Study: Developers Favor Linux

Tuesday Nov 28th 2006 by James Maguire
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A survey of software developers with Linux experience shows a dramatic shift in what they expect to be coding in the months ahead.

In its most recent survey of some 400 software developers with Linux experience, the Evans Data research firm discovered a major change.

The research firm has conducted its Open Source/Linux Development survey 14 times over the last 7 years. Although the firm limits the survey to developers with Linux experience, “Historically, the target platform was dominated by Windows,” says John Andrews, principal analyst with Evans. “Regardless of what kind of developer you are, you’re still trying to make a living, and target the operating system that’s controlling the market.”

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However, in the most recent survey, the developers’ forecast of their target platform has changed. For the first time, these developers said that in the next 12 to 18 months they expect to be developing more Linux apps than Windows apps.

Over the last few years, the number of developers who forecast that they would be coding more Linux than Windows apps has created a clearly rising trend line. Still, “Having those numbers that close for the first time is a pretty significant data point,” Andrews tells Datamation.

“Now, we’ll have to wait and see if that actually happens.”

Linux Desktop

The developer’s survey found at least one additional unusual data point.

Surprising no one, these developers with Linux chops report that their top two development choices are Web-based interfaces and rich client applications. This was expected because these types of apps have such wide usage.

The No. 3 choice, however, falls under the category of “emerging market”: Linux desktop apps. (Perhaps oddly, desktop apps were a more popular development choice than database apps, a traditionally strong area for open source.)

The enthusiasm for desktop apps might be seen as an anomaly: while Linux is strong in the server market, its penetration in the desktop market continues to be very modest.

Indeed, the developers’ enthusiasm for desktop apps “is a slightly surprising finding,” Andrews says.

The explanation: “We see more of that in geographies other than North America,” he says. “We see more traction, for instance, in Europe and in the Asia Pacific region around the [open source] desktop.”

Cost, he notes, is a very big factor in some of these less affluent markets. Moreover, “The lineage factor, the Microsoft and Windows heritage, isn’t there.”

A Philosophical Bunch

A survey finding that likely would shock no developer with a Linux bent: the rationale for developing in open source remains consistent to its core tradition. The survey finds that the three leading reasons for coding in open source are: the philosophy of open source, open access to the source code, and cost savings.

Tellingly, the Evans survey finds that developers rank these top three factors equally. On the face of it, the fact that philosophical concerns are ranked equally with cost savings runs counter to business logic – and certainly software development is a business.

“Not necessarily from a developer’s standpoint,” Andrews says. “Fortunately or unfortunately, from an open source standpoint that philosophy is a big issue.”

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The organizations that these developers work for (or are aligned with) will be taking a look at many open source applications in the next two years, the survey finds.

A hefty 69% will consider open source browser Firefox, with 70% planning on considering application development software.

Given the popularity of open source among survey respondents, it’s not surprising that they favor Linux as the best OS for the majority of applications. It's their top pick for Web-related apps (68%), embedded systems development (61%), and high performance computing (HPC) (56%). Linux is also a popular selection for personal productivity apps (44%).

In terms of security, survey respondents indicate they think Linux is safer than all Windows releases – by a wide margin. Respondents also rank Linux safer than all Unix variants (including the Mac OS), though by a smaller percentage. The reason behind respondents’ belief in the security of Linux: 81% report that their servers have never been compromised by a security attack.

One time-honored open source practice that the survey reveals is very much alive: developers are using chunks of code from the open source library, or open source third party solutions, to complete their own projects.

The survey finds the practice is particularly popular because of today’s tight development cycles. Also driving popularity is the cornucopia of open source choices that are now available. Some 32% of developers say “ease of use” prompts them to use pre-written open source code, with 25% reporting “quality” as their rationale.

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