Ruby Rising

SapphireSteel Software, Microsoft among others, show growing interest in Ruby's relationship to Visual Studio, .NET

February marked several milestones in the .NET ecosystem related to Ruby, last year's breakout open source, dynamic programming language.

SapphireSteel Software released version 1.0 of its Visual Studio 2005 extension, Ruby in Steel Developer. The company claims it's the first Ruby IDE addressing two current problems in the Ruby ecosystem: the lack of support for Microsoft technologies and the need for professional development tools.

"In my experience, most people who are accustomed to using Visual Studio really do not want to be forced to use some other development environment," says Huw Collingbourne, technology director at SapphireSteel. Steel is more than just an "add-in," he asserts. "It's a deeply integrated package that provides Ruby programmers with most of the coding, project management tools and especially debugging which they are used to in C# or VB."

Key features include a code editor, IntelliSense, a Cylon debugger (benchmarked at 100X faster than other tools, according to the company) and support for the Ruby on Rails Web development framework. In addition to the VS integration, the Steel IDE offers built-in support for SQL Server, and My SQL database servers and LightTPD, Mongrel and WEBrick servers. "We're working to provide as much dedicated support for the tools which professional Windows developers expect to use," says Collingbourne.

SapphireSteel (an associate Visual Studio Industry Partner) is a division of United Kingdom-based software developer Rosedown Mill Ltd. The Steel IDE, which is $199 per unit for up to four licenses, requires VS 2005 Standard Edition and above, Windows XP with SP2, or Windows Vista. Version 1.5, expected by the end of 2007, will feature a "Visual Rails developer" for designing Web pages for Rails applications. Tighter integration with MS technologies IIS, SQL Server and Team Foundation Server is planned, along with better support for third-party and open source tools (i.e. Subversion).

In February, dynamic language tools provider ActiveState Software Inc. based in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, released Komodo 4.0, a major upgrade to the popular Web developers' IDE. Komodo supports multiple dynamic languages including Ruby and Ruby on Rails. A single license ($295) covers Windows XP and Windows Vista, Linux, and the Mac OS X.

The 4.0 upgrade adds browser-side coding (JavaScript, CSS, HTML, XML) and features an extensible architecture for .XPI extensions. Komodo version 4.0 is built on Mozilla 1.8.1 source code (portions require the Netscape Public License and/or the Mozilla Public License). A free subset of the IDE, a multi-language Komodo Editor that includes the browser coding support, was also released in February.

Regarding Ruby
Ruby has drawn intense interest, especially since the arrival of Ruby on Rails as a killer app for creating database-driven Web applications. Is Ruby poised to move beyond enthusiasts?

"It's gaining traction, but nothing of critical mass that would show up on our radar screens," says Mark Driver, research vice president, App Dev Integration and Web Technologies at Gartner Inc. "It's very early in the adoption lifecycle, particularly in North America."

Even so, Driver is fielding a lot of inquiries from mainstream developers who are tracking the technology. "I don't expect Ruby to hit a critical mass of mainstream use for Global 2000 mission critical apps until 2010," he says.

Driver says he's very impressed with Ruby. "Of all the open source scripting languages, it probably has the most chance of gaining the broadest audience," he observes. "I think it will eventually outpace toolsets like PHP and Python." Although it has been around for years, PHP is somewhat restricted because it's a Web-only technology, notes Driver. "Ruby has broader appeal when it comes to business logic and the fact that there's already a class library around it, and it is authoritarian and so forth."

While some view Ruby as the heir apparent to Java, Driver holds a different view: "The breadth and depth of Ruby could seriously compete with the broader breadth and depth of what is the .NET and Java infrastructure over time. I think clearly there is an integration play as well."

Microsoft seems to agree. It's working to ensure the .NET CLR 2.0 supports Ruby, along with other dynamic languages.

In February a new beta (0.6) of the Gardens Point Ruby.NET compiler, a Microsoft-funded project underway at the Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia, was released. It's described by the Queensland development team as a "native" Ruby compiler for the .NET 2.0 CLR. Going forward, the Queensland team is starting to work on support for Ruby on Rails, and expects to release public betas about once a month. When the design has stabilized, according to the project blog, Ruby.NET will be hosted as an open source project.

Meanwhile, the dynamic community at Microsoft continues to grow. John Lam, the creator of Ruby CLR, an open source tool that serves as a bridge to the .NET framework, joined Microsoft in January as a program manager for the Common Language Runtime development team.

SapphireSteel Software's Collingbourne observes: "I think it's reasonable to suppose that some kind of 'dynamic language layer' might be under development to make it easier for weakly typed, dynamic languages such as Ruby to work more closely with the strongly typed, non-dynamic .NET class library and runtime system."

About the Author

Kathleen Richards is the editor of and executive editor of Visual Studio Magazine.

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