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Gianluca Pivato posted on November 30, 2009 14:50

Unify has presented the new version of Team Developer at their recent developers conferences in Germany and US. That is TD 6.0 that will be released in 2010.

I looked at the presentations and went through the new features and improvements and I was left with one question: What are the benefits?

To answer this seemingly simple question we have to look at several factors. First we have to identify the stakeholders and their needs. Let’s try.

We have organizations using applications written using TD/SAL. Most of their apps have been written many years ago, have evolved over time, and are working relatively well. Their problems are mainly A) finding (and keeping) resources that know or want to work with a language (SAL) and tool (TD) that is not exactly mainstream technology; and B) consolidating, integrating, deploying and managing several heterogeneous systems across the organization.

There are Independent Software Vendors (ISVs) that produce and sell applications based on TD/SAL. Their problems are mainly A) finding (and keeping) resources that know or want to work with TD and SAL; B) compete with other solutions based on mainstream technologies like .NET, Java, Web Applications; C) expand their products adding new modern features, moving to the web using the new Rich Internet Application (RIA) architectures, increase productivity and software quality.

Last but not least, there are developers that have been working with TD/SAL for years and have intimate knowledge of the applications they are working with (in many cases it has been the same application for many years). Their concerns are A) keep their jobs; B) find new jobs if/when they need or want to; C) be happy at what they do and work with exciting and interesting technologies. This last point is not to be underestimated since writing software is still basically an art and developers do enjoy working with code (at least I know I do).

Note: please send me additional issues that I have missed to gianluca-at-iceteagroup.com.

Now that we have identified the three main stakeholders (Corporations IT, Software Companies (ISVs), Gupta Developers) we can try to nail down what are the benefits of TD 6.0. But in order to do so we have to list the most important new features that will be included in TD 6.0.

I found two sets of features: new controls, new compile and deployment.

New controls include a new tab bar (either a third one or an enhancement of the second one added with TD 5.2), outlook-style page navigator, a replacement tree control for the existing Visual Toolchest outline listbox, dockable toolbars, and a list of other minor enhancements.

New deployment is based on a new optional compiler and a new runtime. The new compiler will be able to compile existing SAL code to MSIL op-code instead of SAL p-code, and the new runtime will be written in C# (and/or VB.NET) instead of the current C/C++ runtime.

There isn’t much to say about the new controls since they are not really new. Visual Studio and .NET had all those controls for years including fully integrated and advanced designers.

The new compiler is the most important new feature. TD 6.0 will add a new compiler and runtime to generate Microsoft .NET executables. It is the biggest development undertaking with Team Developer since the release of TD 5.0 in January 2007.

TD 5.0 also added a new compiler and runtime to generate Linux executables. It was largely developed by Gupta Technologies before being acquired. Unify finished the product and released in January ‘07 then recalled it quickly thereafter and ultimately dropped the product.

Now that we have narrowed down the stakeholders and the new features in TD 6.0 we can start answering my original question: What are the benefits?

Let’s do it for each identified issue:

A) Finding (and keeping) resources that know or want to work with TD and SAL. (Organizations and ISVs)

It’s a fact that there are very few developers using TD and SAL. In my opinion TD 6.0 will not change the situation because it doesn’t change the development environment and doesn’t change the language. Organizations and ISVs will still need to find and retain developers for TD and SAL. Finding and retaining resources simply gets harder with time.

B) Consolidating, integrating, deploying and managing several heterogeneous systems across the organization. (Organizations)

Compiling existing SAL code to MSIL may improve the integration of heterogeneous systems, considering that Microsoft .NET and Visual Studio is quickly becoming the de-facto standard for business applications development. Compiled MSIL assemblies from SAL can be used from other .NET systems without having to resort to COM.

However, the new compiler and runtime add a new risk since it’s a completely new compiler written from scratch by Unify (like 5.1 and 5.2) and will not support 100% of existing features.

C) Expand their products adding new modern features, moving to the web using the new Rich Internet Application (RIA) architectures, increase productivity and software quality. (ISVs)

I don’t think that a different binary format would give many advantages to ISVs trying to compete with full .NET, Java, or Web solutions. They may be able to piggy back on .NET marketing buzz by telling prospects that their solution is now compiled to .NET. The fact is that the code is still written using SAL, it’s hard to find resources; there are very few if any third party components; the runtime is based on proprietary libraries; the new compiler is an entirely new and big software undertaking with all its risks, etc.

Moreover, TD 6.0 doesn’t add support for Web Applications, doesn’t use .NET controls, and doesn’t add LINQ, Generics, Delegates, Reflection, and many of the features found in C# or VB.NET.

D) Keep their job or find new jobs if/when they need or want to. (Developers)

If TD 6.0 extends the life of SAL applications then existing Gupta developers will certainly have a better chance of keeping their jobs. For finding new jobs, any developer knows that it’s always better to expand one’s skills and learning Visual Studio .NET and C# or Eclipse and Java is the wise thing to do.

I just hope that Gupta developers working on TD 6.0 SAL code day in and day out can find the time and the opportunity to work on other projects where C# or Java are being used.

E) Be happy at what they do and work with exciting and interesting technologies. (Developers)

Well, this one is both objective and subjective at the same time. If a developer is happy working with TD and SAL, there is nothing to argue, it's taste. I have been working very happily with TD and SAL for years.

However, it’s an objective fact that SAL is not an exciting technology anymore being designed in 1983 (or was it 1984?), which is about 25 years ago. To be fair, the problem is not just the age. Java was first released in 1996 (that is 13 years ago). But I consider Java still exciting being a cross platform development environment, and having countless libraries for just about anything and on any platform.

C# and .NET (sorry I still don’t like VB.NET like I didn’t like VB6) are to me the most exciting and innovative technologies. Visual Studio 2008 (and the upcoming 2010) is a pleasure to work with and offers tools and development support that are a dream for a developer.

Working with C# gives you the feeling that there are no limits to what you can do and the speed at which you can do it. I’m also a C/C++ and Assembly developer and working with C# simply beats everything I have been working with for the past 28 years!

Let’s tally up my informal analysis and let’s see what we got. I used values from 0 to 5 where 0 = “No change from today” and 5 = “Big benefits”.

But to make it more interesting (not forgetting that the company I work for offers seamless migration from TD/SAL all versions to C# or VB.NET on Visual Studio), I have added a column comparing with Visual Studio .NET.

 

Issue

TD 6.0 and SAL

Visual Studio .NET and C#/VB.NET

A) Find and keep resources

0

5

B) Consolidate, Integrate, Deploy

2

4

C) Expand market share, Compete

1

5

D) Keep jobs, find new jobs

1

5

E) Be happy, work with exciting stuff

2

3

Total

6

22

 

According to my non scientific analysis we get a score of 6 for TD 6.0 and 22 for Visual Studio and .NET.

Which means that in my opinion TD 6.0 improves very little on the current TD 5.2 when it comes down to the issues that I have listed.

While moving to Visual Studio .NET and C# (remember that I still don’t like VB.NET…), again in my opinion, yields huge benefits for the same issues.

Case closed? Nope. I neglected one important factor: Cost.

What is the cost of migrating to TD 6.0/SAL and what is the cost of migrating to Visual Studio .NET/C#?

Some will tell you that migrating to TD 6.0/SAL is basically cost free and going to .NET is enormously expensive. Others may tell you the opposite.

The truth is obviously in the middle and you have to define cost first. Cost is not just paying for the GLS [Update: Unify announced that TD 6.0 with the .NET compiler will NOT be part of the GLS, you will have to buy a new license]. Productivity, market opportunities, resources, total cost of ownership (TCO), maintenance, risk mitigation effort, test and QA, are all cost components.

Taking all the proper factors in consideration including cost saving items, in my humble opinion, brings up the cost of migrating to TD 6.0 (the more factors you put in the more the cost goes up), and brings down the final cost of migrating to .NET.

Expanding the time frame for the calculation of the return on investment (ROI) may even show that a migration project to .NET pays for itself and could return huge benefits.

Don’t take my word for it. Ask us to show you. We are here and in this case it costs zero to be prepared for the future, this is for sure.

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