Look Back: A View on Ruby, Visual Basic Commentaries

We had some fun on this blog a little while ago when Huw Collingbourne ably essayed on Ruby, its place in the development world, and its possible resemblance to the original Visual Basic, as a quick, productive route to application building. See Is Ruby the New VB?  .  That post elicited worthwhile comments on TheServerSide Interoperability Blog, as well as some threads on our Mother Ship, TheServerSide.com. George Lawton recently plowed through those threads, digested them, and he now offers some views thereof in the following post.  - J.V.

By George Lawton

TSS.com Commenters on the Collingbourne essay about Ruby as a new Visual Basic had a lot to say about the topic. Clearly, dynamic is not the be-all and end-all for many. What is a simplified language, and does it bring too many amateurs into the rank? That too is covered. The never ending story of what is a true object-oriented language is heard, and the relationship of the language to the IDE is considered. Also up for review: The role of platform titans like Sun and Microsoft in enabling Ruby or Ruby on Rails.

Amateurish Programming
Commenter “Joe” said Ruby’s syntax and low learning curve, can attract a hackerish unprofessional mentality. Instead Python will win out for professional programmers, who will stay away from Ruby because of the syntax stigma. Emvee echoed these thoughts, noting, “complex, scalable, robust, non-trivial development requires more sophisticated tools… real programmers use real programming languages.”

Hoolio responded to some of these criticisms with, “Ruby and Python are definitely ‘real programming languages.’ Unless your definition of “real programming language” is one that requires a dumb/inept compiler/runtime that requires the programmer to help it along every step of the way…” Fighting words!

Dean Thomas chimed in, “That there are still people out there that think as emvee does just astounds me. I was writing “mission critical” apps in VB in the 90’s and I’m still doing it today.”

Cedric Beust added, “What made VB successful is that it made the creation of good-looking and functional Windows applications dead simple (and Visual Studio was a big part of this success). As much as I like Ruby, predicting its success by drawing a parallel with Visual Basic doesn’t make any sense.”

OO Versus Quick Deployment
Paul Beckford said over the last 15 years, he has seen a lot of OO efforts like Taligent and Pink fail because C++ framework they were built on was not the right tool for the job. He explained, “The average Java programmer still doesn’t fully appreciate what OO is all about.”

Matt Giacomini said that Ruby developers do not in general know any more about OO concepts than Java developers. Developers instead are instead attracted by the ability to rapidly crank out applications thanks to frameworks like Ruby on Rails. Bill Burke said, “My bet is that the majority of people that like Ruby (or Python for that matter) like it because of its zero-turnaround features, *NOT* because of its language ones.”

Author Collingbourne joined the fray – he added that a frustrating element of Ruby programmers coding style is the use of flat hierarchies populated by long and complex methods, compared to Smalltalk programming that consists of dense hierarchies and small methods. He attributes it to deficiencies of traditional Ruby IDEs.

Which leads to some of the concerns that the Ruby is nowhere close to capability and ease of use compared to the Visual Basic environment.

Giacomini said the features that drove VB included “a GUI builder that was drop dead simple, a simple (easy to learn) event model, and lots of out of the box components all powered by a scriptingish language. Avg joe developer was able to build usable GUI screens for the first time… insinuating that Ruby is having as big of an impact as VB (or will be as successful as VB) is delusional.”

Collingbourne acknowledged Ruby has been lacking in IDEs, which is changing with Eclipse, Netbeans, and his own company’s Ruby in Steel. He noted that when Ruby has a full integrated visual designer, “The combination of simple syntax, really thorough OOP, an efficient compiler and an event-driven drag-and-drop form designer will make Ruby a very attractive option for both standalone and web application development.”

Gopi Nathan elaborated, “VB was a visual Windows implementation of Basic-like language syntax. An example of event-driver programming and easy manipulation of buttons, boxes etc and their properties. Windows and GUI were the key here. VB’s scope was narrow… Ruby is following an entirely different path. Here the language is aiming for a 100% Object Oriented language. GUI is not the main issue.

“Ruby, if successful, might be the language many have been looking for all these years … Concise and precise, no dependence on the stupid {}!!!”

Of Sun and Microsoft and Bandwagons
Ruby’s chances for success go up when major players take an interest. Some TSS.com thread commenters see Microsoft and Sun jumping on a Ruby bandwagon. Said Frank Bank: “Sun is a slave to blogosphere hype, and Microsoft will throw a few bones to anything. If anything, it’s not about Ruby, but Rails.”

Another reader, “Beckford,” responds: “Putting this all down to Rails misses the point. Sun and Microsoft IMO are covering their bets because they know that a popular Smalltalk-like language is a very compelling proposition. Add to this the Lisp like features of Ruby and DSL friendliness, and Rails could be the first of many well designed, extensible OO frameworks in Ruby…”

“Both these companies seem to be multi-headed beasts,” Beckford later wrote, “They both appear to be following a number of strategies at once. I don’t think this is strange for large corporations. I guess they are covering all bets.”

Check out the Ruby-VB thread – TSS.com

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