Leaving Windows

A new study suggests more developers are walking away from Microsoft's operating systems.

Only months after the long-awaited launch of Windows Vista, survey results released in July indicate a continuing shift away from development targeting Windows operating systems.

Although Windows remains the dominant platform, Evans Data Corp.'s biannual North American Development Survey indicates that today, 64.8 percent of the survey respondents are targeting most of their applications at some version of Windows, with a 2 percent drop expected over the next 12 months. In contrast, 74 percent of respondents to a spring 2006 Evans Data survey said they were developing to Windows.

The Santa Cruz, Calif.-based market researcher has conducted these surveys for more than 10 years. The Spring 2007 North American Development Survey is based on interviews with more than 430 software developers and IT managers. Survey results for the Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) and Asian-Pacific regions are expected this month.

Continued Erosion
The North American report concludes that application "availability and compatibility are primary factors" in developers' choices of target operating systems. Has the wait for Windows Vista/.NET 3.0, which shipped in November for businesses, and the Visual Studio tooling, which is still in beta, affected the survey results?

"We look out about one year with reliable information," explains John Andrews, president and CEO of Evans Data. "When we look out 12 months -- you'd think the Vista surge should come in 12 months -- we don't see that reflected in our data. We see continued erosion from Windows to other OSes, the majority being Linux."

John  Andrews
"A third of developers using Windows as their host are developing open source."
John Andrews, President and CEO, Evans Data Corp.

According to Evans Data's spring 2007 survey results, Windows XP is the primary target platform for most apps today and next year, at 46.3 percent. Windows 2003 is 10.8 percent, Windows Vista is 4.3 percent and Windows 2000 is 3.4 percent.

Targeting Linux
As Andrews noted, his company's research shows that more developers are targeting their applications at Linux in 2007 -- some 11.8 percent (spread over multiple distributions), compared with 8.8 percent in 2006, an increase of 34 percent.

Windows is most popular for database, business logic and desktop development, versus Linux, which is strongest in client/server and Web development, according to Evans Data.

Survey results also showed growth for "niche operating systems for non-traditional client devices," says Andrews.

The use of Windows as a development environment on the desktop "remains steady." However, "a third of developers using Windows as their host are developing open source," says Andrews.

Different Interpretations
It's reasonable to assume that more companies are using Linux to some extent, particularly in large heterogeneous environments, but does that mean developers are moving away from Windows?

"I'm not sure I agree that 'fewer developers are targeting Windows,' unless they mean 'a smaller percentage' rather than absolute numbers," says Billy Hollis, a consultant with Next Version Systems LLC in Nashville. "I'm pretty sure the absolute number of .NET developers is increasing, at least here in Tennessee. I've been interviewing for a client for the last two months, and the demand for .NET development talent has never been this high, even in the glory days of 1999."

Hollis describes his clients as midsized companies in the $10 million to $500 million annual-revenue range that generally try to avoid multiple technologies due to interoperability issues. "I know it's a different story in the large organizations," he says. "Because of legacy systems, acquisitions, etc., their interop issues are much bigger."

Directions on Microsoft analyst Michael Cherry is skeptical about drawing generalizations about developers, although he notes it's probably safe to assume nobody is going to write a new application for Windows 2000. "There's no question that developers have a lot more options," he says, "but to a large extent, developers will look at what the largest market is. And I still think the answer to that question will be Windows."

Enterprise developers, in his view, are pragmatic: "They're probably looking at some other factors besides the operating system, such as the availability of a database and the availability of modules that they'll be able to use, and the availability of tools."

Drop off in VB
Windows as a target OS isn't the only thing showing decline in Evans Data's survey results. The Fall 2006 North American Development survey showed that use of Visual Basic (VB), in all its flavors -- VB6, earlier versions and VB.NET -- had dropped 35 percent since the spring. The 2007 survey indicates "another several-point drop," says Andrews. "It has slowed somewhat but we continue to see erosion there as well."

However, Andrews says, "We can't draw a direct correlation, but we've been watching both [Windows and VB] for a period of time and they both continue to erode."

No one would argue -- except maybe Microsoft -- that VB's migration to Visual Basic.NET and the .NET platform went smoothly. The .NET version, first released in 2002, involved some breaking changes as the language became fully object-oriented.

The upcoming release, VB 9.0 (.NET has been dropped from the name), expected to ship with Visual Studio 2008/.NET 3.5 in February, adds data features, notably support for Language Integrated Query. Microsoft is also working on the next version, currently known as "Visual Basic 10," which will enhance the language's dynamic functionality for use in .NET and Microsoft's cross-platform browser plug-in Silverlight.

As VB continues to decline, according to Evans Data's survey data, C# adoption is "increasing, albeit very slowly over the last year," reports Andrews. In the fall 2006 survey, 26 percent of the developers surveyed were using C#. Java led market penetration with 46 percent, according to Andrews, and it continues to lead in 2007.

In his consulting work, Hollis hasn't seen a migration from VB to Java, but he says a "substantial fraction" of VB6 users have moved to C#.

"Both languages are roughly equivalent in terms of functionality," says Hollis. "VB's a bit faster to program in; C# has better resources in terms of documentation."

Microsoft, for its part, says its own reports don't show the same trends as Evans Data's. "As Microsoft did not participate in the survey and was not privy to the methodology, we cannot provide an in-depth analysis of this report," comments Jay Roxe, group product manager for Visual Studio, in an e-mail. "However, our reports do not show the decline that Evans Data is showing and Evans readily admits that Windows remains the dominant development platform."

Target Operating System Today and Next Year
Which Operating System Do/Will Most of Your Apps Target?
Valid Percent
Windows XP 46.3
Windows 2003 10.3
Windows Vista 4.3
Windows 2000 3.4
Red Hat Linux 7.2
Novell SuSe Linux 2.2
Other Linux 4.3
Solaris (including Open Solaris) 3.4
HP-Unix 1.8
Other Unix 1.3
Spring 2007 North American Development Survey, Evans Data Corp.

Unclear Roadmap
The long-term future of Windows remains hazy. Microsoft has stated that another OS, dubbed "Windows 7," will follow Vista. But the company is also talking about its "Software Plus Services" strategy, which encompasses Windows, Windows Live and a new computational model and user interface. At the Microsoft Worldwide Partners Conference 2007 in Denver last month, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer told his keynote audience: "The programming model remains .NET and Windows, which is great, but we designed these things from the get-go to take advantage of modern technologies that allow for virtualization, scale-out, management and the like, and we're going to have a lot more to talk to you about in this arena in the next 12 months."

Information is trickling out about how developers will be able to build apps using Windows Live components such as e-mail, instant messaging, storage and authentication. The Spaces Photo storage and Windows Live Contact controls are available in beta now.

Microsoft is expected to discuss the first version of the development platform for what it's unofficially calling the "Cloud OS" later this year. However, as Directions on Microsoft analyst Greg DeMichillie notes in a recent RDN column ("Waiting for the Platform," July 1, 2007): The services today aren't built on the same underlying technologies, and the announced licensing for the existing Live services is riddled with exceptions.

Hollis offers a measured view of this disorderly landscape. "There's a lot of confusion just because there's so much new technology," says Hollis. "Microsoft has a better platform -- .NET -- on which to innovate. So there are a lot of things coming out more quickly than they did before, which leads to confusion, but it also leads to more choices, which open up opportunities."
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