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Apr 07

Ruby On Rails

Cedric writes a thoughtful critique of Ruby on Rails.

Many of his points are quite valid, and I have no doubt that Rails can falter and end up in Smalltalk zombie mode, doomed to shuffle the earth uselessly for the next 100 years.

But I think that most of the larger-enterprise bloggers and commentors are making a specific, paradigm-limited mistake: Because our IT organization would not voluntarily support this, it cannot succeed.

But that particular viewpoint is flawed, because IT departments are forced to involuntarily support new systems/services/capabilities all the time.

Consider Microsoft – they bought Hotmail, who used, if I recall correctly, BSD Unix for their servers.  What if Flickr had been written in Rails, and been just as successful.  Would the people at Yahoo who made the decision cared much about what language Flickr was written in? or Del.icio.us? Probably not.

Here’s what I believe: I believe that web development with Rails is faster and easier, even though I have not found a good IDE for it yet.  (I haven’t tried that many, thought).  I believe that a small group, even as small as one person, can write an app (like this one) in Ruby on Rails, and have it successfully develop a user base, without requiring significant VC investment.
Given that premise, that people can develop effective applications in Rails with minimal expense, is it unreasonable to assume that many such entities will be created?  There are already Rails hosting providers (TextDrive and Rails Playground, for example).  Hosting on Rails Playground is exceptionally cheap, even by my frugal standards. ($2/month). Setting up Rails applications on this platform is trivial, nearly push-button.
If we assume that yes, people are going to develop useful and effective web applications in Rails, what happens next?  Larger companies buy them.  Maybe not BaseCamp, and maybe not any of the application we are familiar with now, but there are all sorts of ways that Rails applications could end up “involuntarily” supported by F500 IT departments.  And no, I don’t mean John Deere.   But Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, AOL, Disney, Amazon, IBM? – all candidates for finding interesting webapps that appeal to them and bringing them in house to extend their depth-of-service.

And at that point, the question switches from “How could it possibly be integrated” to “Ok, how did those guys do it, and why can’t we?”

And then, like Linux, Tomcat, JBoss, MySQL, PHP, Bugzilla and Firefox before it, Rails will de facto become an acceptable part of IT infrastructure.

Guaranteed? By no means.  And it won’t happen overnight.  But the rise of Rails is by no means impossible either.  I’m not even sure I would call it unlikely.  I’d say it’s probably 50/50 we’ll see at least one or two F500 companies with Rails-based applications in play in the next 3 years.

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