Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Significant Software Development Developments of 2010

With the end of 2010 rapidly approaching, it is time to summarize what I believe are the ten most significant developments in 2010 in the software development community. As I have disclaimed before, this is entirely biased toward my interests. It is difficult to gauge the importance of events in spaces one is not familiar with, so I tend to favor areas that I do know and am able to make some educated (albeit anecdotal) conclusions about their significance. I started writing this blog in late 2007 and have written posts similar to this one on significant software development developments for the years 2007, 2008, and 2009.

Although I enjoy many different programming languages, I would most closely associate myself with Java programming. Therefore, it's not surprising that this year's developments are dominated by Oracle's ownership and stewardship of Java. It is a challenge to decide whether to represent all of these things under one item, to have an item for each issue, or to go somewhere between. I chose the last option and bundle multiple items related to Oracle's stewardship of Java into a smaller number of groups, but do not limit all of these events to one of the items.

The interesting thing is that even with only 3 days left in the year 2010, there is still the possibility that a major development could occur that should make this list.


10. Java EE 6

Java EE 6 was technically finalized in late 2009, but 2010 has been its year of implementation and adoption. There has been significant enthusiasm and evangelism for Java EE 6 this year. Cameron McKenzie's Moving from Spring to Java EE 6: The Age of Frameworks is Over generated significant community discussion. There is much to like about Java EE 6. Even Java EE 5 (and more specifically EJB3) had made enterprise Java development less difficult so that developers were more likely to actually return to use of Java EE. The question is whether Java EE 6 can lure even more developers away from the Spring Framework and other common alternatives.


9. .NET Framework 4 and Visual Studio 2010

Roughly 2 1/2 years after the release of .NET 3.5 and Visual Studio 2008, .NET 4 and Visual Studio 2010 were released in April of 2010. .NET Framework 4 offers numerous new features including support for covariance and contravariance for generics, simpler property syntax in VB.NET, optional method parameters in C#, late/dynamic binding in C#, security improvements, improved ability to measure performance diagnostics, background garbage collection as a replacement for concurrent garbage collection, code contracts, and built-in Tuple support.

Visual Studio 2010 includes support for F# (functional programming) and many other improvements.


8. OpenJDK: More Community-Based Than Ever

For years, Java developers worldwide and organizations associated with Java (IBM) clamored for Sun Microsystems to open source Java. Even when Sun did open source Java, not everyone was pleased. Different organizations lined up behind the two favorites for an open source Java implementation: Sun's OpenJDK and Apache Harmony. The Oracle acquisition of Sun has now appeared to turn the tide definitively in OpenJDK's favor with Apple now supporting OpenJDK and IBM now supporting OpenJDK. IBM had been the big corporate sponsor associated with Apache Harmony, so the shift of IBM to be aligned with OpenJDK is a huge boon for OpenJDK at a large cost to Apache Harmony. With major vendors IBM, Apple, and Oracle all behind OpenJDK, that open source Java implementation seems to definitely have a stranglehold on one of the most important pieces of many successful open source projects: strong financial backing from project sponsors. Because these vendors have much influence with developers, it also plays well into another important aspect of successful open source projects: large communities are advantageous.


7. Oracle/Google Dispute over Android

For those of us who identify ourselves as members of the Java community, this Oracle lawsuit over Android and Java is a big deal because one of the attractive aspects of Android development is the ability to use language syntax we are familiar with to develop applications for a rapidly growing number of mobile devices that run on the Android platform. This lawsuit also has the attention of open source enthusiasts and Google has attempted to frame the lawsuit as a "lawsuit against open source." Even for those who are not interested in Java or open source, this is a big development because it affects the mobile development community and because it may establish or reinforce precedents in areas of patent law and other intellectual property legal affairs. I'm no attorney and cannot comment on any of that with any type of knowledge, but it seems that the ramifications of this are potentially huge. For Java developers, there is also a question of fragmentation, though the association of IBM and Apple with OpenJDK seems to mitigate that concern to some extent. That being stated, Google's boycott of JavaOne 2010 due to the lawsuit is an example of how the lawsuit and the response to the lawsuit have already negatively impacted the Java community. I think it's worth noting that Sun also did not like Google's handling of Android, but chose to just "grin and bear it" (my summary).


6. The Rise of HTML5

I have been frustrated with HTML/CSS/DOM/JavaScript idiosyncrasies across major web browers (particularly the most popular web browser) for years. I'll admit to some skepticism regarding adoption of HTML5 at a level that would make it truly viable. Although it's certainly "not there yet," HTML5 finally seems to be gaining the traction it needs among the major browsers and among web developers and authors to be worth paying attention to. In particular, market-leading browsers Google Chrome, Firefox 4 (beta), and Microsoft Internet Explorer 9 (beta) have or are advertised to have significant greater HTML5 support.

As important as it is that the desktop web browsers provide consistent HTML5 support to make it more attractive to use, it seems that the mobile device arena is already pushing HTML5 features heavily. Many of the HTML5 features, such as the web forms features, are more useful and more interesting on mobile device browsers where the savings to the user provide by the new, more granular HTML forms controls are truly appreciable.


5. Mobile Device Development

Although desktop and enterprise applications have lost some of their luster in the blogosphere in recent years as web development has seemed to dominate the blogosphere, the desktop web browser development appears to be now losing some of those gains to mobile device development. Mobile devices are becoming increasingly prevalent. Although many software developers have never needed to learn web development skills to do their enterprise or desktop jobs and although many web developers have never needed to learn desktop skills or enterprise skills to do their jobs, I believe that developers who gain at least some basic mobile device development skills will be better positioned for future work.

See Biggest Mobile Stories of 2010 for more specifics on the biggest mobile developments of 2010. Jason Hiner has called 2010 "the year of the smartphone."


4. New Direction for Java: Java 7 and Java 8

Sun allowed the Java programming language to languish for years. Shortly before JavaOne 2010, however, it was announced that there were two competing plans for the future of Java. By JavaOne 2010, it was known and announced that Plan B would be implemented. This plan focuses on an earlier delivery of Java 7 with fewer features than would be possible for a more complete delivery. The missing features would come relatively quickly afterward in Java 8. Since that time, there's been significant blogosphere and other online coverage of the features expected to be delivered with Java 7. I also thought that some of the ideas put out there at JavaOne 2010 for post-Java 8 are promising. I personally would love to see reified generics. Mark Reinhold announced Plans A and B and the decision to move forward with Plan B, so it was not surprising when he blogged on the release of the four Java Specification Requests related to the forthcoming new versions of Java: JSR 334, JSR 335, JSR 336, and JSR 337.


3. Oracle Closes Deal for Sun

Given that several of the items above are somewhat related to Oracle's acquisition of Sun and given that the (at the time) pending acquisition was a big deal (my #1) in 2009, it is not surprising that the actual close of the deal is considered a major software development event in 2010. I covered this event in greater detail in the blog post Oracle/Sun: The Deal Has Closed. Had I included all of the effects of this acquisition described above into a single item, that single item would have been #1 again this year.


2. Increasing Popularity of Groovy and Scala and Alternative JVM Languages

One of my observations from JavaOne 2010 is that Groovy is close to being considered "assumed knowledge" in the Java community. Numerous presenters discussed and/or used Groovy to facilitate their examples, even when the presentation was not explicitly focused on Groovy. Although presenters still usually asked who was familiar with Groovy, most audience participants raised their hands in the affirmative and most presenters did not spend much time on Groovy basics unless in a Groovy-focused presentation. I have always considered it a sign that something is an "assumed knowledge" when the presenters stop asking who knows it before using it. For example, I remember when, years ago, presenters asked if audience members knew XML or Ant. They don't ask about those two anymore and I don't think it will be long before they don't ask regarding Groovy either.

Scala seems to have arrived where Groovy was not so long ago: many Java developers have heard of it, but relatively few have actually tried it out. One person at JavaOne 2010 who seemed to know what he was talking about when it comes to Scala described Scala as a language that might not be the best at any one thing, but is second best at nearly everything. I have not felt a driving need to learn more about Scala, but I do pay attention to its acceptance and adoption rate in case I decide I need to invest more time in it.

Clojure also seems to be separating itself from other JVM alternative languages, but seems a little behind Groovy and Scala at this point in terms of developer interest and evangelism.

Alternative languages on the JVM continues to be a strong trend and I think Oracle's JavaFX plans (discussed above) make a lot of sense given that developers will more readily be able to apply their favorite JVM language to working with JavaFX in the future.


1. Cloud Computing

I'll admit that I still have some lingering doubts about cloud computing as a long-term widely applicable concept. I still question whether it's something a majority of developers will ever really need to deal with as-is, but at this point it's obvious that at least some significant portion of developers will and already are dealing with development for the cloud. When all the major vendors want a piece of the action, there's at least short-term gains associated with that action. IBM, Oracle, and Microsoft have all expressed commitment to cloud computing. Although it's normal for vendors to chase anything new because it's easier to sell products and services for new rather than for familiar, getting all the vendors behind something means that we're going to get it advertised to us relentlessly whether we want it or not. That type of sales pressure often leads to acceptance.

Despite my personal misgivings about cloud computing, I realize that it is widely discussed and covered in development circles. At the very least, cloud computing is the "flavor of the month" (or few years), but it has the potential to be more than that. Like many things, cloud computing has its place and situations it fits nicely. But, as is also the case with just about anything, cloud computing is not going to be the appropriate solution for all customers in all situations.

See Top 10 Cloud Stories of 2010 for more a significantly more detailed explanation of some of the year's biggest stories in cloud computing.


Honorable Mention

The "Honorable Mention" section of this post covers items that did not make my Top Ten, but are nonetheless significant developments in software development.

JavaFX May Have Life After All, But JavaFX Script is Dead

One of the largest announcements out of JavaOne 2010 was the new direction for JavaFX. I never could understand Sun's seemingly arrogant insistence on coercing developers to learn a new language and use a technology that was largely slideware for a couple of JavaOne conferences before being truly viable. Most developers I know who wanted a "Java solution" instead of Flex or something else wanted it so they could use the Java they already knew. Although JavaFX did make use of the JVM, it was not particularly friendly to incorporation with Java or the other JVM-based languages such as Groovy (though it has been possible as evidenced by Steve Chin's presentation JavaFX 2.0 with Alternative Languages and Visage). Oracle showed insight into what developers really want and need and a desire to meet that need with their announcement of plans for JavaFX to support Java API calls that will make JavaFX more attractive for use with languages such as Java, Groovy, Scala, Clojure, and on and on. I had pretty much written off JavaFX before JavaOne 2010, but Oracle may be able to save it if they can deliver on their intentions and advertised plan. Although I don't miss JavaFX Script, those who do will likely find Visage (open source project based on JavaFX Script compiler) interesting.


Flash on Mobile Devices

For some, the advent of Flash on many mobile devices is unwelcome news. However, I know several iPhone users who are tired of being shut-out from Flash-based applications. It seems that lack of Flash and the lack of carrier options (AT&T is the exclusive carrier) are two of the most common complaints I hear from iPhone users.


NoSQL

The concept of the NoSQL database became even more popular in 2010. Not everyone is caught up in the NoSQL hype. I am trying to decide whether NoSQL will make long-lasting real inroads against the relational database or if it's going to be another in a long line of "also rans" such as the object-oriented databases and XML databases of past years. At the very least, NoSQL approaches probably will at least maintain some support (just as there are still OO and native XML databases available). The question is whether they can garner significant market share from the relational databases. In NoSQL is Software Darwinism, Jeremy Zawodny summarizes where I think NoSQL is headed: NoSQL implementations will be part of the landscape, but relational databases will still be prevalent.


Objective-C

Obviously riding on the back of the iPhone, Objective-C enjoyed a tremendous adoption rate in 2010 as evidenced by the Tiobe chart for Objective-C. Although the Tiobe index is not (and does not claim to be) a perfect gauge of a language's popularity, it does indicate what developers are searching for on the web with popular search engines. According to the December index, Objective-C is the leading candidate for the Programming Language Hall of Fame, which is "given to the programming language that has the highest rise in ratings in a year." Only Python (the 2007 winner) appears to have a chance to win that award over Objective-C in 2010.


Software Development Blogging

Software development blogging itself had an interesting year in 2010. One of the leading software development bloggers, Joel Spolsky, announced that he'd no longer blog like he used to in the column Let's Take This Offline. His blog, Joel on Software, is still online, but the content is dramatically different now. Bruce Eckel has not given up writing software development blogs entirely, but announced his intention to focus "from software development to business." This is pretty big news from the author of Thinking in Java, Thinking in C++, and the well-read Hybridizing Java article.

Since May 2009, it has sounded like another well-known software development blogger, Steve Yegge, was getting ready to stop writing blogs ("We're getting close to the end of my blog. After today's entry, I only have three left to write. After that, I'll only blog anonymously or (more likely) not at all."). He has written three since, but certainly doesn't write them as frequently as he used to and mentions a "nice relaxing blog-free year" in one of them. Although the number/frequency is down, the last two (of three written in 2010) are funny.

The blogosphere is littered with blogs that were started with ambitious plans, had one or two posts written, and then were indefinitely abandoned. What makes the recent announcements from Joel Spolsky, Bruce Eckel, and Steve Yegge more significant is that these were regularly, prolific bloggers with large readerships who have either stopped writing technical software blogs altogether or have significantly scaled back their investment of time and energy in doing so.

Writing and maintaining a blog can be difficult work that requires a significant time investment. If I had not attended JavaOne 2010 this year on a Blogger Pass, it is likely that my own blog would have had fewer posts for the 12 months of 2010 than over any other twelve month period. It can be difficult to come up with enough ideas that seem useful to blog on and then can be time-consuming to write about those ideas. That being stated, I still believe that we'd all benefit from more software developers writing blogs.

Although software development-related blogging may have reached its zenith, I don't think it is going away altogether anytime soon. Java.net editor Kevin Farnham's observation that conference blogging has returned (after an apparently temporary replacement by Tweets or so-called microblogging) is evidence that software development blogging is still active and useful.


Java Community Process in Danger

There is an unsurprising dispute between the Apache Software Foundation and Oracle over Java licensing and control. I think most of us in the Java community would like to see these issues worked out, but only the revisionist historians among us think this is all Oracle: Apache had disagreements about this with Sun as well. Now, the Apache Software Foundation has resigned from the Executive Committee of the Java Community Process. Others to have resigned recently from the JCP include Doug Lea and Tim Peierls. The JCP was under stress even before Oracle's acquisition of Sun. Now, many prominent folks in the Java development community are asking, Is the JCP Dead?


Lucene

Apache Lucene has been around for more than a decade, but 2010 was certainly a big year for Lucene. Many Java developers that I know started to get serious about Lucene in 2010 and its adoption rate certainly seems to have taken off. Grant Ingersoll provides a much more descriptive overview of Lucene in 2010 in the post The Apache Lucene Ecosystem: My View of 2010. Ingersoll highlights the merger of Lucene and Solr as well as additions and enhancements to Lucene and Solr to support trendy topics in software development such as cloud computing and location-aware applications. He also points out that Twitter used Lucene in its search engine in 2010.


iBATIS Forks/Moves from ASF to Google Code and Becomes MyBatis

In 2010, iBATIS creator Clinton Begin and the rest of the iBATIS for Java and iBATIS.net committers made the decision to move their efforts from iBATIS under the Apache Software Foundation umbrella to Google Code. They did this by forking iBATIS and calling it MyBatis (somewhat reminiscent of MySQL naming?) on Google Code. As Begin points out in the 21 May 2010 entry on the main page of ASF iBATIS project, very little that matters to developers changes immediately. An important consistency is that MyBatis retains the Apache License, Version 2.0 that its source iBATIS was licensed under.

I have not used iBATIS (or MyBatis), but I have heard and read many good things about it. I found this development particularly interesting from the perspective of wondering why the project committers are moving the project from the deservedly venerated ASF to Google Code. The explanations for this transition can be found in at least two primary sources.

In the About MyBatis page, there is a section called "The Apache Software Foundation" that contains an informative paragraph:
In six years [since Begin's donation of iBATIS name and code to ASF in 2004] a lot had changed in the world of open source software. Everything from development practices, infrastructure, licensing and even database technology changed drastically. In 2010 the core development team decided that these developments were worth exploring and that iBATIS would benefit from some significant changes. This was a serious consideration and the move meant leaving the iBATIS name behind.

Some implications of the motivations for the change can be derived from the above paragraph, but it even more details and clarity are found on the iBATIS home page that now focuses on the move to MyBatis on Google Code. I think the section under the heading "GOALS" is particularly informative in terms of understanding the reason for the transition:

We believe can improve a number of things by making this move, including (but not limited to):

* Lighter process
* More frequent releases
* Unified infrastructure
* Modernized tools (source control etc.)
* Build and deployment automation
* Easier to use mailing lists
* Single sign-on for users
* Greater community involvement
* More productive development team

The Wiki page DocIbatis2MyBatis discusses how to migrate from iBATIS 3 to MyBatis and includes an interesting twist on copyright versus license as a response to the question "Did the license change?": "The copyright for future code will change. But the license is still the Apache License 2.0."

With the "direct fork" of iBATIS to MyBatis, ASF iBATIS has now been moved into the Apache Attic with other Apache Software Foundation products that have similarly met their end of life such as Beehive, Crimson (replaced by Xerces), and Shale.


Conclusion

As is the case every year, I found it difficult to limit my list to ten items. There is no doubt that others would place other developments in the top ten, but I believe that this list of developments is a good starting point for reviewing what's happened in the world of software development (especially in Java development) in 2010.


Additional Reading

This is the time of year for this type of blog posts. Others that may be of interest include The Top 7 Java Stories of 2010, Top 10 Software Stories of 2010, The Top Tech Tech Stories of 2010, 2010: Yet Another Great Year for PHP, Top 12 Tech Embarrassments of 2010, and The Major Incidents on the Internet in 2010.

4 comments:

Dustin said...

James Sugrue has posted Was 2010 Java's Biggest Year? on DZone/JavaLobby. In arguing that 2010 may have been one of Java's most "defining" years, Sugrue references many of the same events that I also thought were big enough to cover in this post. He added one that I should have probably included at least in my honorable mention: Google's release of several great tools for Java development free of charge and Google's open sourcing of WindowBuilder and CodePro Profiler and their inclusion with Eclipse. Even better than these being available free of charge is the fact that Google seems intent on continuing their investment in these tools. It's one thing to throw tools or frameworks "over the wall" and hope that someone else maintains them. It's entirely more helpful when a large sponsor can contribute to support the open source and freely available product.

Dustin said...

In later days of 2010 since I posted this post, a few more blog posts have come out with additional details on topics I discussed in this post.

These include GlassFish in 2010 - What A Year!, A Year of Clojure, Perl 6 in 2010, A Look Back at Open Source 2010, Tomcat Expert's Top 10 of 2010, and I-Programmer's Year 2010.

Dustin said...

In his post Java EE 6 - The Most Popular Thing in 2010, Adam Bien lists signs of 2010 being a big year for Java EE 6.

Dustin said...

The PHP community has focused specifically on the issue of Tweets apparently replacing blogs. Chris Shiflett has proposed "Ideas of March" blogging revival and this idea is further elaborated on in Ideas of March Kicks Off a Blogging Revival.