Developers Cool to Vista, Evans Study Finds
Published: May 21, 2008
by Alex Woodie
Fewer than one in 10 software developers are writing applications to run on Windows Vista this year, compared to almost 50 percent who are targeting Windows XP, according to the latest survey of North American developers from Evans Data. While Evans predicts 23 percent of programmers will target the new OS in 2009, the slower-than-expected adoption of Vista by users and developers alike weighs heavily on Microsoft and its decisions for XP end-of-life and Windows 7, which is penciled in for 2010.
Microsoft was giddy with joy and anticipation after the first full month of Windows Vista sales to consumers in early 2007 resulted in 20 million copies sold, which more than doubled the introduction of Windows XP back in 2001. "While it's very early in the product lifecycle," said Bill Veghte, then the corporate vice president of the Windows Business division, "we are setting a foundation for Windows Vista to become the fastest-adopted version of Windows ever."
Then, reality set in. In late July 2007, following the first full quarter of Vista availability resulted in lower-than-expected sales of the new operating system, Microsoft was forced to lower Vista sales forecasts for the rest of the year. The culprit? Continued strong sales of Windows XP, which is beginning to be known in Redmond, Washington, as "the operating system that will not go away."
Developers in the United States and Canada have noticed the lack of a mass migration to Vista among consumers and, especially, businesses, and have shaped their development strategies accordingly, according to the latest North American developer's survey from Evan's Data, which publishes the survey every six months.
Just 8 percent of developers currently are targeting Vista with their apps, compared to 49 percent for XP, according to Evan's latest survey. When Evans asked the developers what operating systems they expect to be targeting in 2009, 23 percent said they would support Vista, while 30 percent will target Windows XP.
The survey results show that Vista adoption is "not as great as Microsoft and/or the market had predicted early on," says John Andrews, president and CEO of Evans Data. "And I think everyone is pretty up-to-speed with all the various reasons."
To recap, Vista was late to market, lacked key features, was incompatible with existing applications, lacked hardware drivers, required considerable hardware resources, and was more expensive than XP. All those factors combined to slow Vista's adoption by customers, which in turn cooled developers' interest in supporting it with their applications, according to Andrews.
In Microsoft's defense, Vista does provide a significant improvement in security over XP. Microsoft made some tough choices in response to an outcry over serious security problems with XP and previous versions, and as a result it locked down the operating system to make it more secure.
Unfortunately, that improved security posture makes it more difficult for developers to write applications for Vista (read: no more kernel-level access and UAC to worry about), and it also causes compatibility problems with older applications. Ironically, the wave of attacks targeting operating system vulnerabilities has largely passed, and today hackers have moved on to target applications. At the same time, Microsoft has provided iterative improvements in Windows XP security, bolstering its status as "good enough" and further eating into Vista's pie.
The slow uptake of Vista and continued strong support for XP among developers were not totally unexpected occurrences, and indeed, they closely track with developer adoption during previous Windows launches, Andrews says. But Vista's marketplace performance clearly hasn't lived up to the early hype.
Microsoft gets paid whether users adopt Vista or XP, so the lack of support for Vista among developers is not a huge concern for Microsoft. And while Windows XP supporters circulate a petition to save XP and attempt to persuade Microsoft to delay ending new retail sales of Windows XP as planned next month, it's extremely doubtful that Microsoft would do anything rash, like give in to XP supporters, extend XP's life, and admit its Vista mistakes.
On the other hand, depending on how quickly Microsoft can deliver the next version of Windows, which Microsoft executives have said could be released as early as 2010, the company could cut its Vista losses and concentrate on building momentum and support for Windows 7. Perhaps by then Microsoft will have found a way to minimize compatibility issues through the use of virtualization, which the company has hinted will be a big part of Windows 7.
In the meantime, the entire Windows juggernaut is slowing as "alternative operating systems" pick up the slack and Windows developers bide their time on Vista, according to Andrews. "It's still a big marketplace, and they have a huge market share," Andrews says of Microsoft. "But at the same time, Linux is growing at a faster rate, and while it's very small, Mac OS continues to nibble away, too."
About 13 percent of North American software developers write for Linux, a number that is expected to increase to 15.5 percent in 2009, which corresponds with a 9 percent annual growth rate, according to Andrews. By contrast, 57 percent of developers today target the Windows client OS, a number that's expected to decrease to 53 percent next year, Andrews says. When Windows Server 2003 and Windows Server 2008 are taken into consideration in the forecast, the number jumps to 67 percent.
"So they erode a little bit. It's minor, not huge chunks," Andrews says of Windows' decline. "But you have a lot of companies pushing open source alternatives, and open source is becoming much more mature. You have companies like IBM and others who are really behind Linux."
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