What do developers want?

This year's programming survey reveals developers’ conservative side. Now that they've embraced Web development and picked their favorite tools, they're not budging

The watchword of IT today is to make the most of what you've got. Developers are no exception, according to the results of this year's InfoWorld Programming Survey. We asked people who build enterprise applications to tell us how they did business in today's economy, and the response was resounding: Stick with the competencies you have and increase your investment in those tools and technologies that have proven their value to your organization.

To compile our research, we gathered responses from 467 software development professionals, ranging from C-level executives to IT managers to front-line coders. While our research yielded few jaw-dropping surprises, it does point toward some interesting trends. In many ways, our results mirrored those of last year's survey, in which Web-based interfaces were king and scripting languages such as Python and Perl gave a strong showing despite industry hype surrounding the high-end development platforms from Microsoft and Sun Microsystems.

In addition to the topics we raised last year, we added some new themes to the mix. Given today's tendency to demand increased return from existing investments, we wanted to find out to which technologies companies were most committed, and where they actually planned to increase their expenditures during the next 12 months.

What's more, we wanted to know to what extent the companies we surveyed planned to take advantage of offshore outsourcing -- and the results may surprise you.

Languages and Scripting

It should come as no surprise that the Java and Windows platforms continue to dominate the developer market this year, as they have in the past. In keeping with last year's results, fully 64 percent of respondents cite Java as their preferred language of choice, with Visual Basic coming in second at 56 percent.

Microsoft tops the list of preferred vendors, with 80 percent of those surveyed acknowledging that Redmond supplies some of their development tools. The next three vendors on the list -- Oracle, IBM, and Sun, in that order -- primarily supply tools for Java development.

C and C++ made a strong showing once again, proving that compiled languages for systems programming are still core to the IT operations of many enterprises. As with last year, however, the real story lies in the tremendous popularity of scripting languages across all categories of development. This year, more respondents favor Perl than C, which suggests that the popularity of this utilitarian language continues to grow among Click for larger view. Webmasters and systems administrators.

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C and C++ made a strong showing once again, proving that compiled languages for systems programming are still core to the IT operations of many enterprises. As with last year, however, the real story lies in the tremendous popularity of scripting languages across all categories of development. This year, more respondents favor Perl than C, which suggests that the popularity of this utilitarian language continues to grow among Click for larger view. Webmasters and systems administrators.

In keeping with our respondents' preference for Web-based interfaces over client-server designs, support for PHP remains strong. Similarly, more survey participants cite JavaScript than any other scripting language, followed closely by Unix shell scripting. Overall, 48 percent of respondents say they will increase usage of Web scripting languages over the next year. But the big winner this time around is the object-oriented scripting language Python, which saw a 6 percent gain in popularity, almost doubling last year's results.

Much of the continuing popularity of scripting languages can be attributed to flexible syntax, as well as reduction of the compile-run-debug cycle endemic to traditional compiled languages. In addition, a growing number of significant projects written in scripting languages can likely be credited with their increased acceptance. The

p-to-p file-sharing client BitTorrent, for example, was written in Python, as were projects from a variety of high-profile companies, including Google, Industrial Light & Magic, and NASA.

Conservative Platforms

Among more traditional enterprise technologies, one important trend is the ascendancy of Microsoft's .Net platform over "classic" Windows APIs. This year, 53 percent of respondents cite .Net as their preferred development framework or API, knocking older Win32 technologies such as COM and DCOM out of the top spot to a level below both J2EE and Unix/Linux. Another 51 percent say they will increase usage of .Net in the next 12 months.

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Again, this should come as no surprise to anyone who has followed Microsoft's developer strategy in recent years. The .Net Framework, with its emphasis on managed code via the CLR (Common Language Runtime), represents the state of the art of Windows development and a marked improvement over the old approach. As reported previously, programmers who have taken the plunge have generally given it favorable marks.

But support for C#, the flagship language of .Net, isn't unanimous. A purely object-oriented language designed to address perceived deficiencies of both Java and C++ and built from the ground up to run on the CLR, C# has often been characterized as Microsoft's "Java killer." Judging by our survey results, however, while C# is gaining traction, its success to date is modest.

Compared to last year, the number of respondents who report using C# in their projects increased 6 percent. Still, nearly twice as many survey participants say they are using Visual Basic than C#, which suggests that the majority of the growth in .Net adoption is coming from the installed Windows base, rather than defectors from the Java camps.

On the other hand, while Java remains our survey participants' top pick among programming languages, less than half of our respondents rank J2EE among their frameworks or APIs of choice. Presumably the rest of the Java developers prefer traditional APIs and non-J2EE servers, such as Apache Tomcat.

Integrating With XML

Still, while many developers remain cautious about adopting new technologies, this year's survey points to one clear winner: XML. When asked which technologies they expect their organizations to use more of in the next 12 months, a resounding 71 percent say they will increase use of the structured markup language.

XML goes hand-in-hand with Web services, so it follows that many survey participants also plan to invest in that area. Forty-one percent report they currently have projects underway involving SOAP, UDDI, WSDL, or WS-Security. Another 18 percent say they plan to begin using Web services technologies in the next 12 months.

But the same respondents seem more hesitant when it comes to committing fully to service-oriented architecture. Of those who have invested in SOA, most appear to be in the early pilot stages of development, with 25 percent reporting that they have begun an SOA initiative at the project or application level and 20 percent working at the department or regional level. Only 19 percent say they are currently working on an enterprisewide SOA initiative.

These results are in keeping with the trend we saw last year, in which developers were cautious about buying into big-vendor hype and chose to focus on their existing competencies. Indeed, 61 percent of this year's respondents report that they only upgrade tools or frameworks when the change would solve a specific problem, while the number of respondents who say that they upgrade "rarely" jumped to 12 percent, versus only 4 percent last year.

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Standing Their Ground

If any single conclusion can be drawn from this year's survey results, it's that IT organizations continue to place emphasis on integration and consolidation, rather than launching extensive new projects. But there is evidence this trend is changing.

This year, 33 percent of survey respondents say they already have an enterprise application consolidation project underway in their organization, while only 9 percent say they have such an effort planned for the next 12 months and 7 percent are looking at the two-year timeframe.

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Similarly, this is the year that many organizations plan to take charge of their legacy application infrastructure. The process of replacing mainframes is already underway for 26 percent of respondents, with another 24 percent busy enhancing their mainframe apps to fit into modern architectures. By comparison, only 5 percent have either project planned for the coming year.

Might this mean that the period of belt-tightening among enterprise developers is coming to an end? Will the next few years see a resurgence in organizations' willingness to invest in new initiatives, rather than merely sticking to their guns and maintaining old projects? The signs are encouraging, but only next year's survey results will tell.

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