A conversation with Embarcadero’s Atanas Popov and DevExpress’ Ray Navasarkian
The Delphi/RAD Studio ecosystem relies on many component partners to support the diverse needs of developers. The component market has been around for over 20 years and continues to thrive. Many partners stand out with their excellent portfolios of products that help developers deploy professional apps faster. Even more importantly, many are on the cutting edge of innovation, helping advance what can be achieved with Delphi and RAD Studio.
We enjoy working closely with our many Technology Partners. Companies like DevExpress, TMS Software, and DelphiStyles are instrumental in bringing to developers the tools they need to succeed. Many share rich histories of collaboration with Embarcadero, and we love learning from them. I recently spoke with Ray Navasarkian of DevExpress and thought it would be fun to share some of his perspectives. We plan to make this discussion part of a longer series.
What is your vision for DevExpress?
The word “vision” may sound trite, so I think it is best to consider our guiding principles. Number one is that we conduct business ethically and with absolute integrity. We would be nothing without our customers. As such, we owe them the truth. When we are able, we promise and deliver to the best of our abilities. When we cannot, we let them know that we are simply unable. We do not always get this right and we definitely make mistakes, but our objective is simple—to engage our customers in a fair and honest manner, each and every day.
The second guiding principle is to deliver exceptional products that meet and exceed expectations. Like the first guiding principle, this is not easy to pull off, but I think the quality of our VCL product line speaks to our overall success in this regard. We started DevExpress in 1998 because we love Delphi and saw an opportunity to innovate in the VCL component space. We saw that the VCL component market needed an “Outlook-inspired” data grid component. Data grids are key UI elements in most desktop apps, and Microsoft’s Office 97 UI overhaul gave us the opportunity to enter the VCL component market with a bang. The rest, as they say, is history.
It has been 20-plus years since those halcyon days. We launched some great products and had our share of our lackluster releases, but on the whole, I’m proud of what we’ve achieved in the VCL market. I think we offer our loyal customers a robust set of UI components that effectively address a broad range of usage scenarios.
Thanks to the great relationship with Embarcadero and terrific feedback from our loyal customers, I expect to deliver much more over the next 20 years. Long live RAD Studio.
What is the main focus for DevExpress today?
DevExpress manages a massive product portfolio that extends beyond UI components for RAD Studio. While it is not always easy, we do our best to innovate on multiple fronts and address developer needs on multiple development platforms.
When it comes to RAD Studio, new products and features are shaped by user demand and market requirements. We remain fully focused on VCL because of our large developer community—a community that remains committed to both RAD Studio and our VCL product line.
Our biggest challenge today is the proliferation of new development platforms. It is not always easy to meet and exceed expectations when you must juggle new platforms alongside legacy platforms. Consider our VCL product line. We ship over 200 UI controls and libraries. Over the years, a handful of users asked that we port our UI controls to FMX. Though I would have loved to do so, our resources are finite. As such, we had to make the tough decision to forgo FMX development and focus our energies on the VCL.
We did release an FMX data grid last year. While we ultimately chose to cease FMX development at this time, we remain open-minded to its possibilities. If our customers choose FMX over the VCL, then we will reallocate resources as needed. In the interim, we may make our FMX grid available to our community free of charge.
I would argue that the underlying component requirements for desktop developers differ from those of web developers. When we released our first VCL product, we had to quickly follow up with other major UI elements such as a Ribbon, Calendar, etc. Part of the reason for this involved appearance and overall look and feel. Our customers did not want to mix and match UI elements from different vendors within a single desktop app. While web developers also do not necessarily want to mix and match, I believe they are more willing to invest in best-in-class products versus a single monolithic component library.
Of course, certain component libraries can be integrated more independently within a desktop app. This includes charting, document management, and reporting. Our product line is a perfect example. As you know, we do not offer charts or reporting for the VCL. It is not to say that users do not ask—we are routinely asked to deliver a charting and reporting library for RAD Studio.
While mixing and matching is more likely in web development, the ability to work with a single vendor—a vendor that delivers on its promises—seems to me the ideal. Mixing and matching UI tools may affect productivity, may increase maintenance costs, and of course will affect upgrade paths.
UX is very important for modern applications. One of the hurdles that some in our community experience, especially in mobile development, is that the quality of the UI can vary significantly. What are your thoughts on the future of UX development in RAD Studio?
We are very proud of our past achievements, but we still have a lot of work to do for the VCL and RAD Studio developers. UX standards evolve, and we must do the same. It is not always easy, but our close relationship with Embarcadero should help us address the UX needs of our mutual customers for years to come.
As you know, Embarcadero recently hosted a Desktop Summit where we presented our POV on UI design. I look forward to additional opportunities in this regard. I think everyone in the RAD Studio developer community benefits when component vendors freely share their perspectives on UI design.
What do you think is the impact of low code in the components space?
I am confident opportunities exist in the low-code space. At the end of the day, the marketplace dictates what we do and how we do it. If low code becomes ubiquitous, we will adapt accordingly.
For now, native application development remains the top priority at DevExpress. As you know, we released a major update to our VCL product line in December. This release included a new VCL Gantt control and updates to our Data Grid, Spreadsheet, and PDF Viewer for the VCL. DirectX also plays an important role in our desktop development strategy. Hopefully, we can discuss why we are moving away from GDI and toward DirectX in a future interview. Check out a complete summary of major features we shipped late last year.
Thanks for the opportunity to discuss DevExpress with the Embarcadero developer community.