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Analyst: New developer demographics favor Linux, PHP

As .Net and Java programmers age and retire, the future looks bright for dynamic programming languages, Linux, and open source generally, Forrester finds.

Forrester analyst Jeffrey Hammond at POSSCON. Matt Asay

COLUMBIA, S.C.--Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer might agree with The Who that "the kids are alright," but he's unlikely to appreciate their changing taste in programming languages and operating systems. But then, neither will Oracle CEO Larry Ellison.

After all, according to at the Forrester analyst Jeffrey Hammond, speaking here Thursday at the 2010 Palmetto Open Source Conference, the rising generation of developers are more familiar with Ruby and PHP than Java or .Net, and increasingly opt to develop and deploy enterprise and Web applications on Linux rather than Windows or Unix.

The beginning of the end for old-school enterprise software?

Maybe, but it's going to take time. For example, Hammond's research has led Dr. Dobbs Journal to conclude, "As the development staff at a shop turns over, the new generation will push to adopt...dynamic languages" in lieu of Java and .Net. But they can only grow old so fast. In the interim, Java and .Net have a decent shelf life.

But there does appear to be a definite expiration date on these old-school programming languages. Interest in dynamic languages like PHP and Ruby is not complementary to Java and .Net, as Savio Rodrigues found, but rather is happening at their expense.

The "youthquake" threatens to shake up old hierarchies.

This demographic shift is indicative of much more than a passing fad in lightweight development, reflecting, rather, a deep and abiding interest in open source, as I've written, but one that is maturing.

Interest in open source is no longer simply about "cheap software." In Forrester surveys conducted in 2008 and 2010, Hammond said, there has been a significant shift away from reduced cost as the overwhelming reason for choosing open source, with a 83 percent of IT executives citing "Improve business process execution speed" and 81 percent saying "Support company growth" as the big reasons for open-source adoption.

Why? Because after embracing open source in the depth of the recession to save money (Hammond: "We have seen significant increases in open-source adoption between early 2008 and 2010"), these IT executives learned that it's good for much more than that.

Enterprise CIOs are slowly getting the message. But then, the message really isn't for them. Hence, while only 40 percent of this older crowd surveyed by Forrester acknowledged using open source, roughly 80 percent of the developers surveyed within these same companies said they're using open source.

This trend clearly isn't just a matter of Linux--the Forrester data detail the growth of open-source CMSes like Alfresco and Drupal, open-source application servers like JBoss and Tomcat, etc.--but Linux does very well, even as Windows holds its own:

Forrester/Jeffrey Hammond

The Dr. Dobbs crowd skews toward .Net, so it's not surprising to see such healthy interest in Windows deployment. The Eclipse crowd is all about Java, so it's also not surprising to see less of a Windows bias.

What is surprising in both communities is how much of the deployment is shifting to Linux. Forrester's data on Windows development? The Eclipse survey found that 62 percent of respondents use Windows for development, while 71 percent of the Dr. Dobbs crowd does. Now compare that to deployment.

Windows, in other words, appears to be moving backward: it's the platform developers use for development because it's what sits on their desktops much of the time, but when companies need to move an application into production the answer is increasingly Linux.

That shift is only going to accelerate as the older developer population ages and retires.

"Developers are increasingly in control," said Hammond at POSSCON, as open source breaks the stranglehold enterprise bureaucracy can impose on development by allowing productivity to be a download away. That rising generation of developers continues to use Microsoft technologies and Java, but is growing up on open source.