It might seem a simple choice, but there are several things which need to be taken into consideration when we go in search of the best IDE for Windows application development. First, let’s discuss why Windows is the best platform for software development a fact which is borne out by an incredible majority of developers who choose to use Windows as their primary operating system. Then we will see what an IDE is and why it is crucial for efficient development on Windows. Then we will discuss why popular names might be biased or at least nuanced ones. Then we will study what we mean by developer productivity and the role IDEs play in it. Then we explore the tips like what to look for in the best IDE. Finally, we discuss the best Windows IDE in detail.
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Why should we develop for the Windows OS?
Windows is still, by a very wide margin, the most popular desktop platform for users, especially in the business arena. Despite the rise in popularity of Linux and strong competition from macOS, Windows also remains the crown-holder for software developers too. Many reasons make the Windows ecosystem great for development. For example,
- There is a huge market for Windows software, especially for desktop and business users. This market is also one which users are prepared to pay for quality applications at a premium higher than those of mobile or web SaaS apps. The commercial Linux app market is almost non-existent except for a few high visibility apps from well-funded development companies. Even with a successful mobile app it is extremely difficult to make a credible profit due to the downward pressure on mobile app prices and the need to distribute via a closed-loop app store which takes a ~30% cut of any profits you do make.
- A Windows PC is significantly cheaper than a Mac. Even a fully-loaded gaming-quality PC with premium hardware and screen(s) is still unlikely to be more expensive than even an entry-level Mac laptop or desktop. Apple hardware is excellent but that excellence comes at a substantial price point.
- Windows Development is easier and more user-friendly than Linux. The wide array of distributions (distros) can make it difficult and time-consuming to get a Linux machine working without some compromises. Even seasoned Linux users often find that sound cards and graphics cards can be awkward to get functioning correctly without some often difficult to understand and the need for a broad amount of research and discussion on user groups. Linux can work extremely efficiently on much cheaper and older legacy hardware and some developers love the apparent lack of ties with large companies but the flipside is that finding help for a particular issue when something doesn’t work or is working in unexpected ways can be difficult due to the huge variety of Linux distros and configurability. The “one size fits all” nature of Windows means there may be millions of users with the almost exact configuration as you which means the likelihood of finding answers is increased thanks to effect of “the wisdom of crowds”.
- Windows has excellent and wide-ranging documentation aimed at regular consumer users and written by professionally-trained technical authors. Even amateur documentation such as blogs and videos tend to be of use since they typically describe a set-up similar to your own which can help you make allowances for any accidental ineptitude and find the help you need.
- Extensive training and certification options are available for Windows both from Microsoft and from a range of well-known professional vendors.
- A plethora of Windows tools for developers are available thanks to the popularity of the operating system and the general standardization of the Windows versions.
- Moreover, Windows is also a popular choice for developing cross-platform apps. Many tools like Delphi, C++ Builder, and RAD Studio are available for fast cross-platform development needs.
What is an IDE, and why do we need one?
An IDE (Integrated Development Environment) is a collection of tools which operate together to provide a cohesive environment for software developers and designers to design, code and deploy applications. A good quality IDE provides uniquely helpful functionality and seamlessly combines other applications into a toolset to enable developers to do their jobs as efficiently as possible. It is a tool to make the life of a programmer easier and help remove pain points caused by errors and unnecessarily repetitive and mistake-prone manual operations. Initially, programmers used only a text editor and a command line (terminal) to develop software. But, over time, they added more standalone applications to make the job easier, faster, error-free, and more efficient. The IDE takes those stand-alone applications and adds its own functionality and features to provide a tool which is specially designed to be the developer’s primary daily tool and the one they use the most while working on their apps. IDEs like RAD Studio have been a marvelous piece of technical innovation for almost three decades.
An IDE should consist of many components like a code editor, compiler, linker, builder, debugger, visual development tools, multi-language support, version control system, and plugin installations, to name a few. Many popular Windows app development tools are available like VS-Code, NetBeans, Code::Blocks, Eclipse, Visual Studio, IntelliJ IDEA, and RAD Studio with Delphi and C++. Some are more useful than others. Some are easier than others. Let us discuss the essential things to consider while choosing the best IDE for Windows application development.
Why might the most popular IDE not be the right one?
Notepad++ is sometimes described as an IDE. In fact it sometimes ranks very highly in lists of IDEs which is a bit of a surprise and, ultimately, I think a mistake. It might be one of the most used source code editors, but is it an IDE and even if it was, is it the right one? It is a good text editor, but it is, in my opinion, NOT an IDE. It is not helpful as an IDE for Windows program development. Also, it has no Windows UI toolkit or screen designing and previewing capability, despite the large selection of add-ins it supports. When describing something as an IDE and determining its ranking we should measure them through their usefulness and productivity for the day-to-day tasks required of a developer.
By the way. if you are looking for a text editor which can edit HUGE files with ease you should consider UltraEdit.
What do we know about productivity?
Productivity increase is not a single factor of an IDE. Instead, it combines many intermingled technologies to make a developer highly productive. Some would say that if you want to rank IDEs on a single feature only, that feature should be their impact, or lack of it, on productivity. So, it is helpful to understand what we mean by productivity.
- Many developers think of productivity as how quickly they can type in the code. Writing code fast is essential, but it seems to me that 10% of development is writing the code and 90% of the time is spent reading and changing it. It’s a kind of corollary to the Pareto Principle .
- Cross-platform development is another level of productivity. Choosing an IDE and cross platform desktop app development platform which also supports sensible refinements like a low-code or no-code approach to application design can be a huge productivity boost.
- Not bundling tons of unused runtime libraries is another level of productivity because it reduces errors and support requests and gives your team more time to develop instead of maintaining previous builds. A good IDE has an optimizing compiler which only includes sections of code which are definitely used by your app and optimizes out the redundant areas means smaller apps with tighter and more focused executables.
- The ability to turn code into visual components is another level of productivity. The counter to this is that some IDEs actually encourage or even force you to create your user interfaces in code rather than the more efficient “drag and drop” what you see is what you get visual design paradigm for user interfaces employed by an IDE such as RAD Studio. Choosing a solution where you can visualize your app’s screens at design time and visually tweak the screen’s elements for different platforms and device orientations such as iPhones versus an iPad means a huge time-saver.
- The capability of visually connecting different components is another level of productivity. It removes the need to manually write “CRUD” code to retrieve and interact with records and queries in databases.
- The ability to combine components into frames of reusable functionality is another level of productivity boost. Reusing tried and tested code and functionality means there are fewer things to write/create, fewer things to test, and a consistency due to the reuse among several apps screens or projects. Even purely visual controls placed on frames can help adhere to a corporate branding since you can add any logos and headers or FAQ/license text, have it approved and then safely reuse it in all applicable areas and projects with the knowledge it doesn’t need any additional oversight.
- The ability to convert pre-built frames into meta components to a simple component is another level of productivity.
- Refactoring the code is also essential for optimizing and reusing. Your chosen IDE should include one or more ways to refactor and simplify your code as well as detect key metrics about things like undesirable complexity.
- Version Control System support is also crucial for productivity. The ability to function efficiently in teams or even to simply be able to roll-back code to a previous version in the event of a problem is far better than doing everything the ‘long’ way. There are still some developers who pass unversioned compressed zip files of code among themselves. Consider all the ways this might go wrong as well as the time this takes even with a fast internet connection – everything being manual as it is. An IDE which incorporates proper version control system integration makes this error-prone and inefficient practice totally obsolete and also adds several capabilities which would be otherwise difficult or impossible.
- While coding, a good IDE should include ‘typing helpers’ like Code insight will make a developer more productive by suggesting or reminding the developer or various parameters to a method or function, or offering auto-complete functionality of variable and class names. With these kind of auto-complete or intelligent help and IDE massively enhances the developer’s productivity in ways which are almost impossible with a ‘dumb’ text editor.
What should we look for in the best IDE for Windows application development?
We should look for many things in the best IDE for Windows app development. Writing code faster is the least important feature among them. Our ideal IDE should address all of the points we made above regarding productivity. The best IDE helps make the programmer the best version of themselves. It’s a tall and fanciful phrase but it just happens to be true, too.
How can a native IDE be the best IDE for Windows application development?
A native Windows application can be the fastest on Windows. Conversely, any non-native application, whether Java-based, Electron-based, or any other virtual machine type executable, cannot perform at the full speed of a native app. Total overall performance is crucial in an IDE because we must complete thousands of build cycles during the development and testing process. Thus for Windows 10 apps development, you need a native Windows software maker or IDE.
How can native executables help?
An IDE not producing native code means it instead produces an app which must go through a runtime interpretation step before it can run. This step is not required for a full-compiled native app since they are already in a format which can be immediately executed at the maximum possible speed. As a result, customers using non-native executables cannot get optimum performance, especially on initial launch of the app. This additional runtime interpretation of non-native applications can, for some solutions, continue every time the app is run. It can also continue affect users in other ways depending on the exact solution chosen and functionality – for example some Python apps can consume considerable system memory while running and are reported to be slow when executing some types of loops. Apps written using the Electron framework have also been regularly vilified for their memory and CPU usage which can obscure their benefits. A well-written native executable generally avoids these sorts of problems.
Why does executable size matter?
To develop Windows apps, it would be best if you always preferred an IDE producing small executables over larger ones. Some non-native interpreted solutions can appear to produce smaller apps but this is because they are using tokenized or P-code which is then read in by a runtime and converted to executable code. If you factor in the fact the target machine must have this runtime interpreter/compiler installed plus any compiled frameworks referenced you can often find the total ‘footprint’ of the app is actually significantly larger. Also, some IDEs and frameworks require many files to bundle, like Dot Net or Java runtimes. Keeping a check on different versions of these additional files is also a nightmare for many developers with help forums having users posting error messages with seemingly inscrutable text which is not end-user friendly.
Can compilation speed hint at the best IDE for Windows application development?
How quickly an IDE compiles your source code into an executable is very important. During the course of developing a non-trivial app the developer might compile the code hundreds, possibly thousands of times so even a slight improvement will count. The compilation speed test is straightforward to perform, but you should consider even sub-second differences. Fortunately, RAD Studio with Delphi is legendary for its superfast compilation speed. For example, in a comprehensive examination to find the best IDE for Windows application development, RAD Studio with Delphi compiled one million lines of code in under 5 seconds. That kind of compiler efficiency is extremely hard to beat and is an obvious contribution to developer productivity.
Why is low-code / no-code support important?
Low-Code / No-Code is an essential and time-saving feature that all modern IDEs should support. Fortunately, RAD Studio Low Code Wizard helps make RAD Studio with Delphi the best IDE for Windows application development because you can build a fully functional application in ten minutes or less. In addition, its visual drag and drop tools and features such as Live Bindings and REST debugger can help you create many types of apps without writing a single line of code. Still, you will have complete source code and full control to customize your application any way you want. RAD Studio with Delphi quite literally ticks all the metaphorical ‘must have’ boxes we’ve mentioned so far in this article.
Why is cross-platform support important?
Although you might be looking for IDE tools for Windows 10 application development (or Windows 11 development), sooner or later, you have to build cross-platform applications. If you can have an IDE that supports cross-platform development along with Windows app development, that would be an excellent feature. RAD Studio with Delphi can help you create super fast cross-platform applications with its award-winning FireMonkey framework. As a result, you can build fully native cross-platform applications simultaneously with Windows development. This feature saves time and effort and prepares you for the future.
Why is RAD Studio with Delphi the best IDE for Windows application development?
Delphi was, arguably, the first fully effective all-round RAD solution for the Microsoft Windows platform. That original Delphi built on many of the great ideas of the much-loved Turbo Pascal system. While there were other systems which used some elements of visual design to produce interpreted apps, Delphi combined many other completely novel elements and functionality and truly kept its promise of super fast native Windows application development which required no runtime or interpreter for almost three decades.
With the advent of RAD Studio, Delphi should be your number one choice for Windows application development to fulfill all the requirements we mentioned above. From system programming, to database so all types, to games, to REST servers and clients, to crypto currency, to data science, to cross-platform full-power apps on almost any device you can name, and anything in between RAD Studio with Delphi is your best development companion.
How to jumpstart using the best IDE for Windows application development now?
Now is an exciting time for starting a head-on journey in Windows Application Development. Whether you are looking for IDE tools for Windows 10 app development, or a Windows apps studio that can also pump out quality apps for macOS, Linux, iOS and Android, the best of both worlds is available now. With many new features in Windows 11 and a re-focus and rethink by Microsoft on what they want a Windows framework to be, Windows is the best platform to develop business and professional solutions. In addition, RAD Studio with Delphi is the best IDE software that is highly productive, easy to use, and future-proof. So to Jumpstart your development journey for building great Windows applications, download the best Windows IDE now.
 The Pareto Principle: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pareto_principle