John Andrews is the president and CEO of Evans Data, a market research firm that focuses on developer issues. Andrews sat down with eWEEK Senior Editor Darryl K. Taft at the Evans Data Developer Relations Conference April 8 in Redwood City, Calif., to discuss trends in the developer world.
What are some of the trends that you see right now in the developer ranks?
I think one of them is the developer programs in the past have been really content-driven, and most of the vendors have been pushing content out to the developers and developing content internally. Whereas now, as we think about Web 2.0 technologies as well as the whole more collaborative environment, most companies are trying to develop a community that really is much more interactive. And in some cases, they’ve developed community properties that are really controlled by the developers or the users. IBM has examples of that on its site, but also you can see evidence of this in many other companies and how they’re performing. I think that’s one key trend.
I think the whole notion of continuing to provide free software and/or APIs to the developer community is really growing as well. And, again, trying to make the developer more productive is key in this much more open and open standards world. And we’re seeing one of the last areas of the market start to think that way, too, which a year ago you might not have thought possible … and that’s talking to people like Sprint or AT&T. They’re really thinking through now how to change that walled garden perspective and really go open and open access and create a much more open standards world and give developers more paths to get their applications to market.
Can you elaborate on that last point about the carriers?
The carriers have always been very controlling of developers. Verizon’s probably been the most controlling. Recently they said they were going to open up their network and allow far more applications to be accessible using their network. So they’ve said that, but if you look underneath the covers, there are a lot of stipulations. But then you got AT&T and Sprint here that are indeed talking about the same things. And I think in the mobility space, one of the complaints the handset guys have always had is the carriers control the freeway and access. And the carriers are now starting to learn they can’t do that anymore if they want to have a vibrant community. And given the fact that much more of their business is going to be data driven and the only way they’re going to get that data-driven business is through applications, and the only way they’re going to get those applications is through more numbers of developers developing, they’ve had to open up their world.
But will it be a situation like Apple and the constraints it’s put on developers with the iPhone SDK [software development kit]?
It’s a possibility. And, again, Verizon would be a case in point where there are constraints. But I think, from discussions with a couple of the other carriers, they’re looking at becoming as open as they need to be.
The Issues Are …
So what is the issue? Intellectual property? Security? What?
It’s all the above. I mean, like in Verizon’s case, it used to be if you weren’t certified by Verizon and if you didn’t have the potential to be a global application, they didn’t allow you to be part of the network. And that’s a big constraint. We just heard from Google how they opened up the world with their APIs and they don’t control their use. What these companies are finding is where they need to help these developers is with their go-to-market, not with constraining the development process itself.
So the trend about community building, do you believe social networking will be a bigger part of that?
It is a part of that today, and it’s becoming a bigger part of it. Social networking, RSS, Atom feeds, even creating “spaces” like IBM has in its developerWorks, where people can set up their own avatars and have their own spaces. Yes, it’s definitely a phenomenon that’s catching on.
What are your views on the whole virtual world trend with things like Second Life, as it impacts developers?
I think it’s still very mixed. You asked the question about social networking; our current research indicates that about half of the professional world looks at social networking as something that they want to pull into either their enterprise or their program. There’s another half that is saying we don’t really know the business value yet, we don’t have any plans yet. We’re not saying we’re not ever going to, but if you ask us today, the answer is no. So there are still some big question marks.
Second Life has not lived up to its expectations from a year ago. There were a number of companies we were working with that said Second Life would take the place of many different things, and it hasn’t. So it’s been slower to bear fruit.
You’re talking existing developer programs? IBMuses it in theirs.
There are a few programs that use it, but again, it’s not a big part of their program. It’s not a big part of IBM’s program. It’s very niche. You have to be into it. And if you talk to developers specifically, they’ll go, “Why would I do that? It doesn’t help me. And I’m all about making money and driving productivity, and that just doesn’t do it.”
It’s a niche. And a number of these companies have to have it in their palette of offerings because it’s that Web 2.0 kind of thing. And a lot of these companies are pushing their brand to be part of that Web 2.0 next generation.
What trends are you seeing in the rich Internet applications [RIA] arena?
No. 1, Flash is the incumbent, the leader. But if you look at Flex, [Adobe] AIR, [Microsoft] Silverlight and Eclipse RCP [Rich Client Platform], all of them have smaller market share. But if you look at the next 12 to 18 months, they just about double their current market share. And interesting enough, Silverlight almost triples. Silverlight is very, very popular with this Web 2.0 technology developer.
What do you attribute that to? General curiosity? Microsoft marketing?
I think Microsoft marketing and the fact that Microsoft supports its products very well. And many people think about Microsoft as not the innovator-which they aren’t in many cases-but, boy, they’re the fastest follower you can find. When you look at developer support and quality of product, and then you look at how those products tie back into the stack so easily, it really facilitates the productivity of these developers. So that’s that.
From our standpoint, Adobe and Microsoft from the RIA side are the leaders and will be the leaders. IBM likes to think that Eclipse, and the Rich Client Platform, is going to be, but it’s not. It hasn’t grabbed the market share that they thought it would.
Do you think the Linux support will boost that?
You know, I think from the RIA standpoint, the OS is really transparent if you do it right. I think it’s OS-agnostic.
But you just have to do it, though, because Silverlight has Moonlight as its Linux implementation, and then Adobe has introduced a beta of a Linux version of AIR.
Exactly, so the OS becomes a non-issue, and it really gets down to the performance of the RIA. And Silverlight’s very good, and it’s being adopted rapidly.
Benefit of Dynamic Languages
What do you think the benefit of dynamic languages is for developers who want to launch new and next-generation applications and make money?
If you look at people who are doing Web 2.0-ish kinds of things like RIAs and social networking mashups, scripting languages dominate and, based on our research, are utilized about two times more than the Microsoft set of products. XML, of course, plays a big part in that. And then following the scripting languages is Java.
We hear tales that Java is passe, that particularly for enterprise application development lighter-weight frameworks are taking over. Do you see that in your research?
Clearly, Java’s reached a point where the growth rates are hard to get to. Clearly, these lighter-weight implementations are being used where possible. But when people prognosticate about the death of Java, it’s not going anywhere.
We see a world that’s very heterogeneous. There’s a whole set of capabilities that Java does extremely well that these dynamic languages aren’t going to replace. And furthermore, if it’s working, these enterprises aren’t going to go out and rearrange their plumbing for a fad.
So no, Java’s here to stay. And Java’s done a much better job with the lightweight implementations in the mobility world. So it’s pervasive in the mobility world. And now they’ve come out with JavaFX, which is supposed to play a little bit in the RIA world.
How much traction have you folks seen for agile development?
Our recent research says if you’re building applications in the realm of social networking, rich Internet or Web 2.0, four out of 10 developers are using agile programming techniques. And over the next 12 to 18 months, the forecast is another 30 percent will adopt it. So this whole lightweight implementation, combining both public and internal data into very interactive applications with smaller teams, is perfect for agile. So it’s going gangbusters, because by our calculations, 30 percent of all developers are doing Web 2.0 stuff.