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Survey: Desktop Development Is Most Popular, Pays Well

Remember the desktop? It used to be a popular development target, before all the mobile-first, cloud-first and, most recently, Internet-of-Things hype.

Well, apparently it still is, and paying off well, according to the latest research from VisionMobile Ltd., which yesterday published the results of its Developer Economics: State of Developer Nation Q1 2016 report. The London-based market analysis and strategy firm conducts regular quarterly surveys of worldwide development trends that poll upwards of 21,000 developers.

In the latest report, the No. 1 takeaway listed by the company states: "Desktop development is still the most-popular place to be, attracting 50 percent of professional developers, and making money for them too."

"Mobile, IoT and cloud, might get more media attention and newspaper headlines, but the humble desktop is where computer users still spend most of their working lives, so it shouldn't be surprising that so many professional developers are involved in creating desktop applications," the survey reported.

However, this isn't your traditional Windows or Linux or Mac OS desktop. Rather, it's a platform to present a Web app. (Also, as VisionMobile points out, today that term really means "laptop.")

The Desktop Rules
[Click on image for larger view.] The Desktop Rules (source: VisionMobile)

"Those developers aren't necessarily targeting traditional desktop platforms, as 44 percent of them are creating applications which will run within the Web browser, and thus work across all the popular operating systems," VisionMobile said. "Applications running in a browser gain the cross-platform capabilities that Web technologies provide, as well as enabling developers to make use of generic skills and high-level scripting languages. Web apps happily combine content using different technologies, can easily be connected to a cloud service, and even provide a foothold in the mobile market as portable browsers often rival their desktop equivalents in functionality and compatibility."

Also, even though cutting-edge technologies, cross-platform approaches, interoperability and polyglot development are blurring the traditional lines between platforms, the desktop is paying off relatively well for developers, many of whom, according to VisionMobile, are finding it hard to generate enough revenue to stay above the "poverty line" arbitrarily set at $500 per month.

"Desktop developers are more likely to be making money, above the poverty line, than those working in mobile or IoT, but we see that more than 45 percent are still making less than $500 a month," VisionMobile said. "Despite that, we do have a healthy population of desktop developers who are earning a sustainable revenue, and a quarter of them are in our top-earner category pulling in more than $25,000 a month."

And, again, the Web figures into that latest finding, as a large plurality of those top earners target the browser rather than a desktop OS. "The advantages of browser-based applications are manifold: integral cross-platform capability, fast WYSIWYG development, and sandboxing to prevent catastrophic failure," the report stated.

Making Money
[Click on image for larger view.] Making Money (source: VisionMobile)

On the mobile side, the browser doesn't figure so prominently, even though many cutting-edge initiatives (see what Flipkart and the Google Chrome team are doing) are bring the mobile Web app experience closer to that enjoyed by mobile app users. Compared to the 42 percent of desktop high earners (more than $25,000 per month) who use the Web as their desktop target, only 11 percent of high-earning mobile developers are building Web apps for their platform (basically iOS or Android).

Among those top earners, the cloud is actually the most profitable platform, even edging out the Web/desktop. "The most-profitable development is clearly in the cloud, 32 percent are in our top-earner category pulling in more than $25,000 a month," the report said. "We have already established that cloud developers are the most experienced community and in other studies (notably Cloud and Desktop Developer Landscape 2016) we have noted that cloud developers have a higher level of professional qualification, so it shouldn't be entirely surprising that they are making more money for their companies and themselves."

The new report -- available for free download upon providing registration information -- polled nearly 22,000 developers residing in more than 150 nations last October and November.

About the Author

David Ramel is the editor of Visual Studio Magazine.

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