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Friday, July 03, 2009

Thoughts: being first vs being best

I just read a nice post from DevExpress CTO about this.

We've been among first DO1.X, 2.X and 3.X - there were tons of unique features at that moment.

Some examples:
- We've been using runtime proxies initially - starting from v1.0 in 2003. NHibernate started to use them only in 2005. Now we're using PostSharp-based aspects, and I suspect, many others already started to look onto this ;)
- We've been first who integrated full-text search & indexing into ORM. Initial version supporting Microsoft Search service appeared in 2003; Lucene.Net support have been added in 2005. Now this feature is supported by many other ORM frameworks - e.g. NHibernate and Lightspeed.
- The same is about translatable properties - we've been supporting them starting from 2003. Now they're implemented e.g. in Genom-e.
- We've implemented versioning extension in 2005. Genom-e team added similar historization feature just recently.
- And finally, schema upgrade - it was a part of DO starting from v1.0. Now it exists in many frameworks, but is always implemented as design-time feature. Btw, I understand this brings some benefits (btw, we're going to provide similar feature shortly), but what about runtime? As application users, we used to install new versions of applications without caring about running upgrade scripts. Moreover, as developer, I'd prefer getting all necessary upgrade logic executed automatically. So why all these frameworks are capable only of generating such scripts at design time? Who'll combine them? Who will execute them? Who will produce their versions for other RDBMS? Who will check if existing database version isn't too old? I think, this approach also leads quite many TODOs for very common tasks to leave them for developers.

And, AFAIK, the following features are still unique:
- Paired (inverse) properties - at least as this is done in DO. I.e. in fully commutative way.
- Persistent interfaces - again, I'm speaking about our own version of this feature.
- Access control \ security system
- Action-level instead of state level change logging (used for disconnected state change replication).

So why did DO3.X die? Because of architectural lacks, that initially allowed us to develop it fast. E.g. our mapping support was quite limited. Really, being first usually != being best.

Do you know, that:
- I was 23 years old when first version of DO has been released. I'm 10 years younger than e.g. Frans Bouma ;)
- I had a good experience with RDBMS at that moment, but as you may find, my experience was mainly limited by the scope of SMB web applications, and finally this lead to some architectural lacks in v1.X.
- I had really good programming background - my CV was very good at that point. But I didn't develop a framework comparable by the scale to DO before. But framework development guidelines are quite different in comparison to application development guidelines. Initial architectural lacks are much more painful here: in some cases you simply can't overwhelm them by adding N-th module.

On the other hand, we've got huge ORM and database experience with v1.X-3.X. We've became real experts. We've studied & fixed lots of cases and issues - starting from very frequent ones to those that seem quite hard to face in a particular application (but this doesn't mean you shouldn't keep them in mind). We know much more about what is important, and how this must work.

And what's more important, we've been ultimately the first ones exploring many new paths and features - take a look at above lists ;) Most of features there were later adopted by others - this proves they were good enough, and what's more important, this shows we can generate and implement such ideas earlier than others do. May be that's because I don't like to barely repeat the others. Take NHibernate as an example: isn't it really boring to follow the path passed by others few years ago (I mean hibernate)? Ok, it is already successful, and such a path offers attractive way to start. But is it a good enough reason to plainly repeat it, instead of making something better?

Ok, it was really a kind of rush for us, until we reached our own limits - being the first. But as you know, we didn't stopped on this! We just started a new rush - I hope this shows well what kind characters are staying behind our team ;) Moreover, all these years we've been growing up using all the opportunities we had, and this allowed us to accomplish our almost unimaginable complex task at all. Yes, now we're the only ones supporting not just third-party databases, but having our own, shiny-new, real RDBMS integrated with ORM. And we're almost ready to show the full power of this competitive advantage (wait for sync, and further - Mono Silverlight support). We're going to eliminate necessity to study and use the whole spectra of technologies you need in most of cases, including Entity Framework, Sync Framework, ADO.NET Data Services, .NET RIA Services, SQL Server Compact \ SQLite - and this isn't a full list ;)

Btw, probably, we're the only ORM vendors that won't suffer much from EF appearance: first of all, because our paths are probably the most distant ones from the point of approach to the problem. And secondly, because we already suffered enough from 2-year pause in releases ;) I feel it will be the hard time for many many others - especially the ones offering similar features. LLBLGen Pro, Genom-e, Subsonic, Lightspeed, etc., and even NHibernate (still no LINQ!) - guys, are you well prepared for this fight? At least we are - you know, Russians are used to win the wars during long and cold winters ;)

So what about being first vs being best?

It's simple. We've been carefully taking our time for 2 years. If DO1.X-3.X were mainly the first, we're making DO4.0 mainly the best - although from many points of views it is the first one as well. I'm quite happy that the most complex part of our development path is already passed now. The wheel is rotating now, its speed is growing up. We delivered v4.0 + 2 updates just in June. July promises to be even more attractive from the point of features we're going to deliver.

So I'm repeating myself once more: join DO4 camp ;)

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