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Microsoft's dynamic languages on forced diet

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Microsoft appears to be backing off its initial commitment for .NETized versions of dynamic languages.

Jimmy Schementi, the program manager for Microsoft's implementation of Ruby, called IronRuby, has left the company as the IronRuby team has been run out town and reallocated.

Schementi has blogged about a "serious lack of commitment" to IronRuby and dynamic languages in general on .NET.

He wrote: "When my manager asked me, 'what else would you want to work on other than Ruby,' I started looking for a new job outside Microsoft."

According to Schementi, software engineer Tomas Matousek is the only person left working on IronRuby at Microsoft. Apparently the team was shrunk about a year ago.

In November, Microsoft moved John Lam, who'd built the RubyCLR for writing .NET applications in Ruby, onto another — unidentified — project.

Lam was hired in 2006 as part of an intake of brains from the open source and scripting communities to help tune dynamic languages to .NET. Jython creator Jim Hugunin was hired by Microsoft in 2004 to build IronPython for .NET.

Schementi said the team's shrinkage has severely limited its agility, and is the reason why IronRuby has not been added to VisualStudio, and that adding IronPython has been delayed.

Microsoft has reportedly refused to comment officially on the changes.

Reading between the lines, it would seem that Microsoft's push for Microsoft-versions of dynamic languages has fallen victim to overall budget cuts and changing priorities.

Microsoft last month released IronRuby, IronPython, and the Dynamic Language Runtime (DLR) under an Apache Software Foundation (ASF) license, releasing them from Microsoft's Permissive Licenses (Ms-PL).

Microsoft cited customer feedback as the reason for the change, but the move suggests that Microsoft is done with trying to build the languages itself. It either wants to let the languages slowly die without claiming responsibly, or hopes the new license will finally invite others into the effort and free it from the burden of developing and maintaining the languages and runtime.

The company appears to have decided it makes more sense to leave open source and dynamic languages to the de facto options such as PHP — that Microsoft has been busy tuning to Windows and Azure — while focusing on the languages it does best, such as Visual Basic and C#. Microsoft has also released tools to make Ruby and Java run on Azure.

Microsoft has certainly struggled to embrace the open-source development entailed in dynamic languages. It made a conscious decision in 2008 not to accept external contributions to the DLR, while saying contributions were welcome for IronRuby.

Microsoft has been wary of exposing itself to potential litigation that might result from code authors or others once it has accepted code contributions in products it ships.

It was the kind of limitation — combined with the Ms-PL — that helped ensure genuine open sourcers outside of Redmond didn't rally behind its dynamic platform and languages. ®

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