delphi XE2 will be published this year. What are the key features of this new release? (Is this the release named "Pulsar"?)
Customers will now be able to target Windows 32bit, Windows 64bit, and Mac OSX 32bit. XE2 introduces a new cross-platform GUI-centric, GPU accelerated component framework called, FireMonkey. VCL also received an extensive upgrade with the introduction of Styles. New in XE2 is LiveBindings. This provides a powerful and flexible system that allows binding any kind of data source to any property or properties. The data source can be nearly anything, including other properties.
There will be a new framework called FireMonkey. Can you tell us, how FireMonkey works and what's is job?
FireMonkey is designed from the ground up to be cross-platform. It, by design, isolates all platform specifics into an independent platform layer. While FireMonkey extensively uses components, how it actually renders to the GUI is significantly different from VCL. While VCL uses independent, self-contained components that all render using their own techniques or even wrap existing Windows controls, FireMonkey manages the display of content using compositing. This allows for significantly more flexibility in GUI-design. Animation is built into the framework in order to allow very interactive and advanced user interactions. Like animation, filters and transforms are also built in which allow the who UI of portions thereof to be manipulated. For instance, a small modal popup could be displayed and rather than merely disabling the main UI, you could apply a blurring effect to the UI behind the modal popup giving it more depth of field. This blurring effect is applied while compositing the UI and is independent of any rendering of the components/controls.
Is FireMonkey a replacement for the VCL or an addition?
VCL was first and foremost designed to be a relatively thin wrapper to make Windows programming simpler and more accessible. VCL effectively embraced many Windows programming concepts and made them intrinsic to the framework. This certainly made Windows programming a far more productive and pleasant experience. It also inextricably tied VCL to the Windows platform and all its unique characteristics. We had several goals with FireMonkey. First of all we wanted a framework that allowed for the creation of very rich, interactive, modern UIs. We also wanted a framework that wasn't hog-tied to a given platform. FireMonkey is not intended as a replacement for VCL; rather it is intended as a whole new way for customers to embrace the emerging market for richer, more interactive desktop applications along with the burgeoning mobile space.
If I want to run an existing Delphi application under Mac OS X. Do I have to convert it to FireMonkey first? Will there be a converter?
VCL and FireMonkey share common RTL and database components such as dbXpress and DataSnap. While you will not be able to simply recompile your VCL based application for Mac OSX, you will be able to take all your code which exclusively uses the RTL and DB components. As for converters, I know that at the time of this writing there are several third-parties offering VCL->FireMonkey converter products.
What are your future plans for FireMonkey?
More platforms and mobile. FireMonkey is how we're keeping relevant in the emerging heterogeneous mobile and desktop platform world currently emerging. Throughout most of the '90s and early '00s, the mobile computing space was non-existent or very niche. Apple and the Mac OS were actually in the decline and many weren't sure they'd be around to see 2000. What a different world we're in now. The desktop Mac OSX is making significant inroads into the enterprise, and the mobile space is anything by niche. Tying Delphi strictly to the Windows platforms ignores huge opportunities for both Embarcadero and all our Delphi customers, new and old. With FireMonkey, XE2 is positioned to be the only /native/ cross-platform framework that targets both major desktop operating systems and one of the dominant mobile operating systems, iOS. Expect to see FireMonkey become more powerful and even easier to use and target even more mobile platforms in future releases.
The applications cross compiled for OS X are native. Is there the new Delphi compiler on duty? And will it be used for "normal" Win32 applications in future?
There are three new compilers introduced with XE2. Delphi Windows 64bit, Delphi Mac OSX 32bit, and C++ Mac OSX 32bit. All of these compilers are derived from the existing codebase. They all essentially share the same respective "front-ends", the part of the compiler that translates the source-code into an intermediate form in preparation for generating machine code. The existing 32bit Delphi and 32bit C++ compilers are still very much in business. We have some research projects in progress for targeting even more platforms and CPU architectures.
If new compiler: Is the new compiler fully downwards compatible? Or are there some functions abandoned?
For XE2, the current compilers were employed in order to ensure maximum backward compatibility. Looking to the future, we're currently researching new directions for both a compiler architecture which allows for quicker targeting of new architectures and looking at adding more advanced, and even more modern language features. This may mean eschewing some older features of the language.
Are there some new Features in Delphi XE2 for people who will only develop VCL-Win32-Applications?
As evidenced by XE2, VCL is still very much a key part of the product. With the addition of Styles, the programmer can take their existing VCL based applications and update and modernize the look and feel by using the new Style engine. The third-party component support remains one of, if not the best for all independent development tools on the market. VCL is still the fastest and easiest way to develop*Windows* applications. Also, with XE2 and now being able to target 64bit Windows, most VCL applications can now be merely recompiled for 64bit, subject to the normal 32bit->64bit caveats.
Will there be a new Starter edition again? And do you have any plans for a free Delphi (for getting more new blood in the Delphi community)?
Starter edition is very much a key part of our product line. When you compare the price point of the Starter edition taking account of inflation with the price of the original Turbo Pascal coupled with the vastly superior capabilities of Starter compare to Turbo Pascal, I think you get far more value than the price. We also have very competitive offerings for the educational markets, where one can get nearly 80-90% off of all the products. As for a free edition, we're always looking at ways to grow the community base without the potential for harming our existing, very strong and growing market. At this point we feel that the Starter edition provides a good balance of price, capabilities and value. Starter is positioned directly at the new customer by including features that most new customers would need right away to in order to both learn the environment and begin to develop commercial applications.