World War III is already here, and it's happening online. Four primary combatants are vying for digital supremacy: Alphabet (NASDAQ:GOOGL)(NASDAQ:GOOG), Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN), Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), and Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT).

Alphabet and Microsoft may be best-positioned to win the fight, according to a recent ranking of the most popular development platforms.

The Most Popular Development Platforms

Environment 2018 2017 Percentage Change
Linux 48% 24%  up 100%
Windows 31% 35%  down 12%
Android 29% 22%  up 32%
AWS 25% 26%  down 4%
MacOS 18% 15%  up 20%

Data source: Stack Overflow Annual Developer Survey

See the trend? Twice as many developers named Linux one of their favorite development platforms last year than in 2017. Windows was down but still popular (not surprising) while AWS also fell (very surprising given the love shown AWS by developers in recent years).

A desktop, laptop, tablet, and smartphone, all showing concept outline art of a penguin.

The Linux penguin is showing up in a lot more places. Image source: Getty Images.

Inside the numbers

Each year, Stack Overflow polls over 100,000 professional developers to get a read on their favorite platforms -- what they use most, what they love most, what they dread most, and what they want most. Linux was the winner, by far, which is really good news for both Alphabet and Microsoft.

Why? Let's start with Linux itself. The world's most popular open-source operating system is available in a number of varieties commonly known as distributions. Red Hat has a very popular one that IBM is in the process of acquiring. In the cloud, Ubuntu is extremely popular. So are Fedora (a completely free version of Red Hat) and Arch Linux.

Alphabet is far and away the biggest consumer of open-source software built for Linux and related technologies. Microsoft is the biggest overall contributor of open-source ideas to GitHub, the development community it acquired in August for about $7.5 billion in stock. Both companies are also making it easier to run Linux installations in their clouds (i.e., Azure and Google Cloud, respectively). As developers continue to up their intake of Linux -- and last year usage doubled, according to Stack Overflow -- they're more likely to run into open-source offerings from Alphabet and Microsoft.

Check out the latest Microsoft and Alphabet earnings call transcripts.

Two men and a woman standing by a conference room table overshadowed by concept art of a digital earth, surrounded by points of light.

Image source: Getty Images.

What about Apple and Amazon?

Good question. Amazon is by no means in trouble, though it's a bit troubling to see developers using AWS less often, especially when you look further down the list. Azure kept pace with 11% of respondents confirming their usage of the platform. Google Cloud, meanwhile, got an 8% share. Google's Firebase is an increasingly popular choice for building real-time cloud software and 15% of those surveyed cited it as a favorite.

Then there are the "serverless"alternatives from the major cloud providers. In the Stack Overflow survey, 5% chose serverless options among their favorites, up from 2% the year prior. What's serverless exactly? You get a window, write some code, and execute it, never seeing or connecting with the underlying environment appropriated for the task.

AWS Lambda is widely considered the most popular platform for "serverless" functionality, but a 2017 analysis of data compiled by the Cloud Native Computing Foundation, completed and published by New Stack, found that Azure and Google Cloud were gaining traction. Stack Overflow's survey seems to confirm the growing popularity of Alphabet's and Microsoft's platforms.

And what of Apple? While it's nice to see that there's still love for the Mac OS, it's the iPhone that produces profits for the iEmpire. Only 16% of developers surveyed cited iOS among their favorites, up from 14% the year prior but still far less than the enthusiasm shown for Android.

Maybe that'll change, and maybe AWS will regain its growth genes. For now, though, it looks like developers are moving to Google and Microsoft in greater numbers -- and profits should follow.