by September 17, 2003 0 comments



By Vinod Unny
After almost two years of a terrible slowdown, developers are back in demand. Driving this resurgence are the growing investments in software and systems management, both at home and abroad. Hopefully, software development will once again become one of the hottest markets in IT. We’ll now look at the different trends in the market.

Development Suites 
Development suites are one of the most important tools that a developer can have in his arsenal. These suites contain technologies and tools that can make programming an application a much more intuitive task.

Since Windows is the most prominent OS for the desktop, and has a major presence in the server space, it is natural that many development suites exist for this platform, the most popular and important one being Visual Studio from Microsoft.

Visual Studio has been around for many years. Last year saw the release of the completely revamped VS.NET (Visual Studio.NET) 2002 which targeted the .NET platform. This year, Microsoft released VS.NET 2003 all over the world including India. 

VS.NET 2003 targets the new .NET Framework 1.1 as well as gives many new enhancements over its predecessor, including but not limited to the inclusion of the new .NET language, J#. VS.NET now handles five different languages out of the box for the .NET platform-C++, C#, VB.NET, Jscript.NET and J#! A ton of choices in terms of the languages you would want to use. Not only that, you get many other languages that can‘plug-into’ VS.NET and let you program .NET applications in your favorite programming language and use all the productivity features of VS.NET (such as dynamic help, IntelliSense and AutoComplete) as well.

.NET of course has made Windows programming easier and more powerful. Not only does it give developers ‘equality’ in terms of programming language (no more the debate of “C* developers are better than VB developers are better than PERL developers….), it also gives access to all the levels of Windows without requiring to write wrapper code. .NET applications also give very similar performance to native Windows apps as demonstrated by the recently released Quake II.NET source and binaries. 

The growth of .NET and its related technologies over the last two years has been phenomenal. Jobs for .NET programmers have grown substantially both globally and in India. The other important development platform is Java, specifically J2EE. India has a large number of Java developers and Sun’s CEO Scott McNeally visited India this year to network with and boost the adoption of Java. J2EE as a platform is an extremely strong one, especially in the enterprise application development area.

Many products that require cross-platform deployment continue to use the J2EE platform. There are many app servers for J2EE that allow you to run these applications. More about these servers will be discussed later in this article.

Apart from these two biggies, there are several other tools and technologies that have seen changes in this year. Borland’s Delphi now supports .NET and Kylix is probably the most comprehensive development tool for Linux.

Linux, of course, has a number of tools and languages that are extremely popular in each section. India’s own development tool, Anjuta (part of PCQLinux 8.0), is also a very good step in the right direction to provide IDEs and suites that compare favorably against their Windows counterparts. Although RAD is a concept that still requires major work in the Linux development area, the work being done in this area is encouraging.

Web Development
The Web is now a much easier place to develop for. The thousands of different Web-development tools available now has made learning the basic languages of the Web, HTML and CSS, take a backseat. Web development tools let any Tom, Dickand Harry call himself a Web designer/developer. Many software packages and suites are also now ‘Web aware’. For instance, the entire MS Office suite (as well as others like OpenOffice) allows you to convert any file into HTML to view on the Internet. 

BOARD  DIRECTIONS

NET is gaining momentum, but is still short of critical mass. It is still being tried out more in internal apps and in B2B e-commerce apps. Mass adoption is still some time away (Watch the availability of shareware .NET apps, which have just started making an appearance for indications in this regard.)

Java after a two-year decline is on a comeback trail. This is being fuelled by J2EE in the Enterprise apps space, specifically the app-server space. Java’s other push is in the embedded space. But that is a different story and for a different time.

Today DreamWeaver and Frontpage are among the most popular Web-developmentA
tools. These tools make working with HTML as simple as working with a standard Word processor. Both tools have also evolved a lot from the initial versions they started out as and have become much more respectful of the Web standards than earlier. In fact, the yet-to-be-released Frontpage 11 (part of the Office 11 Suite) lets you quickly reformat and clean up HTML including removing the proprietary extensions that MS Word adds when saving as HTML.

Luckily true Web development is much more than that. Options such as Java, JSP, ASP, ASP.NET and PHP let people create much more than static sites. Web development has also progressed more into becoming Object Oriented. Java based Web pages were already so. The advent of ASP.NET
introduces true RAD development and complete Object-oriented way of programming for the Web. Combined with the power that VS.NET provides, it allows the distinction between “Web” developers and “Real” developers (those who program desktop/enterprise applications) to become fuzzy. Now Web developers can also call themselves part of the “real” developers group. Other Web development platforms are also evolving and growing although they may not be as visible as the two major players. PHP continues to find favor with Web developers as does PERL with its’ new version 6. 

The interesting player in the mix is Mono, an open-source project that attempts to bring the .NET platform to Linux. This project also contains an ASP.NET module that allows running of ASP.NET programs under Linux. Interestingly, among the sites that run ASP.NET today, about 1% have started running Mono’s implementation of ASP.NET. It could quite possibly be the start of a new trend–open-source implementation on proprietary Microsoft technology.

Web services
Finally, the technology, next-big-thing or buzzword, whatever you may choose to call it, is Web Services. Using standard XML, HTTP and SOAP, it allows the myriad of technologies that are available on the Internet to easily talk to each other. However, although the technology is exciting and in the right place at the right time, the number of implementations is still small and requires much more nurturing and active usage to grow.

App Servers
So, what are the systems that run these enterprise-level applications? They are the different Application Servers available from many different vendors. 

The Java camp has a good set of App servers. Weblogic, Websphere, Tomcat and JBoss are very popular. However, although open-source Web servers are popular, a recent benchmark test carried out by theserverside.com for comparing .NET to J2EE had to drop certain app servers as they were deemed to be too slow to compete and would skew the results.

This of course is not a comment on the performance of J2EE itself, only about the implementation of certain app servers.

The biggest app server launch this year was of course none other than Microsoft’s flagship, the Win 2003 Server. Available in 4 different editions, this is a complete app server on its own with many new and advanced technologies, tools and management options. It comes with .NET and enterprise features built-in. 

One of the most significant events regarding Win 2003 server was that in a Netcraft survey, it was found that one month before its launch, the number of sites running on Win 2003 had overtaken Solaris 9, which had been around at that point for more than a year! Within 3 months, the number of sites had grown by 300% and even many sites (around 8000) running Linux had switched.

Talking about Linux, the LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, Perl/PHP combination) continues to be ahead. Most static and many dynamic sites are running this and growing daily. 

the Silver Lining
The development year has been good so far. New technologies, tools and SDKs have made the development arena an interesting and exciting place to be and to watch. Expect much more in the coming years.

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