Is Java slipping into second-tier status in the application development space? All the attention being given to its rivals these days might give off that impression.
Nearly 13 years old, the Java language and platform created at Sun Microsystems now shares the software development limelight with scripting languages such as PHP (Hypertext Preprocessor) and Ruby, as well as with Microsoft's .Net technologies.
Much touted for its ability to run on multiple platforms via the JVM (Java Virtual Machine), Java grabbed headlines for years before being seriously challenged by .Net and open source scripting variants. Today, these alternatives to Java have gained plenty of adherents. Open source CRM vendor SugarCRM, for example, chose to write its application in PHP instead of Java. "When we set out, we thought we were going to build a Java application on top of Oracle," said Clint Oram, SugarCRM co-founder. The company, however, saw PHP maturing and found it "just more accessible than Java, for the average person," Oram said.
Microsoft, meanwhile, has made its .Net platform a serious player in the enterprise space. A November 2007 report by Info-Tech Research Group stated the case for .Net becoming more popular than the Java platform in enterprises.
But don't count Java out just yet.
"Everywhere you turn, Java touches something. It's used in databases, it's used to drive the Web [systems] of big companies like eBay," said Rick Ross, president of the DZone developer community and founder of Javalobby, a Web community for Java developers. He also is a Java developer.
The Java industry remains very, very large, Ross said. "All of it put together is literally billions and billions of dollars," said Ross, noting the use of Java by everyone from IBM to Oracle and its latest major acquisition, BEA Systems.
Microsoft .Net is attracting a lot of smaller developers
Info-Tech, however, found Microsoft has a strength in its ability to offer a single soup-to-nuts stack featuring .Net, the Exchange e-mail system, and SQL Server database. "[Companies] want one throat to choke," said George Goodall, an Info-Tech senior research analyst and author of the firm's November report.
"We're not particularly bullish on .Net technology over Java technology, but the difference here is that .Net for most applications is good enough," he said.
Info-Tech sampled 1,900 companies, most of which are midmarket companies with less than US$1 billion in annual revenues. The study found that 12 per cent of enterprises focus exclusively on .Net as compared to 3 per cent focused just on Java. Also, 49 per cent center primarily on .Net, compared to 20 per cent for Java.
Despite the survey's midmarket focus, Goodall noted that even respondent companies with annual revenues exceeding US$1 billion had a similar .Net preference as the midmarket respondents. Still, the survey did find that the popularity of .Net decreases very gradually as the size of enterprises increases. But Goodall cautioned that in such companies, .Net's popularity decline did not come from an increase in Java usage, but instead from a preference for other development platforms in heterogeneous environments.