Is Apple Winning The War For Developer Hearts & Minds?

Microsoft has lost the faithful and Apple is welcoming them with open arms, other vendors too. Google is too slow to accumulate new users and will end up doing plumbing like Amazon if they are not careful. Maybe Google Wave will buy them a reprieve but they could end up like TomTom the venerable GPS provider just now an accessory maker for the iPhone.

There are also two mainstream battlefields – mobile and desktop – or should I say mobile and semi-mobile because laptops are the new desktop. This is evidenced by the risk of the netbook, the collapse of advanced laptop prices (particularly from Apple) and laptop/netbook/smartphone sales dramatically exceeding desktops.

The recent World Wide Developer Conference for Apple was a key turning point in this war, it was the biggest event of it’s kid ever for Apple. In the same week Steve Jobs announced his liver transplant (and return to work planned in weeks) his replacement team stepped up tos how they are more than able to handle the job. At the same time youtube is over run with videos slamming Steve Balmer as nothing less than a maniac – at least on the topic of developers, developers, developers (google it) – because we all know how important they are.

Over 1,000,000 downloads of the developer software development kit for iphone, over 50,000 apps on the Apple appstore, 900 improvements to existing core applications, the list goes on.

The reality is Microsoft are still winning with .net (particularly version 3 and 3.5) particularly on the server – continuing to gain acceptance (despite having heels nipped by Ruby on Rails and a resurgence in the Lisp family like Scala and Erlang for being used to build high end sites like Twitter.

But apple has the momentum where it counts – owning the user experience.

And the ecosystem of real word devices the connect now are changing the game – monitoring heart rates, advising diabetes on exact insulin amounts, amazing connected gaming, school science with real time sensors – all unheard of in the mass market even a year ago, let alone with this incredibly high level of end user experience.

MS is being smart and quietly building compatibility underpinning for some of the above languages into the CLR (Common Language Runtime) so it can run (like Java on JVM – Virtual Machines – over all OSes) over the top of .net and hence Windows.

Nokia too has done well with the new ovi (their word for app) store – but Nokia can’t hold a candle on the server.

Apple and Microsoft (and ORacle/Sun) is the game, but while Apple do have desktop/laptop developer appeal that is growing (up 300% in two years to circa 75m active users) they still struggle on the server outside niche markets.

So they have a new version of the core OS – called OSX Snow Leopard and priced at $49 for three pack it is ridiculously cheap. It also has lots of MS interoperability built in FREE now like exchange and MS Office compatibility in the new iWork’09 suite.

So what about Apple on the server? Well maybe they don’t want it, or maybe they do but are taking their time about it. 64-bit OS is gradually coming, 50% improvement in space efficiency, 80% efficiency in some internet aspects and expansion of addressable memory fto 16 Billion Gb. Now you are talking.

Oracle/Sun has a huge footprint and corporate trust but smaller developers will be hurt during the coming consolidation and smart guys are holding back committing to new investment until the product rationalisation strategy is clear.

But MS continues to hold the server fort for now with .net, Sun’s Java is supposedly immune from the $8.4B takeover by Oracle but every developer has had a seed of doubt sown in their mind about the future of the platform so the lazy will stay, the scared if faced with a decision will probably look at .net and the long sighted, brave and possibly ultra-naive commercially at least will look at new languages.

I think it is great. Change challenges us and encourages the great debate. Microsoft has never had more challenges and this attack on their core OS and mobile by Apple will win some. Oracle and Sun have a great opportunity and in the mean time lots of smart small platform plays are springing up on the web and the few open mobile platforms.

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