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Microsoft's Ruby lead sounds Balkanization alarm

Wanted: a Guy Steele Jr, for Ruby

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The guy leading Microsoft's port of Ruby to .NET has warned of a potential Balkanization of Ruby, which could impair the language's success.

In an interview, John Lam said Ruby could benefit from "a Guy Steele Jr" to help define the language, and help establish a common specification that everyone could refer to. Computer scientist Steele was hired by Sun Microsystems early in the life of Java to help articulate clear specifications for the language.

"Frankly I don't think it's going to happen," Lam said.

Lam is a long-time Ruby advocate. Before joining Microsoft to put Ruby to the .NET Common Language Runtime, he worked on building the RubyCLR bridge creator.

He thinks people are often more interested in features development on Ruby - as they are in other areas of IT - than in writing specifications. Currently there are five funded Ruby implementations, including Microsoft's IronRuby and JRuby, each with different behaviors. That can mean things run differently, without real reason.

Some may argue that Microsoft is increasing Balkanization by working on IronRuby. Speaking last week at the Silicon Valley Rails Conference, Lam said customers want Microsoft to build Ruby.

Speaking ahead of his Uberpulse interview at the conference, Lam outlined Microsoft's thinking behind IronRuby. He said Microsoft is getting "really close to running real Ruby applications".

The company is not trying to convert people wholesale to .NET, but IronRuby is part of an attempt to regain ground lost among a generation of developers who've gone to Mac and open source and frameworks. "We are not fools, and think: 'Hmm, people are suddenly going to transition.' We think there are some interesting combinations, where people can use Ruby the language on top of our libraries, which will be appealing and interesting," he said.

Click here for John Lam's Uberpulse interview, and for more on the strategy and thinking see the full Ruby Conference presentation here

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