Software development's winners and losers, 2009 edition

The year that loved smartphones, scripting languages, the cloud, and open source was not always kind to developers

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Winner: Open source software
No one thought an open source company would ever be worth $1 billion, but now that Sun owns MySQL, it is about to sell itself to Oracle for $7 billion and change. Sure, the server hardware business is nice and Java is a wonderful brand, but everyone assumes that the meat of the deal lies in control of the MySQL copyrights. That's why the Europeans are so concerned. MySQL's success with marketing itself by giving away copies is one of the big reasons that open source is now the dominant business model for many companies. Even the most proprietary companies have found ways to emulate most of the openness by creating licenses like "shared source" and "developer's editions."

Loser: Open source software
Yes, open source software changed the paradigm for software development, encouraging more sharing and access to the source code. Yes, there are more open source companies than ever. But despite this success, the open source companies are more ruthless and revenue hungry than ever, which should come as no surprise to anyone with enough brains to realize that giving everything away forever is not a great business model.

[ It's that time of the year again -- don't forget to check out InfoWorld's 2009 geek gadget gift guide. | Keep up with app dev issues and trends with InfoWorld's Fatal Exception and Strategic Developer ]

There seems to be no end of companies that will (1) release the source code to some creaky "community edition" as a sales tool for (2) charging real fees for a more usable version. More and more open source software companies are looking and sounding like the car salesmen who advertise new vehicles at impossible prices just to lure customers who discover that the real cars with real engines cost much more. There may be no better indication that the open source world is falling under the same pull of fiscal gravity that curtails most mortals than the letter to the European Commission that Richard Stallman signed proclaiming that MySQL can't flourish as a GPL-only product without the support of a commercial version.

Winner: Scripting languages
When Google launched the Google App Engine, it pushed out the Python version first. PHP Web applications like WordPress and Drupal couldn't be more common. Ruby on Rails continues to be more mature. If it weren't for the fact that Java's solid core supports most of JRuby and Jython, many programmers wouldn't ever use a compiler. And the Java programmers themselves are enamored with Groovy, the slick mechanism that gives Java programmers all of the depth and strength of the fully typed and optimized API with all of the shorthand fun of a scripting language.

Loser: SQL
Every once and a bit, the mob's opinion turns in a flash. Just as Maximilien Robespierre found himself led to the guillotine a few years after he ousted the monarchy, SQL finds itself on the ropes. Just a few years ago, programmers quit thinking about data structures, knowing that they could just store everything in some database table. "Let the database do the work" became the mantra. Now there are dozens of cutting-edge experiments in databases that proudly wear the acronym "NoSQL." MongoDB, Cassandra, and CouchDB are just a few, and they all proclaim that the new currency of the Web -- Facebook updates and other social network chatter -- doesn't need all of the ACID protections given to the old currency, cold-hard dollars, tallied in the databases of banks. Consistency and crash-survivability don't scale easily, so let's just forget about them.

Winner: Cloud hype
Is there a developer who doesn't want to let someone else worry about backups and scalability? New features and competitors keep coming. Google now lets you program in Java, Amazon helps you stream video, and those are just a few of the dozens of little advances. The arena is very price sensitive, thanks in part to Amazon's decision to constantly search for the most accurate prices for the services.

Loser: Cloud reality
Bit by bit, byte by byte, everyone is starting to realize that cloud computing today isn't much different from renting servers from co-location shacks, even as we come to grips with how it needs to be different. In December, Amazon's EC2 was hit by a botnet, just like the botnets bedeviling every other earthbound network. Guarantees? Read the terms of service and grit your teeth. They might give you your data back -- then again, they might not.

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