Misleading report downplays developer support for Vista

June 25, 2008

Misleading report downplays developer support for Vista There’s plenty of talk about a report which appears to show software developers are targeting XP ahead of Vista by a wide margin. But the claims are heavily flawed by a misunderstanding about how developers work.

The fuss is about a study from Evans Data Corp, a market research firm which specialises in the software development industry. According to the report, only eight percent of developers in North America are writing for Vista, while 49% are writing for XP. If the statistics are to be believed, Vista is actually losing out to open-source system Linux, which has 13% of developers backing it.

The developers questioned in the survey predict there’ll be a switch to Vista next year, but it will still lag behind XP (by 29%-24%).

There have been widespread news reports painting this as another blow for Vista’s prospects. But common sense should raise an obvious question: why would developers be targeting XP well into 2009 when it will be long past its official retirement?

The answer is that developers don’t usually target a specific edition of Windows. As the PC World news site explains, developers actually choose what’s called an application programming interface (API) when they write software.

In some cases, such as writing for the PlayStation 2, this is specific to a particular system. But with Microsoft there is a generic API which covers all versions of Windows. In most cases developers use this API unless they want to take advantage of a feature or technology that only works with a specific edition of Windows.

It appears, therefore, that the 8% figure in the study only covers developers who are writing software which only works in Vista. In many, if not most, of the 49% cases where developers are supposedly targeting XP, they’ll be writing software which works on both systems.

The whole issue is pretty open to interpretation. Looking positively, the 8% figure is a sign that the transition to Vista has worked out particularly smoothly for developers. Looking negatively, it means there’s little of the Vista-only software which might boost the number of users making the switch.

The authors of the study probably didn’t set out with a specific conclusion in mind. But the way it’s been reported does suggest Vista’s image is so poor that many reporters instinctively pick up on any news which continues the story of Vista ‘failing’.

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