Although both NewsForge.com and the company I used to work for, FormScape Software, are now both defunct, I was interviewed by Jay Lyman about cross platform engineering practices for NewsForge’s IT Manager’s Journal. It’s reproduced here as an un-sanctioned mirror.
Title Developers are finding platform lines blurring
Date 2005.10.18 8:01
By Jay Lyman
As cross-platform development grows, programmers are turning toward open source tools that are not tied to a single platform. Even Windows development is drifting toward open source, as more .Net developers look to tools such as Mono and PHP to develop software for the Microsoft platform.
Projects and events such as the Race to Linux highlight the growth of cross-platform development and a particularly strong pickup in development both on and for Linux. In its latest North American Development Survey, Evans Data indicated a growing interest in cross-platform Linux development. According to the research, one in five Visual Studio .Net developers has also written a Linux application. Evans also reported that while only 2.8 percent of respondents developed most of their applications for Linux in 2000, the percentage grew to 8.8 and 8.3 percent of North American developers focused primarily on Linux in the fall 2005 and spring 2005 surveys, respectively.
“There’s been quite an increase on Linux and especially in the verticals, where you’re seeing development of commercial applications for sale,” said Evans Data COO John Andrews. He indicated most developers use two or three different development approaches or IDEs, with many looking to Linux for their additional development experience.
“Where else do they go?” Andrews said. “Linux continues to gain traction in the market, so the developers are going to continue to pay attention to it. Security and other Microsoft-oriented issues tend to push people to Linux, as well.”
Andrews indicated the upswing in cross-platform development will likely result in a net gain of Linux developers, with .Net developers maintained their numbers and Unix developers declining.
Interarbor Solutions principal analyst Dana Gardner said there has been a gradual, evolutionary separation of tools and operating system platforms, which have been replaced by frameworks such as Mono. “The developers say, ‘I’ll use this tool associated with this framework, and I don’t have to worry so much about platform.’”
Code Project founder Chris Maunder said that as Mono and other cross-platform tools such as Grasshopper continue to mature, more cross-platform development will result. However, Maunder also indicated more developers are switching to .Net languages such as C#, and having a choice of development platform is likely to continue that trend.
Nevertheless, Maunder hopes to introduce Linux to Windows developers and .Net development to Linux developers through such efforts as the Race to Linux. “Any developer worth his or her salt has already developed on multiple platforms in multiple languages,” he said. “The old religious wars should be put to rest and we should just move on and enjoy the amazing technologies available to programmers today.”
Perverse poking at Microsoft
Maunder indicated the cost of some development platforms, such as SQL Server, was pushing the growth of cross-platform and alternative platform development, which may also be getting a boost from anti-Microsoft sentiment.
“Microsoft has certainly worked to take the sting out of software development in .Net 2.0 by releasing the Express versions of Visual Studio and SQL Server,” he said. “However, software development attracts curious minds and curious minds like to dabble. With tools for Linux maturing more, developers are looking to extend their skills outside their normal development environments. Or maybe developers simply enjoy the perverse feeling of poking Microsoft by developing .Net applications on a rival OS,” Maunder added.
Erik Sink, a software developer for source control tool vendor SourceGear, said his company started out on “a very Windows-centric path” with its Vault software, but has recently begun developing its tools for Java, Linux, and Macintosh.
“We sell a source control tool, and cross-platform support is one of the stepping points for source control tools,” he said, explaining the company would lose sales to clients looking for Linux support if that support was limited to “one guy sitting in the corner on a Linux machine.”
“We’re essentially offering workarounds,” Sink said. “We’re not focused on cross-platform as a pillar of our strategy. The truth is, it works on Linux or Mac OS. We’ve given you a way to do it. That doesn’t mean people on Mac OS or Linux are thrilled with it, but we hope to thrill them in the future.”
Sink said the cross-platform work was becoming increasingly important with the growing popularity of the other platforms and development communities, such as Eclipse, which prompted the porting of Vault.
“I think both [Mac OS and Linux] are growing and I don’t think they’re going away,” he said.
Although he referred to obstacles — mainly the added cost and difficulty of cross-platform development — Sink said it is still likely to become a bigger part of his company’s strategy according to market demand.
“From an IT manager perspective, it really increases development costs,” he said. “As a developer, cross-platform development is hard. You’re trying to write things that work on several different platforms when the truth is, you’re not delivering anything of value to customers who are only on one. That tradeoff is difficult to maintain.”
FormScape lead Linux developer Gary Gale sounded a similar cautionary note. Gale said the first thing his company’s developers did when moving 1.5 million lines of Windows code for the company’s Covus document management product for large enterprises to Solaris, AIX, and Linux was to dig out the detailed requirements entrenched in the different platforms.
“We had to go through the code and identify the pinch points,”Gale said. “We had to identify where we were going into the operating system. You can’t be platform agnostic.”
But Gale added that while the cross-platform development can present significant challenges, it tends to improve the overall development process, and once a team has trouble on one platform, it is closer to the solution on another platform.
“You get an awfully good fertilization of ideas across all environments,” he said. “People start to become aware of good coding processes. It’s good for the soul. Your code is cleaner.”
Interarbor’s Gardner said developers prefer simpler, straightforward development schemes and languages such as PHP over “more extravagant platforms such as Java and .Net.” He said rather than any one platform, the cross-platform development trends are favoring Web development and more scripting on the dominant open source platforms, environments, and communities, including Eclipse. The analyst said that while there has always been a natural migration from Unix to Linux development, open source tools and platforms are increasingly getting used for Windows server development as well.
“There has been increased interest in the combination of the Windows development environment with open source and applications that are utilized with Windows services, but are not fully dependent on Windows,” he said.
More .Net developers, more open source developers, better code
The Code Project’s Maunder said cross-platform .Net development helps the .Net community, and will not necessarily translate to a decrease of Visual Studio developers and increase of Linux developers.
“If anything, I think it will increase the number of Visual Studio developers,” he said. “Linux developers can target the .Net platform using the tools and environment in which they are comfortable. Visual Studio is still arguably the most powerful tool in which to develop .Net, so I would imagine those Linux developers who enjoy working in .Net would be attracted to Visual Studio .Net and the new features in Visual Studio 2005.”
FormScape’s Gale did not foresee the emergence of a dominant platform, but did indicate Linux and open source software, along with developers in general, stand to gain from the increased variety coding.
“I think this is going to be more and more prevalent, more and more important, and more and more a part of business,” Galesaid. “It’s already there and I think it’s only going to strengthen itself. I think open source, especially, is going to be that leverage that gets it into the market, and Linux is going to benefit.”
© Copyright 2006 – OSTG, Inc.