App dev 2013: The winners and losers

It was a year of interesting surprises, as lighter and faster tools moved from trendy to entrenched in the world of enterprise programming

The software development landscape in 2013 saw technologies like JavaScript rise to new heights while others -- Java, for example -- maintained their prominence out of sheer inertia.

For software developers this year, JavaScript become even more dominant via an ever-expanding ecosystem of frameworks. Samsung tried to establish itself as its own platform in the Android market. API technology, despite a 30-year history, generated a lot of buzz a lot in 2013 as a way to access services and create revenue-generating opportunities for developers. PaaS (platform-as-a-service) cloud computing got a second look this year and is set for big things in 2014, analysts say.

Meanwhile, the long-established Java and Microsoft .Net software development technologies took a backseat to JavaScript and mobile platforms. But both still are important, and the large base of applications and developers using Java and .Net over many years will ensure they remain prominent.

JavaScript is everywhere

It seems you can't get into a discussion on software development any more without hearing about JavaScript, JavaScript, JavaScript. Yes, JavaScript has been a big deal for a while, even garnering mentions on "Saturday Night Live" and in a Weird Al Yankovic song parody several years ago.

But in 2013, JavaScript was like a snowball rolling down a mountain, getting bigger and bigger. It is the cornerstone of development frameworks like Meteor, Angular.js, and Famo.us, all which are building developer followings. JavaScript is on Web clients, where it has always been. It is key to mobile development, where much of the software action is today. And it is on the server, via Node.js.

Users of Appcelerator's JavaScript-based mobile application development platform ranked JavaScript ahead of Java, Objective-C, C#, Ruby, and C/C++ for mobile development, according to a November survey by the firm. Appcelerator customers lean toward JavaScript because it can provide a single code base to work on multiple platforms, says Michael King, the company's director of enterprise strategy.

Why the surge in frameworks? Perhaps because JavaScript hit its limitations, but its ubiquity fueled efforts to overcome them. "This was a very interesting year because people see the writing on the wall," says Meteor co-founder Matt DeBergalis. "The ecosystem is still nascent, the tools aren't good enough, and Meteor is, I'd like to think, part of that story [of improving JavaScript tooling]."

Samsung looks to stand out on Android

Clearly, Samsung wants to set itself apart from other Android vendors. It has created a distinct set of services (Chord instant messaging, entertainment management, and Knox security) and even hardware features, such as pen support and non-touch-based gestures in its devices. And it wants developers to write specifically to them, not just to generic Android. Samsung upgraded its mobile SDK in October, had a developer conference to encourage Samsung-specific apps, and sponsored small hackathons around the world to create momentum.

Other companies -- notably Motorola (before Google bought its mobile devices arm) and Verizon Wireless -- have tried a similar strategy, with no success. But Samsung has a chance to succeed in 2014, says Andrew Borg, a mobile analyst at the Aberdeen Group. "Let's put it this way: They began a process that could put them on that trajectory, but I wouldn't say they were successful in building momentum" for the company's specific development capabilities.

APIs coming into their own

APIs built momentum in 2013, giving developers a mechanism to interact with large Web properties. Indeed, APIs have become the new SOA (service-oriented architecture) but offer greater simplicity. "APIs have jumped out of the petri dish of the enterprise," says Kin Lane, an independent API evangelist. Companies ranging from PayPal to Walgreens, as well as government agencies, have jumped on the API bandwagon.

Technologies like REST and JSON are critical in the API party, in which thousands of APIs have become available. Mobile applications and cloud deployments have been key drivers of APIs, with APIs connecting users to application services. "We can call 2013 a watershed year for Internet APIs," says Forrester Research analyst John Rymer. "Client interest in the topic is high." The industry is aware, too, as evidenced by the 2013 acquisition of Mashery by Intel, Axway's late-2012 acquisition of Vordel, and the constant dribble of new APIs in API broker Apigee's service.

"The most important and underreported trend we've seen around APIs is how enterprise adoption for internal private APIs is skyrocketing, spurred on by mobile app requirements," says John Sheehan, CEO of Runscope, which provides offers developers services to solve consumption-side API problems. "Companies are building more and more APIs to power their line-of-business apps, then finding that those same services can be used across the organization for all their cross-functional integrations."

PaaS gets second look

Analysts are bullish on PaaS, the platform service subset of cloud computing. With PaaS platforms like Microsoft Windows Azure and Amazon Web Services, developers build and deploy applications on a cloud already fitted with specific development tools and language capabilities.

The PaaS promise is not new, but it got more traction this year, says Forrester's Rymer: "Having failed to catch on during the initial wave of cloud platform adoption, VCs and customers gave PaaS vendors another look in 2013."

Analysts at 451 Research also see improved prospects for PaaS. "For 2013, we are projecting well over 50 percent growth over 2012," says 451 analyst Greg Zwakman. The research firm expects PaaS usage to grow 41 percent each year through 2016, to account for 24 percent of total cloud revenues.

"PaaS has come to mean integrated middleware and services developers use to run cloud applications," says 451 Research analyst Michael Cote. "The tools and practices behind devops are reaching the mainstream, and the fast rise of things like Docker and mainstream [selling] of Cloud Foundry are all encouraging."

Java and Microsoft .Net: As trendy as Cobol

2013 continued to see the march of Apple's iOS and Google's Android as targets for developers. Java and Microsoft .Net, by contrast, remained key platforms for developers, but without the excitement they once generated.

However, Java development serves as the linchpin of Android development via the Dalvik virtual machine. Java Standard Edition and Java Enterprise Edition still have enough developers using them to make sure they remain viable forces for the foreseeable future. Java EE 7 was released this year, focusing on HTML5, batch processing, and an updated Web profile.

But there was no new release of Java SE this year -- Java SE 8 is due early in 2014 via Java Development Kit 8 -- and desktop Java remained beset with security issues in 2013. Oracle's initiatives to shore up Java security only brought more negative attention to the problem; Oracle is stuck between a rock and hard place on this one.

Microsoft updated its software development tool set for .Net yet again this year with the release of Visual Studio 2013, offering improvements in application lifecycle management, including new links to Windows Azure. Microsoft improved .Net's Web development and code editing capabilities as well.

Still, Microsoft's absence from the mobile battleground -- largely an iOS vs. Android affair -- has left the company's .Net software development platform in a similar position as Java: .Net relies on being a legacy, ubiquitous platform rather than on being where the new technology trends are occurring. Indeed, the move to mobile means few companies are targeting Windows PCs and browsers before mobile devices, says 451 Research analyst Chris Hazelton. "Now, you're seeing companies that are targeting mobile first."

This story, "App dev 2013: The winners and losers," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the latest developments in programming at InfoWorld.com. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

Paul Krill is an editor at large at InfoWorld, focusing on coverage of application development (desktop and mobile) and core Web technologies such as HTML5, Java, and Flash.

This story, "App dev 2013: The winners and losers" was originally published by InfoWorld.

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