Eclipse survey shows Windows decline

In May 2009 the open source Eclipse project surveyed its users. Visitors to the Eclipse site were asked to complete a survey, and 1365 did so. That’s out of around 1 million visitors, which shows how much we all hate surveys. Anyway, this report [pdf] was the result. A similar survey [pdf] was carried out in 2007, potentially making a valuable comparison, though the earlier survey has different questions making direct comparisons difficult in most cases, which is a shame. I especially missed the detail on which Eclipse projects are used most which is well covered in the 2007 report.

Here is what I found interesting. First, there’s a shift towards Linux and Apple Mac in the desktops developers use for Eclipse. In 2007 it was 73.8% Windows, 20% Linux and 3.5% Mac. In 2009 it is 64% Windows, 26.9% Linux and 6.9% Mac.

This is echoed in deployment platforms too (client and server). In 2007 it was 46.5% Windows, 36.6% Linux, 1% Mac; today it is 40.5% Windows, 42.7% Linux, 3% Mac.

Those surveyed were asked what other IDEs they used. I noticed that Microsoft Visual Studio and NetBeans feature fairly strongly; I also noticed that Embarcadero’s JBuilder is hardly a blip on the chart – intriguing, given how popular this used to be in the pre-Eclipse era.

The most popular code management tool is Subversion (57.5%) followed by CVS (20%). For build tools, Ant (33.4%) and Maven (18%).

Here’s an intriguing one: I often hear that Java is only successful on the server. That presumption is not supported by this survey. 23.4% said that desktop client apps are the primary type of software they are developing, compared to 30.2% server, and 24.7% web or RIA apps.

The preferred app server is Apache Tomcat (34.8%) followed by JBoss (12.7%) and Websphere (6.9%).

The most popular database manager is MySQL (27.7%) followed by Oracle (27.3%). That’s 55% for Sun+Oracle, of course, though bear in mind that many of the MySQL users are likely attracted by its free licence.

Before drawing too many conclusions, bear in mind that it is a small sample self-selected by people willing to take the survey; apparently it was also featured by a German technology site which resulted in a larger response from German visitors.

Although it suggests a declining use of Windows – which is especially plausible given the trend towards web applications – it does not prove it beyond the Eclipse community.

And next time – how about using the same questions, which would make it possible to identify trends?

I’ve also written about Eclipse here: The Eclipse Conundrum: can it grow without hurting its contributors?

Upgrade to Windows 7 in Europe: confusing as expected

PC manufacturers are now publicising their upgrade deals for Windows 7. Buy a machine with Vista today, get a free upgrade to Windows 7 later.

Except the software is not an upgrade as such – it’s a replacement. Here are the details from Asus, for example, which note:

The Windows® 7 Upgrade Option Program requires a clean installation of the Windows 7 upgrade media.  All personal data and settings, including documents, pictures, files, programs, music and video, should be backed-up prior to performing the clean installation of Windows 7.  After installation of Windows 7, the end user should then re-install all personal data and restore settings. Visit for important information.

I think (and hope) that the referenced Microsoft site is only a placeholder, since its instructions are far from detailed:

… before installing E editions of Windows 7, make sure to back up your files and settings to an external hard disk, USB Flash Drive, or other media. After the installation, move your files and settings back to your PC and reinstall the programs you want to keep using.

Important: E editions of Windows 7 do not include Internet Explorer. We recommend that you get an Internet browser from Microsoft or another software manufacturer and have it available on a CD/DVD or other media so you can install it after you install Windows 7.

It is not a trivial exercise. There is a Windows Easy Transfer wizard for XP and Vista, and I presume this will be used:

Although this does a reasonable job, there are plenty of gotchas. The most obvious is that it generally cannot transfer applications, only data. It gives the user options concerning which folders to copy, but knowing which are needed may not be easy. It does not cope well if you partition the new computer in a different way. It presumes you have sufficient intermediate storage, which could be a problem if you have many gigabytes of media files to copy and no suitable external drive. You could get into difficulties with badly-behaved applications that store data in Program Files.

There is also a chicken-and-egg problem with reinstalling applications. You are meant to reinstall applications, and then run Easy Transfer, as otherwise installing an application might overwrite the settings you have transferred. On the other hand, if the reinstalled application has a different version than the source application (which is not unlikely if it is downloaded) then transferring settings over the top could mess it up.

Personally I’m wary of the tool. If I have to do this sort of reinstallation, I take a minimalist approach and only transfer documents, plus a few select settings that I understand. Without Easy Transfer though, it is easy to lose things like emails and address books, or browser bookmarks, the lack of which can cause aggravation.

Then there’s the matter of the web browser. Asus doesn’t say whether it is supplying one on its “driver” DVD.

Overall, I’m expecting this to be good business for armies of home PC support people.

Discussion of the reasons for this is here and here.

No more Amazon income if you are in North Carolina. Who next?

The easiest way to make money on the web is by signing up as an affiliate for and/or Google (Disclaimer: I have both). Although most affiliates achieve only small and occasional income, it is possible to earn significant amounts. With Amazon, you can create your own specialist online store and make it a viable business.

If there is anyone in North Carolina in that position, they have woken up to a nasty headache. Amazon has sent out emails telling them:

We are writing from the Amazon Associates Program to notify you that your Associates account has been closed as of June 26, 2009. This is a direct result of the unconstitutional tax collection scheme expected to be passed any day now by the North Carolina state legislature (the General Assembly) and signed by the governor. As a result, we will no longer pay any referral fees for customers referred to or after June 26. We were forced to take this unfortunate action in anticipation of actual enactment because of uncertainties surrounding the legislation’s effective date.

Affiliate James Barrett remarks:

This is absurd! No Legislation has passed and been signed nor does it appear it will … The lack of notice on this so associates could take action shows me Amazon has no respect for those sites it has been getting low cost referrals from.

My knowledge of North Carolina politics is limited; but what interests me is what this says about the Internet economy. A few giants dominate; they can afford to do without your business and you have little recourse if one day they change their terms to your disadvantage, or as in this case, cut you off completely.

The issue of how to tax online stores is important, of course, and I suspect Amazon’s move is part of a strategy to oppose taxes which will impede its business – but implemented, apparently, with scant regard for its affiliate partners.

EU responds to questions on Microsoft’s plans for Windows 7

Events in the EU’s case against browser bundling in Windows have taken an odd twist. The case was brought originally by Opera, which complained that it couldn’t sell its browser because IE came free with Windows. Other interested parties such as Google and Mozilla joined in. In January the EU issued a statement of objection:

The evidence gathered during the investigation leads the Commission to believe that the tying of Internet Explorer with Windows, which makes Internet Explorer available on 90% of the world’s PCs, distorts competition on the merits between competing web browsers insofar as it provides Internet Explorer with an artificial distribution advantage which other web browsers are unable to match. The Commission is concerned that through the tying, Microsoft shields Internet Explorer from head to head competition with other browsers which is detrimental to the pace of product innovation and to the quality of products which consumers ultimately obtain. In addition, the Commission is concerned that the ubiquity of Internet Explorer creates artificial incentives for content providers and software developers to design websites or software primarily for Internet Explorer which ultimately risks undermining competition and innovation in the provision of services to consumers.

Microsoft’s problem: whatever the merits of the EU’s case, it is desperate to have a single global launch for Windows 7, to put Vista behind it, to persuade XP users to upgrade, and to compete with Apple. The EU had in mind some sort of install menu where users could choose a browser; but Microsoft unilaterally decided to unbundle Internet Explorer from Windows 7 completely, in a special Windows E edition. Today Microsoft also confirmed that because of the EU’s case, it will not offer upgrade editions of Windows 7 in Europe.

The odd thing is, Microsoft has no guarantee that its actions will necessarily appease the EU, as confirmed when I asked about this. The EU’s immediate response was not comforting:

At the level of both computer manufacturers and retail sales, the Commission’s Statement of Objections (SO) suggested that consumers should be provided with a genuine choice of browsers. Given that over 95% of consumers acquire Windows pre-installed on a PC, it is particularly important to ensure consumer choice through the computer manufacturer channel.

As for retail sales, which amount to less than 5% of total sales, the Commission had suggested to Microsoft that consumers be provided with a choice of web browsers. Instead Microsoft has apparently decided to supply retail consumers with a version of Windows without a web browser at all. Rather than more choice, Microsoft seems to have chosen to provide less.

I spoke to Jonathan Todd, European Commission spokesman on competition:

What could happen if Windows 7E doesn’t satisfy EU requirements?

We haven’t reached any conclusions yet as to whether or not their intention would in any way be relevant to the concerns that we’ve expressed in our statement of objections. Until such time as we’ve reached our conclusions it’s difficult to comment. If we were to find that there had been a breach of the anti-trust rules we could fine them and we could require them to change their business practices.

What is the likely timescale of the EU determining whether or not the planned release of Windows 7 conforms to the requirements?

Clearly we’re doing that as quickly as possible.

How long?

That depends to a certain extent on Microsoft.

What does Microsoft need to do to expedite the process?

As we indicated in our statement, one of our concerns was that we would have to verify whether the technical separation of Internet Explorer from Windows was not negated by other actions by Microsoft, for example as regards the terms and conditions under which Internet Explorer would be made available to computer manufacturers.

There’s some tension between the usability issues that people will face when they try and acquire Windows 7, for example that acquiring an operating system without a browser could be inconvenient, and the …

[interrupts] Let me make it clear, the commission has never ever suggested to Microsoft that they should supply Windows 7 without a browser.

This has never been one of the suggestions that we’ve made to them.

It is not necessarily relevant to resolving the concerns that we have about Microsoft’s conduct.

The considerations are that consumers have to have genuine choice about which browser they use.

Why do the same conditions not apply to Apple and other operating system vendors?

For the extremely simple reason that Apple doesn’t enjoy a dominant position of the operating system market. It’s not a problem to have a dominant position, but when you are in a dominant position in the market, and they have over 90% of the operating system market, when you are in a dominant position that places constraints on what you can and cannot do.

I suppose the counter argument is that if you are in the operating system market you need to be allowed to offer similar features to others in that same space?

Listen. You can do what you like in terms of bundling if you are not in a dominant position. If you are in a dominant position your actions have a direct affect on competition throughout that market. That’s the difference.

How low would Microsoft’s share of the market need to dip before they would no longer be required to hobble their product for the sake of competition law?

I don’t agree with your analogy about hobbling their product. What we’re talking about is making sure that consumers are not hobbled by what is imposed on them by Microsoft.

There are advantages to having a browser integrated with the operating system. For example, it means that a single vendor is managing security, that updates are coming down in a streamlined fashion, and that within enterprises the functions of the browser can be managed with the same tools that are used to manage the rest of the operating system.

If you bundle in your browser and you make it difficult for other browsers to get a market share, then you’re denying consumers choice and you’re taking away the incentive for innovation. Internet Explorer wasn’t updated for, how many years?

For five years, which was disgraceful by any measure.

Because they didn’t have an incentive to do so.

They did have an incentive to do so, but they didn’t realise that they did, and in fact Microsoft is losing market share quite rapidly in browsers which throws into doubt whether legislation is actually necessary.

You’ve read our statement. We’ve never ever suggested that Windows should be supplied without a browser. The heart of our case is genuine consumer choice. Therefore, certainly as regards retail sales of Windows 7, they appear to be taking away choice from consumers rather than giving them more.

I don’t think many users are going to be operating Windows without a browser so they are going to make that choice at some point.

Yes, but as we all know, if you are buying an operating system that doesn’t have a browser included it’s that much more difficult to actually get a browser.

If you require a software manufacturer to bundle another company’s software product with their own, it raises questions about security, about support, about updates, which are difficult ones, I understand why Microsoft might not be willing to do so.

We both know also that Microsoft claimed for many years it was technically impossible to separate Internet Explorer from the operating system.

Microsoft does not intend to remove the parts of IE that could reasonably be described as part of the operating system. All it intends to remove is the web browser as the user sees it.

For many years Microsoft said it is impossible to sell the operating system without a browser, that it’s not possible to separate out Internet Explorer from the operating system.

Todd said more than I had expected. There are a few things I find it hard to make sense of. The EU’s complaint seems to be not only about lack of competition, but about its consequences, spelt out as lack of innovation in browsers, and Microsoft’s unfairly-gained market share for IE. This made perfect sense a couple of years ago, but not so much now. Browser innovation is rapid – look at Google Chrome, WebKit and Safari, Mozilla FireFox, Opera (which never went away) – and Microsoft is already losing market share in browsers, a point which Todd did not answer.

On the other hand, I do not want to downplay Microsoft’s discreditable action in first energetically developing IE to squash the competition, and then leaving it frozen to promote Windows rather than the Web as the platform of choice. A disgrace; but one which the market is solving without EU legislation.

As for current developments, could Microsoft be trying to stimulate antipathy towards the EU by deliberately inconveniencing them with Windows E? Or is this really the company’s best effort to satisfy the EU while still releasing Windows 7 on time? I guess the latter; but it is an odd state of affairs.

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Windows 7: cheap prices but painful upgrade for EU

Microsoft is offering Windows 7 at bargain prices for customers who pre-order. General availability is set for October 22nd.

In the USA, Windows 7 will be on offer at $49.99 for Home Premium or $99.99 for Windows 7 Professional, if you order between 26th June and July 11th. Pre-order details are here, and upgrade deals here.

UK customers get Home Premium for £49.99 or Professional for £99.99 if they pre-order between July 15th and August 14th. That’s more expensive than in the USA but still reasonable.UK pre-order details are here, and UK upgrade deals are here.

Why so cheap? My guess is that Microsoft wants to get users off the unpopular Vista as rapidly as possible, and to persuade Windows XP diehards that now is the time to migrate. It pays to pre-order, since after the deadline prices rise to roughly match those for Windows Vista today.

The snag for customers in the EU is that there are no upgrade editions. To be clear, there is upgrade pricing, at least until December 31st 2009. Home Premium will be £79.99, Professional £189.99 and Ultimate £199.99. However, these will be discounted “Fully packaged product”, which is Microsoft-speak for an unencumbered edition you can clean install and transfer between PCs.

There will be no in-place upgrade allowed, neither for XP nor Vista. The same restriction applies to Vista PCs purchased with a “technology guarantee” that gives a free or nearly free upgrade to Windows 7 when available, a scheme which starts on June 26th for participating manufacturers.

Why not? It is all to do with the EU’s action against Microsoft concerning browser bundling. According to Microsoft’s Laurence Painell, Windows OEM & WGA Product Manager in the UK:

The reason we won’t be offering an upgrade product is because the customer with whatever previous version of Windows they had, didn’t make the decision to have IE installed. So we cannot carry Internet Explorer across into the latest version of Windows. However we’re working through the ramifications of this with the EU, but that’s pretty much what the expectations are. So currently we can’t offer an upgrade process from Windows Vista to Windows 7 that will be seamless. It will need to be a wipe and replace and the customer will then need to make a choice as to which browser they want to install after that point.

After telling me this, Painell gave a making-the-best-of-a-bad-job sigh, and I can understand why. Many users have no clue how to handle a “wipe and replace” replacement of Windows, which is not something to be undertaken lightly. In this type of installation, the hard drive is typically reformatted to be completely blank, and Windows installed as if it were a new machine. There are three substantial risks in this operation:

1. Parts of the hardware may not work if drivers are missing. You need to get these from the manufacturer’s web site.

2. All applications must be reinstalled. For this you need the setup disks or files plus serial numbers, keys and so on, which are not always available.

3. Most significant of all: any documents, pictures or other data on the hard drive is zapped. You need to copy this elsewhere first – if you know how to find it.

All this means that while technically a wipe-and-replace install is the best option (a point which Painell made to me), it is also a dangerous option for non-experts.

In mitigation, most users stick with whatever version of Windows is pre-installed, and Microsoft doesn’t support in-place upgrade from XP to Windows 7 anyway.

On the other hand, there are a couple of reasons why the in-place upgrade from Vista to 7 is unusually attractive. Unlike most Windows upgrades, 7 generally runs better than Vista on the same hardware. Vista also shares the same underlying architecture as 7, so the in-place upgrade has a good chance of working well.

Further complicating matters, EU Windows users have to cope with a version of Windows without a browser pre-installed. Painell was vague about how this will work exactly, for users who buy the retail product. Those who buy PCs with 7 pre-installed should have this sorted by the manufacturer. He did emphasise that IE will not be included at all:

Will we be putting IE disks in with the fully packaged product? No. It will be separate, and it will be down to the customer to decide whether or not they want to take it. We need to make sure that there is a clear split between IE and Windows.

How then will they get a browser? It could be “through disks in retail, through download options, or any other technology options that we can provide,” says Painell, explaining that Microsoft has between now and October to work out the details with its partners.

Could users buy an upgrade copy while on holiday in the USA, and use that?

Technically, yes, however we’re still working through what that means and whether we have to do anything in that space.

No doubt this and other workarounds will receive plenty of attention and publicity once Windows 7 is released.

It is all very inconvenient. The bizarre twist though is that Microsoft has no idea whether or not its actions in Windows E will satisfy EU requirements. I asked Painell if the EU might still object:

The conversation is still ongoing. We’re working through it with the EU, there is still the possibility, yes, but we don’t know at this stage. We’re doing what we can early on to pre-empt it and show that we’re trying to do the right thing by their decisions, but ultimately this is not final and we’re working through the process.

It all sounds like an elaborate game. Naturally I picked up the phone and spoke to the EU about Microsoft’s plans. Is it likely to disrupt them, and what are the implications? I’ve reported in a separate post.

Update: URLs added to give pre-order as well as upgrade details.

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Outlook HTML is better broken and safe, than rich and dangerous

The campaign at is brilliant. Outlook 2010 will have broken HTML support, it says, because it will use Word to render HTML:

Microsoft has confirmed they plan on using the Word rendering engine to display HTML emails in Outlook 2010. This means for the next 5 years your email designs will need tables for layout, have no support for CSS like float and position, no background images and lots more.

The web page hooks into Twitter and displays avatars from – currently – over 20,000 supporters.

Here’s a few things the campaigners do not mention. First, the Word rendering was introduced in Outlook 2007. It is not a new issue; and in fact caused some commotion last time round.

Second, using Word to render HTML is safer. Here is the bit of Microsoft’s response that matters to me:

For e-mail viewing, Word also provides security benefits that are not available in a browser: Word cannot run web script or other active content that may threaten the security and safety of our customers.

I recall endless security problems with embedded Internet Explorer in earlier versions of Outlook. I used to set Outlook to display as plain text; and even then there were scenarios in which IE could be exploited.

Third, I have no enthusiasm for emails laden with “rich” HTML, JavaScript, Flash and the like. These kinds of emails are invariably marketing and usually not worth reading. What is the “Email Standards Project”? It’s nothing to do with the W3C. The major sponsor appears to be Freshview, whose main product is Campaign Monitor:

Built just for designers, Campaign Monitor is 100% rebrandable email marketing software. Send campaigns for yourself, your clients or let them send their own at prices you set.

I am not averse to simple formatting in emails, for which Word is more than adequate. I agree that Word is not good as an HTML editor or renderer; but in this context it matters little – though I was even happier with the simple HTML editor Outlook used to have for those who disabled Word integration.

Therefore I am opposed to this campaign and suspect that many of the signatories have clicked with little thought or investigation.

That said, there is plenty wrong with Outlook. Dire performance issues in Outlook 2007; the most impenetrable user interface in general use; broken RSS support that fails to integrate sensibly with either Exchange or Internet Explorer; an archiving system that by default leaves users that have more than one PC with archives all over the place and in hard-to-find locations; and plenty more.

It would be great if Microsoft would fix Outlook; but not, please, by returning to embedded IE.

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Search for virus help highlights lack of authority in Google, Wikipedia

A contact suffered a trojan infection on his Windows XP machine the other day. He was alerted to the infection by Windows Defender, but the Remove or Quarantine actions offered by Defender did not work. If he removed the trojan, it reappeared on the next reboot. The installed AVG security suite sat there unconcerned.

I am not sure exactly what path he took, but he did some clicking of links and ended up at a site which offered software that promised to fix the issue. The software was called SpyHunter, from Enigma Software. He purchased and installed SpyHunter, which proved no more effective than Defender. At this point he asked me to look at his machine.

A person who has discovered a virus on their PC will be anxious about the attack and its unknown consequences, and will want to fix it urgently. That makes them vulnerable to ill-considered downloads and purchases; and searching the web for assistance with a virus can be like trying to cure alcoholism with drinking. That said, there is good advice to be had; but assessing the authority and reliability of the assistance offered is critical.

My advice in general is only to visit sites that you know to be trusted, such as official Microsoft support, major security software vendors, and only those community sites with which you are already familiar. It is difficult advice to follow though, particularly for non-technical users.

The best course of action after a confirmed infection is to flatten and rebuild the operating system. Larger organizations do this efficiently by restoring a pre-configured image to standardised hardware, but this too is difficult for individuals and SMEs who want to get on with their work.

I digress. My first question: was SpyHunter bona fide, or could it have made the problem worse? The only quick way to find out: back to the search engines, source of all good and all evil. The top entries for SpyHunter on both Google and Bing are the official company site and a Wikipedia entry. Bing has Wikipedia first, while Google puts the company site top.

Note the large role Google (or your favourite search engine) is playing here, both in leading users to possible solutions, and in assessing their value. Although the high placement of the company site is somewhat reassuring, in that Google would probably try not to give a high ranking to known malware, it would be a mistake to rely entirely on a detail like this. Google makes no guarantees concerning the content of the sites it indexes.

Naturally I was more interested in the Wikipedia entry. The entry is annotated with warnings that the article is near-orphaned (though the search engines find it readily enough) and that it reads like an advertisement. There is little detail and it is out-of-date. Further, the language seems strange:

In early 2004, SpyHunter was blamed for producing false positives and using aggressive advertising techniques. This resulted in a lot of bad SpyHunter reviews published. Some of them were harsh, but fair, while others were simply ridiculous. We confirm that SpyHunter was promoted aggressively by some affiliates, but all of them were eventually banned by program makers in late 2004. Early SpyHunter versions had some obvious drawbacks. The product’s version 2.0 resolved all these issues.

This is a quote from a supposedly independent review on a site called I don’t like the site, which seems (as are so many) dominated by its affiliate links.

SpyHunter is probably harmless, though ineffective. I used the Sophos command-line tool to remove the trojan, and deleted some rogue registry entries; the machine seems OK now though that might just mean that the other trojans are doing a better job of hiding. I also removed SpyHunter of course.

The state of security on the Internet remains lamentable, and security software is a partial solution at best. What interests me here though is the combination of two things:

1. The inadequacy of Wikipedia as an authoritative source, particularly in its less trafficked topics.

2. The high ranking accorded to seemingly any Wikipedia article by the leading search engines.

It is a dangerous combination – not only for virus victims, but for kids doing homework, or anyone researching anything.

What next for Adobe LiveCycle ES?

Yesterday I met Adobe’s Duane Nickull for a chat about the company’s efforts in SOA. Nickull is a battle-scarred enterprise architect with a deep knowledge of SOA standards, who is now a senior technical evangelist for Adobe. He represents what I think of as the other Adobe: not the company that does things you would not believe in Photoshop, but the one that has created an end-to-end development platform with LiveCycle Enterprise Suite (plus your favourite application server) at one end, and Flex at the other.

It is an aspect of Adobe that deserves more attention. For example, this note in Anil Channapa’s What’s New in LiveCycle Data Services 3 caught my attention:

The LiveCycle Data Services 3 beta supports an acknowledge capability that enables all communications between Flex-based applications for Flash and the LiveCycle Data Services server to be guaranteed. All that you have to do is mark the LiveCycle Data Services 3 beta server destination as reliable.

I think this is huge. As Channapa goes on to note, for developers contemplating ecommerce or financial applications, this is a key feature.

I learned from Nickull that this feature is based on WS-RX and that in general we should expect more WS-* implementations to turn up in LiveCycle ES. RESTafarians will be sceptical, but I suspect this will help Adobe to make inroads into enterprise development.

That said, I do think Adobe has issues positioning and promoting LiveCycle ES. The more glitzy Creative Suite tends to grab all the attention, and indeed accounts for by far the largest slice of Adobe’s revenue. When I attended MAX in Milan last year, I don’t recall any mention for LiveCycle in the keynotes; it was one of those things you had to discover, though there were some excellent sessions on the subject.

I think Adobe should push LiveCycle ES harder, particularly as a business model based mainly on selling a huge suite of design tools strikes me as precarious. Adobe is making a start and has announced a LiveCycle@MAX bundle for MAX 2009 [warning: autoplay sound] in early October.

The LiveCycle ES brand encompasses what used to be Macromedia’s Flex Data Services as well as Adobe’s PDF-oriented software for managing workflow and data gathering. If you look at Adobe’s LiveCycle ES page, it all seems PDF-centric and Data Services is hidden away as the last item under Data capture.

In reality LiveCycle Data Services ES has a lot to offer even if you don’t care a bean about PDF, but that is a fact that is easy to miss. Another positioning issue. Adobe has been over-zealous in its PDF-with-everything strategy.

I also asked Nickull how fits with with Adobe’s SOA strategy. He said that a move to application hosting would be a logical one, though he implied that it would be geared towards SMEs.

Host your Java application on Adobe’s servers, with built-in LiveCycle Data Services for your Flex client? That makes sense to me.

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Does Visual Basic have a future?

I was interested in this podcast with a member of the Visual Basic team at Microsoft, Lisa Feigenbaum, as I ask myself the same question.

Unfortunately the questioning from Joe Stagner (who also works for Microsoft) is tame. Nevertheless, there are a few points of interest.

“The things that come out of Microsoft, it is C# biased” admits Feigenbaum, which she says is because so many at Microsoft have a C or Java background.

That is part of the reason (though more C than Java) but I doubt it is that simple. If you go back to the beginnings of .NET, Microsoft designed C# and what was then the new framework and runtime together. VB on the other hand was hauled into the new world and still bears the scars.

Let’s answer the question first. Microsoft cannot afford to abandon VB, which remains popular, especially (though certainly not exclusively) at the less professional end of the market. VB isn’t going away.

Further, there’s really very little difference in the capabilities of the two languages, so there is little incentive for anyone to switch. Microsoft has attempted to differentiate them, but these attempts generally fail. “Any time we do something cool in one language, the other folks want it” says Stagner in the podcast.

As I see it, that’s part of the problem. It begs the question: what is the point of VB, other than to keep existing VB developers happy? In what circumstances would you advise a new programmer to learn VB rather than C#?

I dip in and out of both VB and C#, and of the two I prefer C#. I find VB’s slightly increased verbosity annoying, and I dislike the statement continuation character which is unnecessary in C#, because statements end with semicolons. I prefer case-sensitive languages, which give more flexibility when naming variables. If you want to do XNA games programming, currently only C# is supported. 

VB’s dynamic features are useful in some scenarios, particularly Office automation, though this advantage is removed in C# 4.0 which has dynamic variables.

The original attraction of BASIC, its English-like syntax, is nearly lost in today’s VB.

Well, choice is good; and the existence of VB alongside C# proved the cross-language credentials of the “common language” runtime from the get-go.

Nevertheless, I’m expecting VB usage to decline gradually. An external factor is the rise of the JavaScript family, which is more like C# than VB.

Incidentally, Feigenbaum threw in a comment about Visual Studio that I found interesting. After talking about the managed code editor in Visual Studio 2010, she remarks “In the release after 1010 we’re rewriting the compilers in managed code.”

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