[NB: this post was written in 2011 on XE Starter being introduced. Things have (slightly) changed since then – see the end.]
In the unlikely event anyone who reads Delphi blogs hasn’t heard yet, the low-end edition of Delphi XE — the ‘Starter’ edition — has been released. And, in short — it’s good! It’s also probably rather later in arriving than it should have been — D2007 Starter (released suitably late in the product cycle), D2009 Starter and D2010 Starter would all have made good products too.
You can check out the feature matrix here. In practice, I’ve found this to be mostly but not entirely reliable, though in a good way. Specifically, the command line tools are in fact included (not the command-line compiler itself however), along with the resource ‘manager’ and Subversion integration (small note to its developers though — setting Scaled to False is in fact cheating. Oh, and I’m jealous of your great eyesight):
Unfortunately, the debugger is missing the features the matrix claims it is missing (no tooltip evaluation is particularly annoying). The editor is too, though whether the loss of Error Insight and Live Templates is a substantive one I’ll leave other people to fulminate on.
The RTL and VCL source is also missing, and with respect to the actual libraries, one potential ‘gotcha’ is TXMLDocument
not being included not being available at design time. I say this not as a fan of that particular component — in fact, I think it’s terribly over-engineered for very little effect, beyond killing performance — but simply since it is considered the default way Delphi supports XML programming. Nonetheless, the lower-level IDOMXXX interfaces, together with both their MSXML and ADOM implementations, are included. I would personally advocate using these over TXMLDocument/IXMLDocument anyhow, so maybe the latter’s absense isn’t so much of a bad thing on balance. [Edit: the DCUs for TXMLDocument are actually there, along with those for, er, certain other things that may or may not be mentioned elsewhere in this post.]
The DB side is also very much cut down — DBExpress isn’t included at all, nor TClientDataSet, so the bundled choices are down to IBExpress and the BDE (!). I understand the implicit promotion of InterBase (it’s another product that Embarcadero wish to sell you, and this makes for a non-invasive yet prominent way to advertise it to Starter purchasers), but even after reading the RAD Studio project manager’s explanation of the BDE’s inclusion, I still find that situation bizarre (you want to promote Delphi as a contemporary development tool, right?). Nonetheless, compared to the final Standard edition and two Personal editions of yore, you do get the VCL’s basic DB framework, which allows you to use third party alternatives to the missing standard DB parts as you see fit.
Also unlike those older low-end editions, substantially all of Delphi’s regular COM tooling is included. I can quite imagine this to be an oversight to an extent — indeed, the feature matrix seems to suggest less of the COM tooling is included than actually is, though I’m not au fait enough with the matrix’s jargon to be totally sure. At the very least, it’s surely a big inconsistency in rationale — i.e., how on earth is DBExpress a ‘professional’ if not an ‘enterprise’ feature where COM development is not, especially given the year is 2011 rather than 1997? Anyhow, quite apart from everything else, as a supposedly ‘low end’ native code development tool for Windows, this makes Delphi Starter completely out of MSVC Express’ league, regardless of the latter being free. Put another way, given good quality COM tooling is included, I’d say Embarcadero might as well promote the fact!
Other than that, it would be amiss not to raise the traditional complaint, so… coming from a person whose first experience of XE is the Starter edition, I’ve got to say the help is still crap. I installed it since I’ve found the docwiki to be a pretty good (well, pretty OK…) experience over all, which led me to vaguely hope the offline help might make for a local version of docwiki experience. Ha! DExplore is as appalling as always (all that flickering! The way it has a tendency not to quit while it’s behind when you tell it to!), the help content is a bit behind the docwiki, requests to hide C++ signatures keep on being forgotten, and the content is completely ignorant of the Starter edition and its limitations. Oh well, maybe next time…
Having said that, F1 does work (small mercies I know…), and a PDF of Bob Swart’s Delphi XE Starter Essentials is downloadable free from the registered users page (link) — a book that makes for an invaluable introductory resource for almost all facets of the Starter edition.
[Note: I made a few edits to this post after the originally publishing it. Coming back to it two years later, one of the ‘certain other things’ I alluded to in one of those edits – TClientDataSet – is now officially a part of XE3 Starter. Conversely, the BDE has finally been dropped, along with IBExpress (they are still around in more expensive editions of Delphi and RAD Studio however). Something you get that you didn’t in XE Starter however is FireMonkey for Win32, though the value of that is severely limited by the lack of source code (to figure out how to work around the framework’s many bugs) and OS X compiler (to make that working around nevertheless worthwhile, at least potentially).]