Thursday, October 26, 2006

Ruby isn't going to fracture, and "enterprise" is not synonymous with "static"

I don't follow Ruby development too closely (most of the info on it is still in Japanese, after all), but the US RubyConf was held recently so there's been an unusual number of English posts on Ruby, among them David Pollack's The Impending Ruby Fracture.

David's article seems to consist of these points:

  1. Matz is uninterested in adding static bondage & discipline features to Ruby (true, as far as I know)
  2. "Enterprise" users won't be satisfied without said features (more on this below)
  3. There are a lot of Ruby runtimes out there right now (the most interesting part of the article)
  4. Therefore some Enterprise will co-opt one of the runtimes to fork Ruby and add the B&D features (wtf?)

Summarized this way it looks faintly ridiculous, and yet nobody over on the programming reddit has called this out. Maybe I'm taking excessive liberties with David's article, but I don't think I am.

The possibility of forking is part of what makes open source wonderful. The actual cost of a fork is astronomically high; almost nobody has made it work. For every there are dozens of failures and probably far more where the would-be forkers realized that however bad the situation was, actually forking would be worse.

Now, in the absence of strong leadership, what you can have happening to a language is de facto forking, like what you have with Lisp -- the Common Lisp standard is old, so the various Lisp implementations have gone their separate ways to various degrees and portability between them is pretty dicey. But the Ruby community seems to be pretty content with the job Matz is doing so I don't see this happening.

As a motivation to assume the huge costs of forking, David submits... "interfaces or some other optional typing mechanism?" Excuse me. Even though some intelligent language designers have flirted with ideas along those lines, that's not something that's going to get refugees from Java to rally around your banner for a fork.

I also have to take issue with David's characterization of this as features that "appeal to enterprise customers." While it may be true that B&D languages are currently popular with large corporations, other large corporations recognize the advantages of dynamic languages. Corporations aren't stupid; they're just very conservative, for the most part. In 10 years you'll see more Python and Ruby in the enterprise, just as Java and C# are replacing COBOL and C++ now.


Gavri Fernandez said...

You didn't say what I thought you were going to.

Why would corporations want B&D Ruby anyway? Don't they have Java anyway?

Jonathan Ellis said...

That is also a good point. :)