.Net gaining developer ground

In Canada, the number of software developers using Visual Studio .Net hasn’t quite surpassed the number of developers using Java, but the playing field is starting to level out, according to Microsoft Canada Co.

“We have definitely slowed the growth of Java,” said Ben Watson, Microsoft Canada’s senior product manager of Web services. “While Java has five years of steady growth in Canada…now it seems that both Visual Basic 6.0, the traditional languages and Java growth, have sort of tapered off and now we’re seeing a lot of .Net growth.”

In a speech at the VSLive conference in New York last month, Eric Rudder, Microsoft senior vice-president of server and tools, touted progress versus the rival Java platform. “When we started out a year ago, it was hard. We were still behind Java by a considerable margin. They were about 30 per cent share. But we actually launched the product and made some amazing traction, started to catch up. Luckily, Java flattened out and we’ve actually passed Java usage with .Net usage, and this trend actually shows no sign of abating,” Rudder said.

It’s been more than two years since Microsoft launched its .Net development-tool suite. In Canada, as of January 2003, roughly 16 per cent of Canadian software developers were primarily using .Net as their development tool, Watson said, citing data from a Harris Interactive Developer Tracker Study. That same survey showed the number of developers principally using Java development tools in Canada was about 20 per cent, while another 21 per cent were mainly using Visual Basic or Visual Studio – platforms that pre-date .Net.

“If you take the aggregate of our Visual Basic developers and our .Net developers together then we’re still almost twice the Java market,” Watson said. “.Net is even taking away market share from [Microsoft’s] traditional languages, as people move off of Visual Basic into .Net.”

As far as Sun Microsystems Inc. – the developer of Java – is concerned, Java momentum is not only strong, it’s growing.

The fact that Sun launched the Java platform in 1995, nearly six years before Microsoft delivered .Net, is an advantage for Java developers, said Markham, Ont.-based Gord Sissons, vice-president of products and technology at Sun Microsystems of Canada Inc.

“Not to discount .Net because it’s obviously a major platform, but Java has the advantage of maturity,” Sissons explained. “Java has been continuously refined since 1995.”

Referring to statistics from Evans Data Corp.’s 2003 North American Developer Survey, Sissons said three out of five developers told Evans they expect to use Java technology to build their next-generation applications in 2004. That number is up from half in 2002, he added.

“Certainly in the world of software frameworks, there’s really only two major frameworks in the industry – Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE) and .Net,” Sissons said. “We perceive that Java has the lead in this area but with Microsoft’s marketing muscle there’s no question that .Net is going to be a major force.”

Alister Sutherland, IDC Canada’s software program director in Toronto, said while Microsoft has made its .Net technology interoperable with Microsoft applications and operating systems, most non-Microsoft environments and enterprise-class businesses tend to have Java implementations.

“Microsoft, having such a ubiquitous presence in the market, there’s going to be a lot of.Net development and implementation going on,” Sutherland said.

Ensuring that non-Microsoft-based legacy systems are interoperable is what many companies are focusing on right now, Sutherland said, adding that the midrange to enterprise environments that aren’t Windows-based aren’t likely to gut their current systems to start fresh with Microsoft.

For this reason, Sutherland said the two frameworks would likely find a way to co-exist.

It won’t be until December that Microsoft Canada has up-to-date numbers of developer adoption in Canada, but “if I follow growth patterns, I would say that .Net [in Canada] will one day surpass Java,” Watson said.