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Ruby the Rival
Pages: 1, 2, 3, 4

Bill Venners: The Publisher's View

Artima is a highly regarded bookmark in many Java developers' browsers, and its publisher, Bill Venners, is a longtime Java author and consultant. He's also been a JavaWorld columnist, and author of Inside the Java Virtual Machine. So when we noticed Ruby content on Artima, we had to find out what was behind the change.



1. Artima sticks in many people's minds as a Java site, yet you just opened up a new Ruby section, and it's what most of Artima's current feature articles are about. What prompted the switch?

There has been no switch. Artima was historically a Java-only site, but a few years ago we broadened the focus to development in general, and started covering other languages. We syndicate Python blogs in "Python Buzz" and publish C++ articles in "The C++ Source," for example. We created the Ruby Code & Style zine to serve as a place the Ruby community could share information through high-quality, edited articles.

2. Do you think of your Ruby coverage as anticipating a trend, or servicing developers who are already making the switch?

We created the Ruby zine merely to serve the Ruby community. I don't know whether there's a trend, and I don't see many Java developers "switching" to Ruby. People needn't only program in one language. I think it is good to know a systems language, such as Java or C++, and a scripting language, such as Ruby or Python, and be able to work in both. That way you can use the best tool for the job at hand.

3. Your first few Ruby articles say almost nothing about Rails. Do you think there's a major Ruby story beyond Rails? What other kinds of things do you see it being used for?

I don't know much about Rails other than that it has been well marketed. The Rails marketeers drummed one message over and over, that Rails helps you build web apps quickly. Everyone has received this message loud and clear. It was a very good job of marketing, in my opinion. I believe the message too, but getting a green-field design web app out the door fast is not the only concern people have. Integrating with legacy databases, scaling to a cluster of app servers, are also sometimes concerns, and in such cases other tools may be more effective than Rails. As far as Ruby is concerned, I see it is a general-purpose programming language that is suitable for scripting and building systems, much in the same category as Python.

4. Even before Rails, people were talking about Ruby as being uniquely appealing to Java developers, compared to some of the other "agile" languages. What's special to you about Ruby? Why is it so good for Java emigrés?

I don't believe there are many Java emigrés, or that Ruby is especially suited for Java programmers. There's a bit of hype surrounding Ruby now, perhaps because of the Rails marketing, so perhaps your impression of emigration comes from the hype. Ruby is a nice language, but so is Java, and so is Python.

5. Do you think we're going to see a lot of Java developers picking up or even switching to Ruby, or will we see a new generation skip Java and use Ruby instead?

Java is not going away. At Artima, we chose Java for the new architecture over Ruby or Python because it is a mature ecosystem with a lot of tools and APIs, both free and commercial. Yes, there are fewer speed bumps when programming in Ruby or Python compared to Java, but with the modern Java IDEs like IntelliJ, Eclipse, and Netbeans, you can really move quite fast in Java. But Ruby is quite enjoyable to program in, and if someone finds they can build a career out of Ruby programming, then by all means do so.

6. Anything else you'd like to say about Ruby and Artima?

Only that we don't really care about hype. Don't read anything into our creating Ruby Code & Style other than we would like to serve the Ruby community in addition to Java, C++, Python, and other communities.

Conclusions

Is Ruby about to sweep Java aside? Not even the loudest Ruby partisans are predicting such a thing. What we do see in our correspondents' comments is the consistent idea that developers need, as Venners puts it, "the best tool for the job at hand." Crucially, developers are responsible for understanding and using those tools correctly. It's not hard to see the connection between Cooper's memories of EJB 1.0 hype and Davidson's prediction that "there are probably dozens of crap Ruby on Rails applications being written right now"--getting swept up in marketing can be dangerous, regardless of the technology. Nevertheless, people in the know who've tried Ruby are reporting significant productivity boosts, so there may be jobs for which it is indeed an ideal tool.

The author would like to thank Bruce Tate, James Duncan Davidson, Robert Cooper, and Bill Venners for taking the time to share their ideas with the ONJava audience.

Chris Adamson is an author, editor, and developer specializing in iPhone and Mac.


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