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There were some surprises lurking in this month’s TIOBE Index, the monthly survey of programming language popularity compiled by the TIOBE software company.

“Although the software industry is changing rapidly, programming language popularity seems to be an exception to all of this,” the company noted. “If we compare the top 10 of the current TIOBE index with the index of 10 years ago it contains exactly the same programming languages!”

But there may be more going on here than meets the eye…

For 14 years, the TIOBE Index has been crunching data about programming languages — and every month the site announces its newest calculations about each language’s current popularity, based on various search engine results.
Now the site is arguing that these 10 always-on-top languages have continued borrowing features from other languages — for example, C++11, Java 8, Python 3 and PHP 7. “Since the code bases for the top 10 languages are vast, engineers embrace change within a language rather than adopting a new programming language. ”

This may explain why in January, Java was still dominating the conversation, with 21.46 percent of the developer mindshare. It’s been eight years since a single language had that much of the pie. The last time was February of 2008 when the #1 language was … still Java. In fact, Java has been the #1 language on the chart since its inception, with only a couple of months where it wasn’t (when C spiked temporarily into the #1 spot). Starting in 2012, C seemed to have finally gained the upper hand — but then Java reclaimed its crown late last spring, and never looked back.

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Yet while the two fought a death match — the language from the ’70s versus the language from the ’90s — those last 12 years saw a gradual decline in mentions of C++. So now none of the other languages can even claim a 5 percent share of the conversation. The Index’s real story for the last five years may be a decline in the popularity of PHP.

But all this hints at what may be an even bigger surprise…

Now even mighty Java has started trending down over the last few months — and so has C. Even stranger, it doesn’t seem as though the other eight languages in the top 10 are what’s eating into their share. It’s part of the fun in examining all this data — all the provocative questions that it raises. Were C and Java being buoyed by a mountain of 2000-era hype that the other languages simply couldn’t overcome?

Or is another possible factor the existence of more languages. The TIOBE index is already tracking 242 different languages, from ABAP to Z shell. As each one claims a greater share of the conversation, maybe they’re all getting a smaller slice of the pie. Maybe it’s the entire field of computer science which is evolving, leaving today’s programmers “blessed” with a massive smorgasbord of language choices.

There’re some other small signs of change in this vast river of Internet time. Over the last year, two languages have dropped out of the top ten altogether. A year ago, Objective-C held the #3 position, but it’s now dropped to #15. TIOBE’s editors attribute this to Apple’s announcement that they’d be replacing Objective-C with Swift as the language for iOS apps. Ironically, Objective-C was declared “Programming Language of the Year” by TIOBE back in 2012.

And meanwhile, Visual Basic has also dropped over the last 12 months, from the #10 position to #13.

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But there’s, at least, one thing that remains absolutely consistent: the TIOBE Index itself. “The index can be used to check whether your programming skills are still up to date,” the site explains, “or to make a strategic decision about what programming language should be adopted when starting to build a new software system.” While there have been occasional criticisms about its methodology, it still offers the irresistible lure of data, a single set of numbers gathered consistently over time.

And a primal comparison of who’s up and who’s down…


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