State of Trading Platforms Late 2019, Early 2020

System Trading

Dec 16

Below I briefly review the most popular trading platforms available for active futures traders. Right now, I think NinjaTrader and Tradestation are still the leaders but both platforms still have very basic problems and need significant improvement.

NinjaTrader

A powerful all-around platform for both system and discretionary traders with many annoying rough edges. This is one of the best platforms for both discretionary and system development. The strong capability and open platform is why I built BeyondBot and AlphaReveal’s OrderFlowDashPro for NinjaTrader.

Best:

  • Best & Most Open Platform For Extension
  • Best Community Support
  • Best Support for Third Party Developers
  • Strong all around capability
  • Tick/event based backtesting

Biggest Problems:

  • No docking/grid window management. Window management is the worst of any trading program.
  • Data support and management is great but cannot compete with Tradestation ease-of-use for system development due to lack of continuous contracts and need for multiple data vendors.
  • No easy scripting capability for system development. The System creation Wizard is poor.
  • Like most retail programs, the trading and charting are tied together which is mostly useful but can be limiting.
  • Market Replay is powerful but clumsy and difficult for actual use.
  • DOM is powerful but too chunky, lots of unused space

Key Strengths:

  • Good support for discretionary traders
  • Good backtesting support for tick based bars
  • Event based backtesting/trading system support
  • Powerful support for third-party custom programming and expansion
  • Modern charting
  • Powerful backtesting
  • Strong market replay but inconvenient and inefficient compared to the most Tradovate and more modern platforms.
  • Strong community support
  • Support for many data providers but no included data like Tradestation
  • Supports modern C# development
  • Good technical support with responsive replies

Weaknesses:

  • The worst window management of any platform I’ve seen. Failed to fix the issue in NT 8 and even managed to make it worse. Stupendously still doesn’t support grid based charting! Absolutely ridiculous.
  • DOM Trading / Depth of Market used to be top notch but now would be considered fair– bulky and not as responsive as desired. Inability to work around TT fee for static DOM is also downside.
  • Market Replay used to be the best but inconvenient compared to other platforms like Tradovate. Not efficient enough.
  • Product seems to have lost vision with developers choosing to put in a lot of questionable features vs. improving the core.
  • Lots of half baked features like the system wizard that is difficult and not very useful, an AI generation mode that lacks many features to make it useful like out-of-sample verification
  • Very few indicators out-of-box.
  • Multi-broker support for existing customers only
  • While supporting C#, the difficulty level is higher then it needs to be

Tradestation

The standard for system developers but starting to show its age. Software seems to lack vision, i.e. newer versions require more clicks to perform basic operations. This is still the best platform for rapidly prototyping systems-– the combination of EasyLanguage and the Tradestation data feed is hard to beat.

Best:

  • Easy and efficient scripting for system development
  • Great built-in data capabilities for backtesting

Biggest Problems:

  • Not easy to extend/not very open
  • Not easy to backtest or develop systems that are non time based
  • Lacking strong value proposition for discretionary traders

Key Strengths:

  • Powerful time based backtesting
  • Convenient for rapid prototyping
  • Best included data support for backtesting
  • Strong community support
  • Platform most often used by serious system developers
  • Good support from Tradestation via their forums too

Weaknesses:

  • Poor support for backtesting non-time based bars. Running systems on non-time bars often cause slowness and instability.
  • Poor support for third-party customization and expansion
  • Lacking market replay or other features for discretionary traders
  • Charting and window management are okay but outdated
  • Platform seems to have lost direction in newer editions
  • Slow to make improvements
  • Reports show their age and haven’t been improved. MultiCharts reports look much better.
  • Limited provision for backtesting tick data and order book data
  • Question regarding portfolio backtesting

Multicharts

A great looking multi-broker alternative to Tradestation with support for PowerLanguage– an EasyLanguage-like scripting language.

Best:

  • System reporting capabilities
  • Alternative to Tradestation
  • Looks great

Key Strengths:

  • Powerful scripting similar to EasyLanguage
  • Great looking reports
  • Many modern trading features that Tradestation lacks.
  • Support for multiple data vendors
  • Multi-broker support
  • Active development

Weaknesses:

  • My biggest question in my mind is trading stability. Trading on multi-broker platform is far more risky in my experience. I would have more confidence trading on NinjaTrader or Tradestation. I do know pros who use the platform though.
  • Tradestation data pulls is fast. When I used this platform in the past, my data pulls were slow. I am not sure where the fault lies. But, it made backtesting a pain compared to Tradestation.
  • Strange decision to break up the EasyLanguage and C# versions of the software when a single platform supporting both would be better.
  • Weaker ecosystem then NinjaTrader

MotiveWave

A powerful charting platform with backtesting, charting, and support for PC and MAC. This is one of the few platforms that attempts to support everything (i.e. like Tradestation, NinjaTrader, and Multicharts)

Best:

  • Superb Charting
  • Great out of box capabilities
  • Supports PC and MAC

Key Problems:

  • Built on Java when C# is far better for Windows systems.
  • Required compiling for strategy development and lacks integrated editor. 
  • Strategy development looks work intensive compared to Tradestation or MultiCharts or even NinjaTrader (Ninja has integrated editor and support for Visual Studio).
  • No community support 
  • Minimal third party support

Tradovate

A discount broker cloud based platform with nice grid-based charting, DOM, and the most convenient market replay capabilities I have seen. However, the platform lags, lacks backtesting, and has limitations. NinjaTrader only needs to improve their Market Replay and charting/window-management to compete while Tradovate would need to add backtesting and a third-party ecosystem to compete with Ninja.  Support not as responsive as NinjaTrader.

Tradingview

Cloud based platform with some of the best charting built from the ground up. The scripting/backtesting is weak. The pay packages seem expensive for what you get but it is convenient. The best at basic charting and cloud sharing. However, I am unconvinced it can be a serious platform, yet.

TC 2000

A powerful platform favored among stock traders. The defining feature are a “click-and-create” indicators, fast charting, and some of the slickest scans I have seen. The charting interface is fast and the best I’ve seen: while  the charting look-and-feel is dated. However, incredulously it has no backtesting capability! I do not think it supports futures but would make a nice futures platform if they added backtesting.

WealthLab

This was a good first introduction EOD backtesting platform but for U.S customers it is now only available with a qualifying Fidelity trading account. This platform could have competed against Tradestation had Fidelity opened it.

Quantacula / QStudio

A newer online cloud platform from the original developer of Wealthlab. It looks to be focused toward drag-and-drop EOD development. I wasn’t impressed with what I seen online– however, given prior success then I think it is worth keeping an eye on.

Sierra Chart

A powerful futures-centric platform built on C++ for performance.   The interface looks arcane and usability is poor– however, many traders claim to get more out of the platform then they can other platforms.  The developers seem to have taken a minimalist or maximal utilitarian approach to support. Definitely worth a look but investment seems steep.

About the Author

The author is passionate about markets. He has developed top ranked futures strategies. His core focus is (1) applying machine learning and developing systematic strategies, and (2) solving the toughest problems of discretionary trading by applying quantitative tools, machine learning, and performance discipline. You can contact the author at curtis@beyondbacktesting.com.

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