Peter Marklund

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Hype and the Rise and Fall of Programming Languages

Steve Yegge has written an article on Ruby as a competitor to Python, the Rails hype, and the rise and fall of programming languages. The article touched me deeply. Thanks to Olle Jonsson for sending the link. The article is almost a year old but should still be relevant. I especially like the last section on Ruby:

"The worldwide Ruby culture is the warmest and friendliest I've seen in my long history with programming languages. And Ruby is a sweet language. Other people seem to agree, and are taking steps to market it, which is getting them labeled as "hyper-enthusiasts" by the Sour Grapes camp. It appears to me that Ruby is doing what I wanted Python to do a few years ago, so I've finally learned Ruby and have switched most of my development over to it.

After all, both languages have a long way to go before they catch up with Java in terms of tools, IDEs, books, performance, threading stability, and tons of other stuff. I wanted to make a reasonably educated bet, and choose the language I think is going to be bigger, so it'll work well for me, and so I won't have to fight so hard to use it in my job.

It wasn't hard to learn Ruby. In fact after a few days with it, Ruby felt as comfortable as languages I'd been using for years. I've really been enjoying it. It has a few warts; all languages do. No biggie. It looks as if Matz is intent on fixing them in Rite.

I don't know if I like it more than Python and Scheme. I like it at least as much as those languages, certainly. But Ruby's my favorite (as in "preferred") language now because I can see the trajectory it's on, especially now with Rails, and I believe it's going to be the Next Big Thing -- a Java-like phenomenon. So did Bruce Tate when he wrote "Beyond Java". So do James Duncan Davidson, Dave Thomas, Martin Fowler, and many other people who are a heck of a lot smarter than me. You'd think they're on to something big, wouldn't you? I do.

Java-like worldwide adoption really matters. Without that level of mass-market adoption, Ruby won't get the tools, stability, and CPAN-like library selection that it needs in order to compete with Java and Perl. It's a chicken-and-egg problem that all languages face, and Ruby stands a chance of succeeding where Smalltalk, Python, and other great languages have (to date) failed.

I see Rubyists worrying that Rails is stealing the show. Geez, folks, LET it steal the show. Talk about a free ticket for Ruby success. Java Applets were a way to get Java in front of a million or so programmers, ultimately allowing the Java platform to succeed in all sorts of domains that it might never have seen without the initial "killer app" of Applets.

We live in a world where culture matters, economics matter, and marketing hype matters. They are very real forces that directly affect our quality of life as programmers. You ignore them at your peril, a lesson learned by so many almost-forgotten languages that were stomped by marketing hurricanes like Java and Perl.

I really wanted Python to succeed, and I still wish them the best, but I think they're ignoring marketing. I really want Ruby to succeed, so I get a bit miffed when I hear famous people like Bruce Eckel making uninformed generalizations about both Ruby and the folks who are working hard to make it successful. I think Pythonistas should be focusing on doing the same -- working to make Python successful. I do think it will take a minor cultural adjustment on their part. And they need to start accepting hype as a natural part of the world we live in, a requirement for cutting through the noise. But I think they can do it. "