A week ago, I had a chance to speak with Scott Handy, Vice
President of Worldwide Linux Strategy at IBM. Mr. Handy has always
struck me as one of those people really likes his job, because
despite the instinctive reluctance many executives have when
dealing with the press, he seems to really like to share what IBM's
doing to promote Linux use.
Or he's just really good at his job.
Regardless, the reason we were speaking on this occasion had
only a tangential connection to IBM, but it was still very
interesting to hear nonetheless. Handy had just seen the results of
the Spring 2006 North American Developer's Survey from Evans Data
and was pretty excited about some of the data coming out of that
If you've never heard of this survey, it's an independent survey
of developers in various markets around the world. In this case,
the North American market is examined, with 400 developers surveyed
to find out what makes them tick. What got Handy revved up is the
part of the survey that deals with the operating systems for which
these developers are coding.
According to survey, by the end of the year, it is expected that
the number of developers expected to be working on Linux will match
the number of expected Windows developers.
You read that right. The expected development targets for
developers--from an independent survey--will be 50% for
Linux and 50% of Windows by the end of 2006.
That rate is not static, mind you. The percentage of Linux
developers has been growing steadily for seven years in a row. If
it continues to grow, Handy believes that by this time next year,
we will be seeing more Linux developers than Windows
And if you think that doesn't scare the willies out of Bill
Gates and Steve Ballmer, think again. Handy related to me that in
the 2001 edition of the same survey, Linux developers surpassed the
number of Solaris developers. About five months later, in Feb.
2002, we saw Sun Microsystems' then-CEO Scott McNealy waddled out
to an audience at a Sun conference in a penguin suit.
It would be too simplistic to tag this report as the sole reason
Sun began its half-hearted attempt to embrace Linux; but it takes
no big leap of imagination to realize that Sun had certainly seen
the Linux writing on the wall four years ago, and some of that
writing was penned by Evans Data.
Given the fact that the same survey may be about to reveal Linux
developer numbers surpassing those of Windows developers, one
wonders how Redmond will react. Ballmer in a penguin suit? One
More likely, their Shared Source was created partly as a
response from watching the developer balance shifting away from
their favor over the years.
Indeed, I think it very likely--because it never quite rang true
with me that shared source was for the benefit of Microsoft's
customers. End-users and their IT managers don't often care enough
about the actual source code (though they should) for this to be
such a big deal. And, let's face it, when did Microsoft ever really
care about the end user in the first place? No, "shared source" was
and is an attempt to stem the tide of developers dropping work on
proprietary code to enjoy the very real benefits of open source
So what does Handy think is behind the steady increase of Linux
coders? Well, he couldn't quite forget who signs his paycheck,
since he touted the Eclipse open source development project as one
reason why its easier for developers to shift to Linux work, as
well as the sheer openness of Linux. He's probably a bit
biased, but there's no denying that there are really strong
development tools and frameworks out there--Eclipse among
them--that certainly can't be hurting the cause.
Also helping out the shift in development platforms is the huge
success of another open source project: Apache. "Apache," Handy
stated, "has won."
With its dominant adoption rate, Apache may be doing more for
the cause of open source development than Linux itself. Some survey
numbers support Handy's theory: 68% of the respondents are planning
to code for Web applications. Since Apache is the most prolific Web
server, it stands to reason that the openness of the Apache server
is rubbing off on the development community. They've gotten a taste
of open source development and they want more.
Now, let's keep in mind that this is just one survey, and the
numbers may not reflect reality (Evans cites a +/- 4% error rate).
Plus, having more developers does not automatically ensure the
success of an operating system. But it cannot be denied that the
trend is showing a strong growth of Linux developers, and sometime
in the near future, their numbers will pass those of Windows. When
that happens, a lot more applications and solutions are going to
find their way to Linux.
"Watching the developers is like watching the future," Handy
told me. If so, then the future's looking mighty good for
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