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Isotoma and the hidden history of development tools

There are two broad narratives in the history of digital development.

The first is focused on the user experience. The second is arguably not as well known and concerns what goes on behind the scenes. This considers how the landscape moved from being a polarised place for developers, to today’s world where a range of accessible tools put high-level development within easy reach. 

For most people, the digital experience is about how they interact with devices, apps and services, and how these things have become increasingly integrated into daily life. But without the right development tools, this would never have existed.

Performance vs accessibility 

Ironically, at one time digital developers were faced with a binary choice; performance or accessibility. 

By the early 2000s, Java was the most prominent sophisticated development tool when compared to the entry-level PHP at the other end of the scale. Serious developers were more likely to favour the former over the latter, but it could result in an expensive and over engineered solution to what should, in theory, be a simple problem.

The middle ground was sparsely populated by a group of developers, who were doing something different — building applications with little-known but effective tools.

Upon launching in 2005, Isotoma joined this rather exclusive group of specialist developers responsible for creating solutions that worked well for their customers. However, there was an unexpected catch. 

Customers have always tended to focus on outcomes and just want apps that function in a way that meets their individual expectations. But what happens when these same customers want to change their provider or platform? Specialist development tools have smaller communities of practitioners and are therefore more likely to tie customers in to a particular supplier. And this lack of community can be a massive hurdle when hoping to move to a new supplier. 

This meant that companies seeking cost-effective solutions for consumers and users were finding themselves with fewer options of their own when it came to switching providers.

This specialist middle ground needed to grow if it was to become more effective.

Occupying the middle ground

Isotoma’s approach has always been to focus on ‘best-in-breed’ tech for development purposes. But it hasn’t always been easy. 

The original problem stemmed from the fact that these development tools, like Python, were in the minority, squeezed between the more popular choices at each end (Java, .NET and PHP).

Challenging the polarised nature of digital development became easier with the arrival of Ruby on Rails in 2004. This was an application framework that offered default structures for databases and web development.

Two significant aspects of Ruby on Rails were that: 

  • It offered a realistic alternative to Java, and
  • It provided a ladder for developers to climb up the tech stack hierarchy.

 It was also a catalyst for middle-ground developers using languages and frameworks like Python and Django to refine their own tools and provide viable, accessible alternatives to developers.

As early adopters of the middle-ground approach to development, Isotoma now found our instincts confirmed by a significant industry shift in the same direction.

The big players move in

Inevitably, over time, the bigger developers have begun to create alternatives that have this middle-ground appeal. 

Examples include:

With the advent of these powerful, accessible, often open-source solutions, the tech giants have created better developer mindshare and moved away from the inflexible and restricted days of the past.  

TypeScript vs JavaScript

Another major legacy of this move into the middle-ground is the development of TypeScript.

Microsoft created Typescript as an alternative to JavaScript, in response to the growing frustration of developers working with a language many thought was not fit for purpose.  Technically, Typescript is a variant (specifically a “superset”) of JavaScript but with a particular focus on building larger, more complex applications, allowing developers to take a modular approach to development.

There are various advantages to TypeScript, including its robust static typing, which helps eliminate type-related mistakes in coding. Code is also less error-prone in TypeScript with improved performance during execution.

The result? Developers have become more productive. And with JavaScript virtual machines universally available on almost every device, they’ve been able to do so in the knowledge that their tools will work without compatibility issues.  

A better development landscape for all 

Ultimately, the growth of the middle ground over the last 15-20 years has delivered real benefits for both developers and their customers:

  • Developers have better tools and platforms that enhance and support performance
  • Customers have greater transparency, more choice and cost-effective solutions.

For Isotoma, the use of TypeScript, React and AWS has allowed us to offer customers a flexible, adaptable range of solutions for developing dedicated digital products and services.

It’s taken a while, but we’re pleased that the rest of the development industry has joined Isotoma in recognising the need for quality tools that are in the sweet spot between performance and accessibility.

Got a project you think Isotoma could help you with? Please get in touch.