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Six Years and Counting: Developers Weigh in on the State of the Java Market : Page 2

As part of our comprehensive analysis of the past, present, and future of a breakthrough development technology, we asked Java developers where they stand on the tools and technologies that make Java work for them.


The State of the Java Market
Based on very recent and extensive independent research we've drawn a sharp picture of what Java looks like, six years out, using as our eyes those who know best: in-the-trenches professional application developers, project managers, IT professionals, CTOs, and independent consultants. With the help of the Adams Company of Palo Alto, Calif. we conducted a lengthy survey of Java professionals, polling readers of both DevX's Java Update newsletter and Java Promagazine during March and April of 2001. The individuals who answered our survey comprised a wide range of software development capacities—19 percent were commercial software developers, 26 percent did either custom/contract applications or worked at a commercial ISV, 24 percent fell into the in-house corporate development group, and 13 percent worked at application service providers.

To learn more about the demographic makeup of our survey respondents, their professional experience, and job titles, please see our sidebar "The People We Polled."

Despite the somewhat tedious length of this survey, more than 2,600 people responded, telling us about where and how they use Java, what they like and don't like about Java and competing technologies, what they see in Java's future, and their opinions on the various Java products and vendors in the marketplace. It encompasses tools, operating environments, projects, teams, skills, name brands, reputations, preferences, demographics, and a lot more. (Percentages in the text of this article have been rounded to the nearest whole number. For exact tallies see the charted data.)

Are Tools So Cool?
Java may have finally broken through the majority of barriers that held it back in its early years thanks to improved performance and greater fulfillment on the promise to run anywhere consistently, but if there's one thing that's clear from our research, it's that tools to make Java development easier at every level of the programming hierarchy could still improve.

Our readers told us that they see a significant gap between what they need from Java tools and what they get from the Java tools currently on the market. In our survey, we asked respondents to rate the importance of certain tool features on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the highest importance ranking. Figure 1 shows the number of respondents giving each feature either a 4 or 5 ranking. Figure 2shows the number of developers saying they gave a 4 or 5 ranking to the current stable of available tools for Java development.

Java developers want simple features that work. Performance ranked highest among 16 different features that developers usually rely on commercial tools to provide. Eighty-six percent answered that performance is of critical importance in a Java tool, followed by conformance to standards at 84 percent and debugging at 83 percent. The next-most named features that our respondents said they longed for were code reuse and speed (both 79 percent), followed by a graphical user interface (71 percent) and XML support (69 percent).

Figure 1. Importance of Certain Tool Features: Percentage of those saying that the feature listed is a 4 or a 5 in importance (on a scale of 1 to 5)
Figure 2. Satisfaction with Tools: Percentage of those saying that their satisfaction with the feature listed is a 4 or a 5 (on a scale of 1 to 5)

Judging by Figure 1, rapid application development features, such as automated coding, are not valued particularly high by today's Java developers; only 32 percent gave it a 4 or 5 rating. Further, developers don't seem particularly anxious to find a one-stop IDE for development. Only 37 percent felt that it was important for coding tools to be sold as a suite (see also Figures 4 and 5).

What we noticed immediately in looking at this data was the significant drop in those respondents giving a 4 or 5 rating to satisfaction with the available tools. Compilers, at 55 percent, are the only tools that the majority of developers felt are currently exceeding their expectations. SDKs received the next-highest ranking at 48 percent. IDEs were third (36 percent). Database tools and application servers were a precipitous step lower.

Modeling tools, deployment tools, team development tools, and report generation tools brought up the rear. We attribute low rankings across the board to general immaturity in the Java tools market.

Figure 3. Importance of XML Support: Importance of XML support in Java tools as an influence on business development over the next 12 to 18 months, broken out by: a) all respondents b) those who program primarily in Java and c) those who said they were highly skilled in XML

One of the biggest questions this brought to our minds is: Are top-notch Java development tools rare because Java developers don't demand them, or have Java developers learned to live just fine, thank you, without top-notch toolsets that other language developers have come to expect because the tools were too slow to materialize? The answer is probably a little of both. Let's face it: Java programmers, in general, are a sophisticated lot, most of whom have traditional computer science training and deep knowledge of general application logic. You'll see more evidence of this throughout the results.

XML support was among the things consistently ranked very high in importance (see Figure 3). Not surprisingly, those respondents who gave themselves high rankings in XML expertise deemed it most important with 41 percent giving XML support a 5 ranking. Those who said Java was their primary programming language came in a bit higher than the status quo, at 36 percent vs. 34 percent for the entire respondent base. Indeed, our study showed a strong correlation right now between Java and XML, with a strong increasing trend over two years.

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