Evans Data Cases Programming Language Popularity
December 11, 2006 Timothy Prickett Morgan
Two recent reports from Evans Data have provided some insight into what is going on in the programming profession these days. One report, released in late November, is based on a poll of programmers in North America and gets a sense of the programming languages they use to create applications. But the other report, from October, is perhaps more stunning. It shows that by 2009–if Evans Data’s projections are right–there will be a lot more programmers in the world from places other than North America, and what they do might matter a whole lot more.
According to the latest North American programmer survey, which is based on a poll of 430 developers, Microsoft‘s Visual Basic 6 and Visual Basic.NET language is taking a serious beating in the development cubicles of the United States and Canada. The results of the poll show that Java is the most popular programming language, with 45 percent of those polled saying that they use Java for at least some of their coding activities, followed by C/C++ at 40 percent and Microsoft’s C# Java-oid language for .NET coming in at 32 percent. Only 21 percent of developers report using Visual Basic 6, down by 35 percent since the spring 2006 poll; Visual Basic.NET dropped by 26 percent in that same time. The usage of VB has fallen below that Java, C/C++, and C#.
“Microsoft has dominated languages since the early 1990s, but we are seeing much more parity now,” said John Andrews, president at Evans Data explained. “The use of scripting languages, as well as Java, appear to have limited VB’s future market potential.” So did Microsoft’s pulling of the plug on Visual Basic 6, which had standard support removed in March 2005 and which gets mothballed (meaning there will be no more extended support) in March 2008.
If you want to get a second opinion on the popularity of languages, Tiobe Software puts together an annual study of the popularity of programming languages, too. This survey is based on using Web search engines to find the phrases “Java programming,” “COBOL programming,” “C programming,” and so on and averaging across the search engines. The average hits are counted up to give a ranking. This may not be scientific, but it is interesting. Card walloper languages like COBOL rank at number 18 (with 0.601 percent of hits) on the Tiobe chatter index, and RPG comes in at number 31 (with 0.238 percent). Java, by contrast, comes in number one with 19.9 percent of hits, followed by C at 16.6 percent, C++ at 10.4 percent, Visual Basic at 8.9 percent, PHP at 8.5 percent, and C# at 3.17 percent.
Anyway, in the latest Evans Data survey in North America, over 70 percent of the developers polled said that will be involved in Web-related projects in 2007 and that the use of Ajax–Asynchronous Java and XML–grew by 10 percent so that 28 percent of the programmers polled say they are now using it in at least some of their work.
The other interesting thing that Evans Data said recently was that it expected that the worldwide community of programmers would grow to surpass 17 million people by 2009. This is a very large number. To put that into perspective, if this holds to be true and present trends in server virtualization persist, then there will be one programmer for every physical server installed in the world. The number of developers will grow as the number of footprints will fall, apparently. And most physical servers will go virtual, by the way.
The growth, according to Evans Data, will come through the explosion in programming in the Asia/Pacific region, which is expected to account for 6.8 million programmers by 2009, up 81 percent from the 3.75 million programmers in the region in 2005. (I did the math on some numbers based on growth rates and one data point in a press release; Evans Data wants you to buy the report to get the real numbers.) The company said that the developer base in North America would grow only 15 percent in that same five year time, and that Asia/Pacific would surpass Europe as the largest (in terms of population) region for programmers.
If you want to be generous, there are probably 215,000 OS/400 and i5/OS companies in the world, and they tend to have a few code jockeys who do double time as analysts or administrators. That’s about 645,000 programmers in 2005 against a worldwide population of 11.6 million, or about 5.5 percent of the programmers in the pool who do RPG at least some of the time. If this pool remains the same and the programming pool grows to 17 million, RPG drops to 3.8 percent. Just to stay in the same place, RPG has to grow to 940,000 programmers.
This seems unlikely unless IBM does something drastic. I have said before–and I will say it again–we need for RPG to run in something like a Java Virtual Machine. If this RPG#, for lack of a better term, can’t be open source, then it had better at least be an open standard. And if it could plug into a JVM or Microsoft’s Common Language Runtime somehow, and piggyback on all of that investment, that would be great, too.
Research from Gartner suggests that by 2008, over 80 percent of new applications will be coded in so-called “managed runtime environments,” such as C#, PHP, and Java, up from 60 percent in 2006. This is the way the industry is going–which is, incidentally, running at cross purposes to the heating and cooling issue in data centers, since interpreted code using these and similar languages are much less efficient–but a lot more portable–than compiled code. If power costs go up a lot, you can bet people will start looking at compiling again.
But for now, Java seems to be king, and is used by approximately 38.6 percent of the world’s developers, if you mix Evans Data’s worldwide programmer count from 2005 with the 4.5 million Java programmer count from Sun Microsystems from last year. Having just opened sourced Java in 2006, when there are 5 million Java coders worldwide (who undoubtedly use other languages as well), there is a chance that Sun can reach its long-stated goal of hitting 10 million Java programmers worldwide. Let’s say the open sourcing of Java makes it really take off, and Sun and the Java community can reach that goal by 2009. Java would be used by 58.6 percent of all programmers, if that 17 million figure is a reasonable projection and if 10 million is an attainable goal.