Lessons learned from the technology hype cycle dictate that dynamic languages should be in the trough of disillusionment by now. For the past three years, businesses have awakened to PHP, Python and Ruby as viable tools on the Web and in the server, and after extensive growth for all manner of non-Java, non-C languages, many businesses are now taking stock to see if all those promises have been fulfilled.
“I think it’s been proven to be false that you can build applications quicker with Ruby on Rails,” he said. “The typical Ruby demo was, ‘Look, I can put my data in and it creates the forms and the database for me, and I can update it and it changes that.’ The problem is it’s like the 1980s all over again. It breaks down when you start trying to do a real application.”
Tom Mornini, CTO of Engine Yard, isn’t so sure that this is the case, however. He admits that enterprises are not replacing core Java applications with Ruby versions, but he also said that Ruby on Rails remains a popular and compelling enterprise choice for smaller Web applications, like marketing sites and social engagement applications.
“Gartner says [Ruby] is being used considerably, but not for core competency applications,” said Mornini. “We’re starting to get uptake in training from large enterprises. The No. 1 thing our customers ask us about is, ‘Do you know any Ruby developers?’ The demand is off the charts. They’re commanding very high rates of pay. Engine Yard is growing at multi-digit percentages a month. Java collapsing probably isn’t hurting either,” he said, referring to the current kerfuffle within the JCP.
Mornini said Ruby on Rails is important for software development as a whole, and added that this is why it remains an appealing platform. “David Heinemeier Hansson’s [the creator of Rails] philosophy of convention over configuration and simplification for Rails are going to pay back for generations,” he said.
“Even when Rails is the old, crusty Java of the future, people will look back and edit the Rails code and say, ‘Thank God this isn’t done another way.’ I believe David, in creating Rails, is essentially the Henry Ford of software development. It used to be that application was a custom coach, hand-crafted by the finest individuals. Rails is more of an assembly line approach.”
One example of this is the increase in interest Gualtieri has seen in Drupal, the open-source content-management system. Drupal is written in PHP, but he said the only questions he gets from enterprises about PHP are now Drupal-related. And while he also said that calls about Ruby have decreased as well, the recent acquisition of Ruby hosting company Heroku by Salesforce.com seems to indicate that Ruby is still a hot property, while other languages remain interesting but quaint alternatives.
Intel, Salesforce and VMware all seem to think Ruby has staying power. Salesforce purchased Heroku for over US$200 million in December, and anonymous sources said that VMware put in a 9-digit bid for Engine Yard a few weeks earlier. Engine Yard, according to these sources, turned down the offer. Intel, on the other hand, has invested millions in Ruby and cloud hosting firm Joyent.
With all these companies taking interest in Ruby on Rails, it would seem the language and Web framework are guaranteed financial backing for years to come. Contrast this to Python, a language that is largely without a major corporate backer, or PHP, for which Zend Technologies is the sole enterprise gatekeeper.
Adam Blum, CEO and founder of Rhomobile, said that Ruby still has huge momentum. His company builds frameworks for mobile applications that allow developers to use Web development skills to build native phone programs. Rhomobile’s frameworks are built in Ruby because, Blum said, Ruby is where the action is.
Blum said that Rhomobile frameworks follow the Model View Controller separation of duties. “We had to do the controller in something. If we did it in Java, the .NET guys wouldn’t like it. If we did it in .NET, the Java guys wouldn’t like it. Ruby is a nice Switzerland,” he said.
“Enterprises we deal with say it’s a fun opportunity for them to learn a more productive language. The momentum of Ruby is enormous. There are no unemployed competent Ruby developers.”
Perhaps that’s why Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff said during the Dreamforce conference in December, “Ruby is the language of Cloud 2.”