Ruby brightens the NetBeans platform

Sun engineer expects new offerings to provide a much more productive environment for Ruby than ever before

Sun Microsystems has added Ruby support to the NetBeans IDE and bolstered the JRuby platform as well, company officials acknowledged on Thursday.

The early-access release of the NetBeans Ruby Pack is comprised of a plug-in to the open-source NetBeans development environment supporting Ruby and JRuby, which is a Java implementation of Ruby that runs on the Java Virtual Machine. NetBeans has been centered on Java but is being extended to Ruby.

Ruby developers typically have not been using IDEs, Sun officials said. But Sun's announcement "really gives you a much more productive environment than you've had for Ruby before," said Tor Norbye, a Sun senior staff engineer.

Sun has taken notice of the popularity of Ruby. "It's offered a new way of looking at development: more agile, more fun in a lot of ways," said Charles Nutter, also a senior staff engineer at Sun. He and Thomas Enebo are the core developers of JRuby; both began working at Sun in September.

By accommodating Ruby, Sun is branching out from its Java mindset, said James Governor, principal analyst at RedMonk.

"If you just look at this overall, there are some sacred cows being slaughtered here," Governor said. "There is a real change in Sun's thinking, and it really does [appear] that the Java permafrost is beginning to thaw," with Sun supporting scripting languages like Ruby, he said.

"Ruby is the hottest scripting language out there right now," said Governor, who added he expects Sun to make a similar move to support another popular scripting language, PHP (Hypertext Preprocessor).

The NetBeans Ruby Pack enables features like code completion. Integration documentation pop-ups are offered for Ruby API calls. Also included is semantic analysis with highlighting of parameters and unused local variables.

"The key thing is Ruby developers have not been used to getting a lot of the features you've had in the Java world," such as code completion, said Norbye.

NetBeans Ruby capabilities extend to the Ruby on Rails Web framework as well. "This helps you write Ruby on Rails apps faster," Norbye said.

Ruby support is available for NetBeans 6 Milestone 7 as a download. The upcoming NetBeans 6.0 platform, due in November, will be bundled with Ruby support. To access the Ruby technology, NetBeans users can click here and then choose the Q-Build option under Build Type.

Meanwhile, Sun is formally announcing the 0.9.8 release of JRuby, with enhanced support for Ruby on Rails on Monday. Compatibility issues have been addressed, according to Sun.

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