Rails creator on Java and other 'junk'

Also about what the future holds for Ruby on Rails.

David Heinemeier Hansson was a 23-year-old student at Copenhagen Business School when he began work on Ruby on Rails a little over four years ago. His goal was to write a simple Web application framework that would free developers from the misery of repetitive coding that he sees as inherent in widely used platforms like Java and .Net.

By most accounts he succeeded. His open-source framework earned him the Google-O'Reilly Best Hacker award in 2005, and is now being backed by the likes of IBM and Sun Microsystems, and a small army of Web hosting and consulting companies. He says the platform is being downloaded about 10,000 times a week from the main Rails repository, only one of many sources.

Its rise hasn't been without hiccups. Some users have complained that Ruby on Rails doesn't scale well for the most demanding applications, although the Rails development community has developed plug-ins to fix the problems. There have also been calls for standardization to prevent splintering in the Ruby language.

But the buzz around the platform continues to grow. Heinemeier Hansson, who now lives in Chicago and works for collaboration tools company 37signals, will be in Berlin in two weeks for Europe's second Ruby on Rails user conference. He spoke with Computerworld about what to expect at the show and what the future holds for Ruby on Rails.

What can we expect at the conference in Berlin in September?

This will be the second Ruby on Rails conference in Europe. The shows in Europe tend to be a bit smaller than in the U.S. Last year in London we had about 400 people, this year I'm expecting double that number in Berlin. There will be a number of new tools announced. CodeGear, the Borland company, is going to announce its Ruby on Rails IDE. It's been in beta for some time and they're going to use the show to launch that. Sun is always very involved with the whole JRuby initiative, they've made a good number of strides and they'll probably be talking about the latest in Rails running on JRuby. And I know IBM has been maintaining their DB2 adapter for Rails.

Will we hear about any updates to Rails itself?

The next big release is Rails 2.0, I'm going to discuss that in some form in my keynote speech. Currently the goal is to consolidate and sharpen what we already have. The big push we've been making is for RESTful services. In many ways it was an option before, a choice, and there was a little bit of insecurity for some developers about whether something like WS* SOAP would be the way the wind would blow in terms of Web services. We've decided now that we're going to pursue this from the assumption that people want to be RESTful.

We're also going to pull out a fair number of elements, features that aren't a good fit for what people want to do most of the time. So a number of elements will move out and be plug-ins. If your application absolutely depends on them you won't be stranded, you'll be able to get the plug-ins easily. So Action Web Service, for example, the Rails answer to how to do SOAP, that whole service will no longer be bundled with Rails. If you need to do a SOAP Web Service it will be easy to install it again. We're saying if there's any doubt whether to use REST or SOAP, use REST.

removing elements is to keep Rails simple and lightweight?

Yes. We don't believe that just because at one point back in the day we included an experiment, or chose to do an API, that it's going to stay for ever. We don't want to turn into Java, this pack rat that just keeps hold of any possession. We're not afraid to take out stuff that's not relevant or we plain don't like. That's important to keeping it a light and friendly framework.

Do you have an updated release date for 2.0?

I might be giving one, it depends how things shape out. We've maintained that we hope to complete it this year. This is an open-source project founded on desires to get things done, things wax and wane so we don't have a traditional road map, and we definitely don't try to pin down shipping dates.

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James Niccolai

IDG News Service
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