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Delphi Dying? Think again, Tiobe

March 8, 2020 11 comments

At the beginning of last week, Tiobe once again threw a punch at Object Pascal. Playing the whole “Delphi is dying” tune, while focusing on outdated and quite frankly irrelevant episodes from the past. Hoping no doubt, to leave the reader with an impression that Delphi is stuck in the 90s.

This is the same pattern we often see whenever Delphi or Object Pascal in general experience significant growth; or to be blunt, when the author cannot be bothered to think independently, but simply parrot hearsay and misinformation on autopilot.

It is lame, superficial and Tiobe’s biggest mistake to date.

Tiobe

Guess “alternative news” is no longer limited to individuals like Alex Jones

Just to underline the problem areas here. The ranking is based on their internal system (there is no standard for how to rank popularity), and while I have issues with how they build up their score, it’s ultimately the March editorial text that has caused irritation and shock. You don’t declare a language as dead when there are over 10 million developers using it. This type of editorial could have very real consequences – which in turn brings us to their ranking system and how they arrived at their conclusions.

I would have understood their statement if it was issued between 2007 and 2010, because Delphi was at that time transitioning between Borland and Embarcadero. But to issue something like this in 2020? After a decade worth of restoration, optimization, modernization and above all – forging a thriving community that goes from victory to victory month after month, year after year? It makes absolutely no sense.

Significant growth

In 2018 there were roughly six million Delphi developers (I worked at Embarcadero at the time), with a total estimate of ten million Object Pascal developers worldwide when counting all alternative compilers, dialects and indeed – known piracy issues.

“Tiobe failed stupendously in their data mining operation, they seem to be oblivious regarding the demographic in which the language is used”

Since that time Delphi has made strides into the universities in Scandinavia, South-America and the Middle-East. Turkey recently announced their dedication to native and archetypal software development with Delphi (provided free for students), which adds a whopping one million students to the already large body of users.

Embarcadero has slowly but steadily rebuilt much of the infrastructure that existed under Borland. From professional training at Embarcadero Academy, to entry level training at LearnDelphi.org. The Idera community pages likewise produce a large body of articles on a weekly basis. Comparing the Delphi and C++Builder ecosystem today with it’s tragic state back in 2010, is like day and night.

academy

Training is available for both Enterprise level developers and students alike

With so much positive happening in the world of Object Pascal, Tiobe’s article comes across as a grave, intentional misrepresentation at worst, or an intellectual emergency at best. It is completely out of place and carries the tell-tell signs of an echo chamber.

Tiobe has lost all credibility

I have to be honest. I have never taken Tiobe that serious, because they have made to many mistakes in the past to have any form of credibility when it comes to Delphi and Object Pascal as a language. And when I say mistakes, I mean monumental blunders that just annihilate all possibility that they treat languages on equal footing.

“not only have Tiobe failed in their indexing, they have completely and utterly misunderstood the demographic in which the language is used”

If we go back a decade, Tiobe actually based their numbers on the keyword “Pascal”. In other words they excluded not just Delphi commits to GitHub, BitBucket and similar services – they also managed to exclude Freepascal and every subsequent dialect that signify Object Pascal as a whole. So for quite some time their entire statistics was based on the off chance that people typed “Pascal” in their project or commit entries.

To make matters worse, their search tech was not smart enough to recognize “Pascal” in composite words. So if you wrote “ObjectPascal” in a single word, the commit was excluded; As was “Freepascal”, “Smartpascal”, “Oxygenepascal” and variations using a hyphen (and the same for abbreviations).

Developers also use the term Lazarus and FPC interchangeably since Lazarus typically means people use the LCL, the visual framework used to write desktop applications with Freepascal. So while Freepascal has nothing to do with Delphi in terms of intellectual property, the two compilers are used by the community as a whole.

But let’s look at why Tiobe’s indexing fails for Delphi. Just what are they doing wrong?

  • Delphi has been around for 25 years, and it’s roots stretch back to the birth of C. Using Stack Overflow as an indicator for popularity is ludacris, since the majority of errors and problems have been largely ironed out in the past, leaving only extremely advanced and rare topics. If problems is the criteria, then I guess that explains why C# and Java soars in the ranking.
  • Nobody searches google for “Delphi programming”. You search for explicit topics like composite polygon clipping with GDI+ and then add “delphi” to limit the search to said language. Just like C/C++, Object Pascal is an archetypal language. It stretches from kernel work with inline assembly, to cloud services and HTML5 rendering. So the topics people search for are usually straight out of the operating-system strata.
  • Delphi developers communicate in dedicated groups, such as Delphi Developer on Facebook. There is also a thriving community on the Delphi Praxis forums, not to mention the Freepascal forums. None of which seem to be included in Tiobe’s activity statistics.
  • Object Pascal has several frameworks and run-time libraries. Delphi ships with two:
  • Freepascal operates with its own, open-source variation called the LCL
  • Freepascal also targets WebAssembly and JavaScript and have variations of the LCL adapted those targets
  • And then there is third party, commercial alternatives that covers HTML5/JS like TMS WebCore, Smart Pascal, Oxygene Pascal and the upcoming Quartex Pascal. Around these runtime libraries (VCL, FMX and LCL) there are thousands of libraries, components and frameworks, large and small, that don’t necessarily put  “Delphi” or “Object Pascal” in their metadata.
  • Tiobe also fails to include feeds like BeginEnd.net or DelphiFeeds, which syndicate on average 3000 unique blog-posts a year, representing a consistent and very much alive stream of information and content.

Delphi and Freepascal, which represents the most widely used compilers, are predominantly used to write commercial, closed source products. Which by consequence means that code and the activity involved is not public. For Tiobe to so utterly misunderstand the demographic for Object Pascal in general, is quite frankly outrageous. If you are going to rank a language that involves millions of users -then at least have the decency of investigating the communities it involves.

Excluding the factors I have outlined above, makes as much sense as excluding mono from C#.

Incompetence or plain ignorance?

It was only after an avalanche of complaints in 2014, orchestrated by yours truly, where members of the Delphi Developer group on Facebook sent complaints en-mass to Tiobe that they addressed the use of “Pascal” to represent Delphi and associated dialects. Yet for all the complaints, outlined in letters that no sentient human being could misunderstand – all Tiobe managed to do was to add “Object Pascal” to their list. Which, believe it or not, was unfamiliar to them.

It’s funny because it’s true

But do you think they bothered to do it right? Afraid not. Instead of aggregating all of the dialects, frameworks and variations of names under a single banner, they still to this day operate with two very specific search elements, namely “Delphi” or “Object Pascal”.

I sure hope the dairy industry doesn’t hire Tiobe to do statistics on milk, because if their coverage of Object Pascal is anything to go by, they will be ranking by yogurt.

No updates since 2018? Really Tiobe?

When a global Index service like Tiobe manage to write, and I quote:

However, the latest Delphi release is from 2018” -Source: Tiobe, March report

You really have to ponder if human beings are involved in their business at all. I’m not expecting much, honestly, but I do expect them to interact with the community they supposedly track and build a statistic on. Have they visited Delphi Developer and talked to the admins about growth numbers? Have they talked to Embarcadero to get some figures and coverage there? Did they contact the Freepascal community to get some download statistics from them?

Delphi 10.3 was released on november 21st 2019. The version that Tiobe seem to think is the last update, is in fact the last release with a city name (which was launched in 2018). Since then there have been three successive, regular updates; most developers are now using version 10.3.3. With 10.3.4 about to be released. This just underlines how oblivious Tiobe is to our part of the industry.

Delphi_IDE

Modern Delphi is used by millions of professional developers globally

Delphi and Freepascal is different in more ways than one, but beyond language compatibility there is one aspect that is quintessential for them both; namely their role in the commercial sector. Where other languages, like C/C++ or (for example) JavaScript see a lot of open-source activity, especially with regards to Linux and Node.js – Delphi and Freepascal are predominantly used to write high-quality, commercial, closed source business applications. In other words, the vast majority of code produced by the millions of Object Pascal developers around the world – is never publicly committed to GitHub or BitBucket.

So not only have Tiobe failed stupendously in their data mining operation, they seem oblivious to the demographic in which the language is used.

academy2

The selection of books, video tutorials and coding material for Delphi is recovering at a rapid pace. And much like C/C++ there are classic books on Amazon that are just as relevant today as they were 10 years ago. Thankfully Delphi don’t suffer the “learn Delphi in 2 weeks” style books, because any developer worth his salt knows that such books are for the gullible and naive.

Developers use Delphi and Freepascal to deliver rock solid, data driven services; services that is expected to run 24/7 with zero downtime, processing millions of transactions. Delphi is used to write medical software that manages networks of hospitals, with tens of thousands of patients. Delphi is used by banks to power their ATM machines, and Delphi is used to do the heavy lifting in thousands of POS (point of sale) terminals across Europe. Terminals that don’t have time to wait for a garbage collector to kick in, only to cause catastrophic CPU spikes (I won’t mention names, but attempting to switch to C# was a disaster for one of the biggest POS terminal suppliers in Europe).

academy3

Delphi represents the back-bone of the medical software industry in Scandinavia and Europe at large. Many have tried to replace Delphi, but end up with expensive lessons in why archetypal languages are indeed called archetypal.

Object Pascal is used by governments, fortune 500 companies and the guy with a million dollar idea working out of his parents garage; It is used to write cloud accounting software, invoicing systems and medical journaling; It is used by the music industry and graphical design. There are large and extremely successful products out there that don’t advertise that it’s written in Delphi (just like you don’t stamp “made with C++” on a piece of software). You would be surprised!

Object Pascal it’s used by developers who value speed, security, creative freedom and the benefit of a mature feature matrix that only C/C++ and Object Pascal brings. C is by definition three years older than Pascal, but these two archetypal languages have evolved side by side.

There is a reason these two languages represented the university curriculum for close to two decades; further still if we include Turbo Pascal. And Delphi is once again returning home to academia. To the applause of teachers who were forced to teach Java, and hated every minute of it (I helped setup two universities with Delphi in Norway, so I have some first hand accounts in the matter).

Reflections

Since Delphi is growing aggressively these days, Embarcadero is making waves. A few months back we saw how a well known team of C# influencers took a stab at Delphi (and me in particular, no doubt because I have been so outspoken). And as Delphi now returns to academia – Tiobe is demonstrating a bias that leaves little to the imagination. Especially when you know their numbers account for nothing and are bordering on fiction.

giphy

If I didn’t know better, I would say someone is worried. And it’s not the Delphi and Freepascal communities. Modern Delphi is a power-house for software development, and it has the potential to disrupt and restore the devtool market.

There is a lot of money involved, so I am not surprised we are seeing a string of attempts at undermining the importance of Object Pascal. I had hoped Tiobe would adopt a higher standard though.

Then again, the ship of credibility sailed when they couldn’t tell Turbo Pascal from Object Pascal.