What Developers Think

Our survey reveals use trends that IT should watch
Why do you need to know what companies' developers are up to, including what tools they're using? Developers are the early adopters, and the decisions they make can have a big impact on a business' IT capabilities and strategies for years to come.

It's the reason why this time last year we launched the first Forrester-Dr. Dobb's Developer Technographics Survey, to better understand what decisions software development organizations are making. We again enlisted the help of more than 1,000 Dr. Dobb's readers who best represent the software development community thanks to their platform and programming-language independence. Here's what we discovered.

RIAs Are For Real

Rich Internet applications have only gained ground over HTML-based Web sites in the past year. In 2009, it was a dead heat: 27% of respondents were developing RIA-based sites and apps, and 27% were developing HTML-based software. In 2010, 31% of respondents are developing RIA software, but HTML-based development drops to 21%.

Rich Internet application tools are starting to coalesce. When asked their primary RIA framework for deployed applications, 29% say Microsoft's ASP.NET, down significantly from 39% in 2009, while Microsoft Silverlight adoption jumped from 10% up to 18%.

If there's a fast-rising new kid on the RIA block, it's the jQuery lightweight open source JavaScript library. Last year, jQuery wasn't known by enough developers to be included in the survey. This year, thanks in part to Microsoft including jQuery with Visual Studio, jQuery has become much more popular, with 21% of developers polled using it. More often than not, jQuery is used with ASP.NET and Ajax. Most other rich Internet application frameworks--including Flex, GWT, and Dojo--lost ground.

So what about HTML 5, the emerging Web standard? Since a clear definition of HTML 5 is still in limbo, the results aren't that surprising: Only 8% report using HTML 5, but there's much interest, with 52% intending to use it in the next year or so.

For which mobile devices do you develop?

Wider Use Of Open Source

Nearly four out of five developers use some open source software for application development or deployment, little changed from last year. What has changed is the kind of open source software being used. Use of open source operating systems, primarily Linux distributions, jumped to 61% from 48% in 2009. Of the Linux distributions--Red Hat, Ubuntu, SUSE, Debian, and others--Ubuntu leads, used by 17% of Linux users. Canonical's focus on making Ubuntu easy to use seems to be paying off, at least with developers if not consumers.

Other categories of open source software that showed increased adoption include Web servers (Apache) and databases (MySQL, SQLite, PostgreSQL), each of which hit 58%, up from 45% last year. At the app server level, use of Apache Tomcat grew from 10% to 13%.

Both IBM's WebSphere and Oracle's WebLogic experienced more modest adoption, at 6% and 5%, respectively. It's worth noting that Microsoft's .NET 3.x is carrying the biggest load in the app server market, shooting up from 21% use in 2009 to 43% this year. Why? Because developers are finally cutting over to .NET 3.x. The success of Windows 7 is probably the main driver here, but growth in Silverlight adoption is a factor, too.

Most important when it comes to open source, management is increasingly aware of its use in their companies and backing it, says Forrester Research principal analyst Jeffrey Hammond, who collaborated on this survey. In the past, when Hammond would ask about the use of open source tools, developers invariably said "yes," while managers usually said "no." This year, Hammond finds managers are on top of the use of open source in their shops. The most common reason for using open source, cited by 74% of developers, is to accelerate projects; 71% cite reducing costs.

Cloud And Multilingual Developers

This year, 8% of developers are creating cloud-based apps, up from about 4% last year.

The primary cloud service deployment target is somewhat a surprise: Microsoft's Azure platform as a service is used by 32% of developers who create cloud-based apps. Amazon EC2's infrastructure as a service, which has been available much longer, has been adopted by 24%. Google AppEngine, another platform, has 15%. Platforms as a service are gaining ground because of their automatic scaling across hardware, easier implementation, and ability to deploy in the cloud or locally.

Developers have long identified themselves by their languages: a Cobol programmer, a Java developer. That's changing, as 57% are comfortable enough in two or more programming languages to produce professional-quality applications. They routinely mix programming languages--servers written in Java, .NET, and PHP with clients written in JavaScript and Adobe Flex, for instance--to use the best option. Often, they're open source dynamic languages such as Ruby, Python, and PHP.

The coming generation of developers will push to adopt these dynamic languages. IT managers must ensure that processes and application life-cycle management tools can handle the change.

Another slow-burning trend is agile development, used by 37% this year, edging up from 31% last year.

Mobile development hasn't taken off the past year, somewhat surprisingly. In 2009, 10% of developers were writing mobile apps, and that edged up to just 13%. Among those mobile developers, 55% are developing for the iPhone, and 36% for the iPad. But developers aren't hedging their bets: 50% are writing for Android, and 42% for Windows. BlackBerry garners only 19%.

Even more interesting is how they're building mobile apps. Native apps make up 61% of mobile apps being developed. Native apps are written specifically for a target platform--iPhone apps in Objective-C or Android apps in Java, for instance--and typically target smartphones. An alternative would be optimizing apps for the mobile browsers, which only 39% are doing. Just 15% use RIA plug-ins.

If there's one takeaway from this year's Forrester-Dr. Dobb's Developer Technographics Survey, it's this: Developers are increasingly driving technology adoption within their development organizations, making choices that can shape technology skills, platforms, and strategies far down the road. Developers are making these choices not for what's cool, but for the practical reasons of how can they meet the business needs of the company more quickly and at lower cost. Empowering developers this way is proving to be good for developers and for the enterprise as a whole. IT leaders, however, should stay in touch with what decisions their development teams are making.

Jonathan Erickson is editor in chief of Dr. Dobb's. You can write to him at [email protected].

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