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What Developers Think: Then and Now

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

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.

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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.

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