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Ted Leung on the air: Open Source, Java, Python, and ...
Sun, 10 Sep 2006
IronPython and JRuby

The IronPython and JRuby announcements have been making the rounds in the blogosphere. and of course I want to add my 2c.

I think that these announcements are very significant and should be welcomed by people in both the Python and Ruby communities, because I believe that Microsoft and Sun's support of these languages will make it much easier to persuade people to look at Python and Ruby. Today people's biases are still against dynamic languages as whole, as opposed to particular languages, so I think that getting "corporate legitimacy" for either Ruby or Python helps both.

IronPython is already faster than CPython, and JRuby appears to be headed in a similar direction, although we won't actually know until JRuby beats one of the C-based VM's. There is a huge amount of effort being expended on the performance of the JVM and CLR implementations, and if that effort starts to benefit Ruby and Python users, then think that is a good thing too.

I've read some postings speculating on Microsoft and Sun anointing either Python or Ruby over the other, and/or over all other dynamic languages. I don't believe that this is the case. At OSCON in 2003, I attended a BOF organized by Microsoft people who were interested in improving support for dynamic languages on the CLR. If I recall, many of the "major" dynamic languages were represented. Also I know that Microsoft has been talking to folks like John Lam and others who are working on getting Ruby onto the CLR. As for Sun, JSR-223 is aimed at all scripting languages, Sun accepted a JSR for Groovy, and Tim Bray (who helped the JRuby thing get done) also helped organize a meeting at Sun for lots of dynamic language folks. I think that in part, IronPython and JRuby got picked up because the people involved were willing to work with the companies involved.

Other commentary has focused on whether or not Sun or Microsoft is ahead of/behind the other in this area. I suppose this makes sense if you are a partisan of one language over another. It's probably more true if you look at Python, since IronPython's baseline for comparisons is Python 2.3, while Jython is still catching up to Python 2.2. Overall, I think that we are still early in this game, and that neither side has an insurmountable lead over the other. If you look at the pace of VM support, I think that it's not so one-sided. Yes, Microsoft has been at this longer, but they also seem to have a longer cycle time to pick stuff up, since the pace of CLR improvements is gated by releases of Windows. Yes, you can download new versions of the CLR, but that makes deployment a harder deal. Sun still has to get its extensions specified, much less implemented in the JVM, and the cycles on the JVM are also long, but I also think that the window for broad adoption of dynamic languages still has not arrived, so both companies still have time, which also blunts the potential advantage of being first.

I'm happy to see all this going on, but the CLR stuff is far away from me, since my primary platform doesn't really have good CLR support. There's Mono, but it doesn't seem to be getting much uptake on OS X. I am basing this on the amount of buzz and/or actual Mac apps being developed on Mono, not on actual statistics, and I am sure that Miguel will be quick to disprove me with facts... I can at least see a world where I might use something like JRuby or Jython, since I have done a bunch of Java in previous lives.

These announcements also create some interesting points for observation. Here are some things that I am going to be keeping an eye on as these projects march forward:

  • Community building around the implementation - I will feel most comfortable if these language implementations are community driven, and not vendor driven. I know from listing to Jim at PyCons that this is a goal, and the JRuby guys have been very clear about this as well. The recent buzz about these two projects gives them that PR bump that might allow them to draw more people into their communities. It will be interesting to see if they can convert attention into participation
  • Compatibility - Both Ruby and Python are "open source" languages. By that, I mean that cross platform compatibility has been accomplished by having a single reference language implementation. It will be interesting to see if the JVM and CLR dialects are able to achieve a decent compatibility story or whether they end up essentially forking (or if you are suspicious, embracing and extending) the languages. One possibility is that we end up with some kind of standardization in order to keep this from happening. Of course, standardization doesn't mean compatibility - just look at the situation with Javascript 1.7, where you have a standard, but you have significant uncertainty about whether all browser vendors will implement it, thus reducing its usefulness.
  • Performance - The IronPython team has shown that they can beat the performance of CPython. The JRuby folks have yet to do that, and both the Python and Ruby communities have higher performance VM implementations underway. This situation reminds me a lot of the situation with x86, Alpha, Sparc, and PowerPC, where you had different architectural approaches which were supposed to produce performance benefits. But in the end, large amounts of money, process technology and non-architectural considerations produced an outcome that was different that what you might have expected by just analyzing the processor architectures.
  • Velocity - Having people who are working full time on these implementations is going to make a difference in the velocity of these projects. The question is how much, and at what expense versus creating a sustainable community?
  • Tooling - Much has been made about the JRuby folks being chartered to work on tooling in someway. There's been speculation about NetBeans versus Eclipse, and there are also other Ruby IDE's. I haven't heard much about tooling on the CLR side, but it seems plausible that you could see Visual Studio support for IronPython and/or one of the CLR Ruby's should people at Microsoft decide it was worthwhile.

In the end, I think that having languages like Python and Ruby be "legitimized" by the recognition of big industry players, makes easier it is for me. It gives me one more argument to use when talking to people, which I hope reduces the amount of time I have to spend trying to convince people of the merits. That leaves me more time to work in a language that I like. Then again, we have Erlang, Scala, and Io just around the corner...

[23:26] | [computers/programming] | # | TB | F | G | 8 Comments | Other blogs commenting on this post
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