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PHP and Perl crashing the enterprise party

Java and .Net used to be the enterprise's primary programming languages, but Perl, Python, and other dynamic languages are hitting the enterprise mainstream.

The enterprise has long favored Java and .Net, but PHP and other dynamic programming languages have left their infancies and are rapidly closing the gap on their more stodgy competitors.

That's the message I got from Bart Copeland, CEO of ActiveState, the "dynamic languages company," in a conversation this past week. I wanted to find out how the Vancouver-based "old school" open-source company is faring in building business solutions and developer tools around Perl, Python and Tcl.

Quite well, as it turns out (and as described by Forrester analyst Jeffrey Hammond). But the story is much bigger than ActiveState.

While dynamic programming languages like PHP and Python dominate Web engineering, the signs that they are breaking Java and .Net's hold on the enterprise are less clear. Forrester recently reported that PHP claims the highest instance of open source use within enterprises, at 57 percent penetration. But it's also the case that the bulk of enterprise software spending goes to Java and .Net-based software.

Who is winning?

Perhaps both are. As Indeed.com's analysis of hiring trends suggests, there are still plenty of jobs in established programming languages like Java and .Net, but there's a boom in PHP and Python jobs, in particular. (Note: the data doesn't segment which jobs are in enterprise IT.)

While Java isn't going away, there are several trends converging on increased adoption of dynamic programming languages like PHP among enterprise developers, as Copeland noted to me, calling them "the workhorses of IT and programming":

Overall, we see use of dynamic languages as growing significantly. This is due to several large trends. First, there's definitely a widespread growth of skills around open source programming languages. There's also a widespread acceptance of open source in the enterprise that didn't exist even five to six years ago. And there are various respective inherent advantages of using dynamic languages--speed, flexibility, ease of use for developers, low-cost, and community support, just to name a few--that continue to push usage trends upward.

Aiding the shift has been the introduction of companies like ActiveState and Zend who "up-level" the conversation from developers to CIOs. Putting a corporate face on open-source programming languages is helping to make them even more palatable to an enterprise audience long on value but short on risk tolerance.

It seems to be working. ActiveState counts Credit Suisse, CA, and others as customers, but plenty of others are sharing in the dynamic languages bounty, too, from in-house use by companies like Google to serious enterprise applications like Drupal (backed by Acquia).

No, Java and .Net aren't going away anytime soon. But then, neither are the dynamic programming languages, which are increasingly blessed "enterprise ready." This is good for enterprise software, and potentially very good for ActiveState, SugarCRM, and others who build their businesses on dynamic programming languages.