Last week Dr. Dobb’s published an article I penned in December on “What Developers Think“. I won’t rehash the thrust of that piece here other than to reaffirm the growing trend of technology populism in development shops – where tech-savvy workers make their own decisions about what technologies to use. In essence, developers are increasingly helping themselves to the software, collaborative tools, and information sources that best fit their needs, with minimal or no support from central IT.

The format offered by a weekly circular like Dr. Dobb’s limits the depth of content that one can present – you can only go so deep in 1500 words. After the article was published I noticed a bit of traffic on the Twittersphere about the a comment I made on the levels of Subversion usage we’re seeing in development as an example of developer tech populism at work. Since we have no constraints on space here it’s as good a place as any to publish the SCM adoption data behind the comments in last week’s article.

SCM Adoption Shows Developer Tech Populism At Work

Software Configuration Management has a reputation of being a bit of a yawner in the development tools space. The technology is critical to development project success, but the tools and market have traditionally evolved at a sedate pace compared to other tool classes like IDEs and modeling tools. This suited development shops just fine though, because migrating from one SCM tool to another can be a real challenge, and you inevitably seem to end up leaving meta-data behind in the process. Selecting a single SCM tool as an organizational standard is essentially a 7-10 year decision (at a minimum). But right now we’ve arrived at an interesting inflection point in the market: Traditional market share leaders like IBM Rational ClearCase, Microsoft Visual Source Safe and Serena PVCS are being supplanted in product portfolios by next generation products like IBM Rational Team Concert, Microsoft Team Foundation Server, and Serena Dimensions.There is mounting pressure on many development shops to consider a near-term migration to a new SCM solution. Essentially, it seems as if the entire SCM user base is on the move – at the same time!

And then there’s Subversion…

Subversion has grown in popularity for a number of reasons. Developers find it easy to acquire, relatively easy to install, and not overly painful to administer at the project level. Essentially it’s “good enough” for a large number of developers who have already been forced to consider moving to a new SCM tool by their existing vendor. We first recognized Subversion’s capability in our 2007 SCCM Wave, but since then it’s shown continued momentum, driven into development shops at the grass roots level. As a result, one-third of the developers we surveyed for the Dr. Dobbs survey use Subversion as their primary SCM tool (see Figure 1). While Subversion’s success is notable, it’s not the only interesting bit of data in this graph:

  • Open Source SCM Solutions are closing in on 50% total market share. While Subversion is a clear share leader, it’s not the only open source option. Where you add up Subversion, CVS, Git and Mercurial just under half of the developers in the survey are using open source SCM.
  • Custom-built SCM systems are a dying breed. While we still run into the odd shop that maintains a home-built SCM system (especially on the Mainframe) the trend is clearly toward using commercial SCM tools – less than 2% use a custom-developed solution. This is in contrast to change management, where more that 1 in 8 shops still use their own custom-built system.
  • Microsoft is making steady progress in turning over its SCM user base. With 45% of the developers in this survey indicating the Visual Studio is their primary IDE you’d expect to see Microsoft VSS and TFS well represented in the results. But what’s also apparent is that Microsoft’s transition of it’s user base from Visual Source Safe to Team Foundation Server is well underway. By contrast, IBM’s transition from ClearCase to IBM Rational Team Concert is still in it’s early stages, with only 2 developers in the survey indicating that RTC is their primary SCM tool


Figure 1: Developer Adoption of SCM Tools

SCM Tools for Blog

Expect to continue to see rapid change in the SCM and SCCM space in 2010 as new product introductions, commoditization, and end of support for popular SCM products all continue to roil the market. If you’re interested in talking about your strategy and how you might move forward, drop us a line. And of course if you’re already a Forrester client and would like to dig into this data in deeper detail, please don’t hesitate to set up an inquiry – we’d be happy to discuss at length.


About Dr. Dobbs Global Developer Technographics Survey, Q3, 2009:

Forrester’s Dr. Dobbs Global Developer Technographics Survey, Q3, 2009, was fielded to 1298 application development professionals who are readers of Dr. Dobb’s magazine. Forrester fielded the survey from August 2009. Survey respondent incentives included gift certificates and research summaries.