As an analyst at Forrester I always look forward to December – not because it's the end of the year or that I have the balance of my vacation days to use up (best laid plans…); December is when we usually get a fresh batch of data from Forrester's annual Enterprise And SMB Software Survey. Each year our team gets to place a few questions into this comprehensive questionnaire, and IT decision makers who have organizational responsibility for custom software development give us some insight into what their shops are doing.

It's always tricky to design our part of the survey – there's so much we'd like to ask, but there's only space for a few questions. On top of that, you ideally want to ask the same questions from year to year so that you can see how the adoption of a particular technology is trending. That said, one question we've managed to keep in the survey over the past three years is related to application platform adoption (see Figure 1). Our findings:

  • .NET and Java remain the dominant application platforms. Microsoft .NET and Java remain the most widely used platforms, and overlap between the two is considerable: In 2009 46% of Enterprises and 23% of SMBs use both platforms, up from 28% and 21% respectively in 2007. .NET adoption is higher than Java at companies with less than 5000 employees, and Java usage is higher in companies with more than 20,000 employees. It's in the 5,000-19,999 segment that things get interesting. Java has traditional been more highly adopted in our surveys in this segment, but .NET appears to be closing the gap. This year 71% of these very large companies are using Java, while 68% are using .NET.
  • Mainframe and 4GL use is steadily declining. While 38% of Global 2000 companies (20000+ Employees) are still targeting Mainframe (e.g., zSeries) and Mid-range (e.g., iSeries) platforms, even that group is below the average adoption rate of 41% from 2007. Overall, just one in four shops included these application platforms in their development plans.  Does this mean that the Mainframe is going away? Absolutely not! These apps remain common in industries like financial services and retail, where they have historic footholds; but companies are choosing to wall off and maintain existing apps, and instead extend them with Java and SOA technologies. When it comes to 4GLs, we attribute the drop-off in usage to a shift from developing client server apps toward Web-based architectures. As Web apps become the dominant type of applications developers build, 4GLs become less relevant (more on that trend in a future Databyte).
  • Web 2.0 technologies are gradually emerging as alternatives to .NET and Java. There's a third group of developers out there, that are neither Java jocks nor .NET gurus. These developers choose a different route, based on Web technologies like Javascript, Flash, PHP, Python and Ruby. Web developers have been mainstream outside the firewall for years, but they are also moving into the enterprise, especially as firms invest in the Web as a direct channel to customers and business partners. At this point 1 in 3 shops is using rich internet technologies (e,g, AJAX, Flash). While this looks like a dip from 2007, we think that's actually due to a change in our survey methodology. In 2007 we did not distinguish between RIA platforms and Lightweight Web frameworks like CakePHP, the Zend Framework, and Ruby on Rails. In 2008, we broke these options out separately, and since then we've seen adoption of RIA platforms grow from 26% to 24% and Lightweight Web platform adoption grow from 11% to 16% respectively.
  • Open source frameworks are for real, PaaS is still nascent. We see steady adoption of open source frameworks like Spring and Hibernate among Java developers, coupled with a steady increase in use of servlet-based architecture, and the use of Apache Tomcat as a primary production application server. One the other hand, it seems the hype over cloud and platform-as-a-service offerings like Google App Engine or Microsoft's Azure is getting ahead of the reality. At this point only 2% of the organizations we surveyed in 2009 are using PaaS technology.

Figure 1: Application Platform Adoption 2007-2009

Graphic final

What this data underscores is that we are seeing steady shifts in the application platform technologies developers use. We think the data also shows that it's increasingly less meaningful to think of the development world in terms of "Java vs. .NET", because you risk missing the increasing importance and adoption of Web technologies that are "Neither of the above". If you're interested in digging into this data in deeper detail drop us a line, we'd be happy to discuss what it means to you and your application development strategy.


About Forrester's Enterprise And SMB Software Survey:

Forrester's Enterprise And SMB Software Survey, North America And Europe, Q4 2009, was fielded to 2,165 IT executives and technology decision-makers located in Canada, France, Germany, the UK, and the US from SMB and enterprise companies with two or more employees. This survey is part of Forrester’s suite of Business Data Services studies. Forrester fielded the survey from September 2009 to November 2009. LinkedIn fielded this survey online on behalf of Forrester. Survey respondent incentives included gift certificates and research summaries. We have provided exact sample sizes in this report on a question-by question basis.

Forrester’s Business Data Services fields eight business-to-business technology studies in 19 countries each calendar year. For quality control, we carefully screen respondents according to job title and function. Business Data Services ensures that the final survey population contains only those with significant involvement in the planning, funding, and purchasing of IT products and services. Additionally, quotas are set for company size (number of employees) and industry as a means of controlling the data distribution and establishing alignment with IT spend calculated by Forrester analysts.