Developer Kings

By eweek  |  Posted 2001-01-08

When historians look back on the current expansion phase of the Internet, they will identify one of its key drivers as the ascendancy of the software developer into the drivers seat.

It used to be that the corporate Chief Information Officer, the information technology (IT) manager and other blended business/technology managers held the keys to economic power. But they are being cast into a reactive mode as developments on the Internet start to outpace local ideas.

The developer-as-king is apparent in several ways. One is the ongoing survival of Microsoft, even with an antitrust decision going against it and the world moving beyond its core Windows platform. Microsoft catered to a generation of developers, giving them the tools and framework in which to work. Now that community in turn is sustaining Microsoft, keeping a certain adaptability to Windows in the midst of Microsofts legal difficulties.

Ironically, the proliferation of Windows enabled cheap development platforms based on Intel hardware, slashing the cost of development compared with the IBM, Hewlett-Packard and Sun Microsystems workstations that preceded them. As many of these Intel platforms found their way into programmers homes for after-hours work, the version of Unix best geared to Intel hardware — Linux — began to grow in popularity and spawn the collaborative development of freely shared code.

It may seem odd to grant Microsoft credit for generating the open source code movement, but by driving down the cost of a desktop, it democratized access to computing power. By doing so in a highly proprietary manner, it generated a grassroots wish to fight domination. With an Internet infrastructure needing to be built, the only thing missing was the coordination of groups of developers in guerilla assaults on the domineering power. Open source code team leaders, like Michael Thiemann (the first open C++ compiler), Larry Wall (Perl) and Brian Behlendorf (Apache), seized the role.

Now collaborative tools are making developers kings, and HP, IBM and Sun cater to them in developer networks, trying to benefit from their creations.

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