Monday, November 17, 2014

How does an open source .NET effect Xojo developers

As most of you know, I live in two worlds as a developer.  Yes, I develop cross-platform application but that's not the two worlds I'm talking about. Specifically, I'm talking about languages.

For most of the last decade, I've been firmly planted in the .NET work, using C# to build new systems and web applications that ran on Windows and, for the last few years, to build embedded applications for a variety of different purposes by using the .NET Micro Framework.  But that only got me part of the way there. While Microsoft describes the .NET framework as 'cross-platform', it really means 'Windows and a few platforms we officially bless' (like the .NETCF stuff I mentioned above. It did not mean Mac. It did not mean Linux (not officially, at least). So that meant that, if I really wanted to go cross-platform, I needed to look elsewhere.

For me, that elsewhere was Xojo. Xojo is a programming language that is very similar to VB.NET and strongly delivers on the promise of cross-platform. Write our code onces on either Mac, Windows, or Linux, compile it for any of the other platforms and it will run unmodified. It's the promise of Java only better. It's like having the best of both worlds: the ease of .NET combined with the cross-platform nature of Java.

As you might imagine, reading news about Microsoft open sourcing .NET gave me a reason to reflect on the future of Xojo and if I really wanted to hitch my wagon to a technology made by a small company that very well could be obsoleted within a year or two if the .NET train delivers on its promises and actually goes fully and officially cross-platform. Does the promise of working in one. heavily supported, language and ecosystem provide everything a cross-platform developer needs? Does this mean that there is a looming end in the near future for Xojo?

Absolutely not.

There are roughly three places where ,NET technologies consume Xojo nearly wholely:

1. Visual Studio - While it's technically possible to write .NET code without Visual Studio, the IDE is so good that you're a fool if you do. Visual Studio has features that cater to the needs of just about every developer and it's amazingly stable. Add to that a rich plugin ecosystem that extends the IDE and you have one of the best development environments in the industry.

Xojo, by comparison, isn't even close to being there. The IDE has performance issues on some platforms, doesn't have a rich plugin environment, and can be slow even on supported platforms. And with the announcement of the Visual Studio Community Edition (which is Visual Studio Professional, free), the Xojo IDE being a paid product adds another challenge that the company needs to address. You can develop entire solutions in .NET, using Visual Studio without paying a penny. With Xojo, you're going to pay at least $99 just to write for one single platform.

2. Stability - I'm not going to pretend that Xojo apps don't have stability problems. Xojo developers learn to compensate for those issues with a variety of tricks but, the fact remains, I would never choose Xojo for a large scale project that required rock solid reliability. My choice would always be C# and the .NET framework. Thankfully, Xojo has been laser focused on this issue lately and it's getting much better so this might not be a problem for much longer. But, still, for the time being, .NET wins on this issue.

3. Documentation - I don't think anyone can deny that MSDN has some of the best developer documentation in the industry. Xojo, by contrast, has a wiki that provides decent doc but not full. There are still some methods and technologies that the developer is left to figure out on their own with very little guidance and no examples from Xojo. This, like item 3, is getting better but it's not there yet.

Out of the three items listed above, I think items one and two present the largest challenges to Xojo's future in the face of an open sourced .NET.  Thankfully, item one can be fixed pretty easily: rewrite the IDE, focus on stability and performance on all platforms.  Sure, that will take time but it's not insurmountable.

Item 2, on the other hand, presents a larger problem for Xojo. The company behind the language has a history of moving too fast and not fixing things in a timely fashon. For example, they're hard at work on giving Xojo users the ability to write iOS apps but there are several stability issues on the desktop that have never been addressed even after multiple releases. If the language is going to compete, the company needs to change this and start to take stability seriously.  I'd love to use Xojo in enterprise app development, but I'd have to be crazy to do that right now. That needs to get better (and it is) fast.

So my final conslusion is that Xojo can compete with open sourced .NET. It's going to be a bloody battle and one where Xojo Inc is going to have to be ready to make some changes to win, but it's a battle that can be won. Xojo users are fiercely loyal. We want to believe in the company and we're willing to fight for it. That's important. Xojo Inc just needs to saddle up and go kick some ass.

1 comment:

mrsmultipara said...

What advantages does Xojo have in comparison to .NET apart from x-platform?