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The fall of Microsoft, in one chart

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella.
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella.
Stephen Brashear/Getty Images
Dylan Matthews is a senior correspondent and head writer for Vox's Future Perfect section and has worked at Vox since 2014. He is particularly interested in global health and pandemic prevention, anti-poverty efforts, economic policy and theory, and conflicts about the right way to do philanthropy.

It's been a rough decade or so for Microsoft. It's lost its position as the most valuable tech company in the world to its old rival Apple, and even though Windows retains a huge market share in PCs, that market is collapsing, and Microsoft has struggled to keep up with Apple and Google when it comes to tablets, phones, and watches.

In the process, it's lost considerable ground among developers, as this chart by Joshua Kunst (via Ed Tufte) illustrates:

Joshua Kunst

The chart tracks the most popular tags on Stack Overflow, a widely used programming forum where users can ask and answer questions about coding topics. When the site started in 2008, the top five was dominated by topics related to Microsoft: the programming language C#, which Microsoft created; .NET, Microsoft's software framework for writing Windows applications; and ASP.NET, the subset of .NET used for writing web apps.

To some extent, this was a result of who was using Stack Overflow in the beginning. It was started by two veteran Windows developers, Joel Spolsky and Jeff Atwood, and the site itself was written using C# and ASP.NET, so its early users were disproportionately interested in those topics, and the subjects were bound to lose relative popularity as the site gained users outside the C#/.NET community.

But the chart also says something about Microsoft tools' declining relevance. C# was still in first place in 2011, when the site was already popular enough to be getting more than a million unique views a day, but then tumbled. ASP.NET and .NET fell even more dramatically, so much so that the latter didn't even make the top 30 tags in 2015. By contrast, Java — long a major competitor to C# — stayed at the top largely because Google chose it as the main language for writing Android apps. Windows Mobile, where C# is usable, never took off, and Android is now by far the most popular mobile platform.

But Microsoft's decline isn't just about smartphones. Server-side web programming languages that compete with C# and ASP.NET — like PHP and Python — gained while ASP.NET faltered.

SQL Server, Microsoft's flagship database, lost ground to the open source MySQL. And as more and more energy in web development heads to the client side — where you basically have to use HTML and JavaScript — server-side development through frameworks like ASP.NET loses some relevance. Now an increasing number of sites are opting to use JavaScript for the server too. Microsoft's made some headway in this area with its language TypeScript (a variant on JavaScript with some added features), but overall, if you're a developer, the case for knowing Microsoft technologies is much weaker in 2015 than it was in 2008.

There are some interesting non-Microsoft trends in the chart too. The statistical language R gained popularity, as data analysis became a bigger focus of tech companies. XML, a markup language for recording data that's very similar to HTML, became less popular, while JSON, a JavaScript-based alternative, gained ground. And various JavaScript frameworks, like JQuery and AngularJS, saw increased interest.

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