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Keep your Chin Up Child and Wipe the Tears from your Eyes

Last week was hysterical. It started with a flight to Nashville and a 3-day conference, Devlink, with 2 IronRuby sessions on the last day I had to do. On the second day of the conference I had a nice talk with Michael Moores, who turned out to be working with Micahel Letterle who is the first IronRuby MVP. That was the closest I’ve ever got to another IronRuby MVP :)

Anyway, the thing is that in the end of the second day just before I started the last dry-runs for my talks, I saw Jimmy Schementi’s blog post, “Start spreading the news”: the future of Jimmy and IronRuby, where he was announcing the he was leaving Microsoft, mainly because his boss had asked him “what else would you want to work on other than Ruby”. That leaved IronRuby with one developer (Tomas) and one partial-time tester that helps in other stuff too (Jim). They are both very talented, but still – 1.5 (or even less) people who work on a product kind of gives you the idea of where this is going to. IronPython is not in a better position either by the way.

The news hit me, I gotta say, by total surprise. I didn’t see it coming (at least not so soon) and my first reaction, like most reactions on the Twitter-sphere, was an “oh no, the evil monster has done it again” reaction. It’s a very natural psychological reaction to disappointment:

“The psychological results of disappointment vary greatly among individuals; while some recover quickly, others mire in frustration or blame or become depressed.”
-- "Disappointment", Wikipedia

And indeed, I was frustrated (not depressed, though; technology isn’t worth to be depressed over it) by the fact that something I believed in, with all my heart, was starting to die. And I didn’t believe in it because I thought it was cool (even though it is cool), but because I thought it added value. And that’s what it’s all about right there.

Getting back to the timeline, on the next day I had 2 sessions about IronRuby and I decided not to let the news affect them. However, I did do a little small talk with the audience before every session about it. The reactions varied from “I couldn’t care less” reactions to “I don’t know” to frustration. And watching other people being frustrated by that was a huge push for me to keep doing what I do. Moreover, the news spread so fast that as I was walking that day in the halls of Lipscomb University, I could hear people talking about the subject. I think I overheard about 5 different conversations about IronRuby that day.

Add to that the tons of reactions on Twitter, the conversation on the IronRuby mailing list and the various emails I’ve received since then (of people saying they were planning to use IronRuby and what do they do now) and you get one meaning - people care.

And solely because of that, I believe that IronRuby has a future. With or without Microsoft. Honestly, I’d hate to see it being released from Microsoft since this was a wonderful way to get it inside medium-large corporations that still require the Microsoft “stamp”. However, I won’t place my bet on that to continue.

To tell you the truth, I’ll understand Microsoft if they decide to stop funding the project. Think about it, Microsoft’s first and foremost goal is to make money. Just like your or my company. And they’re currently making money from various things:

  • Licenses for Windows, Office, Visual Studio, SQL Server and other products.
  • Professional support.
  • Hardware.
  • Training.
  • Certification exams.
  • Other stuff I don’t know about.

The biggest part of Microsoft’s revenues comes from selling licenses. As .NET developers, we are a part of Microsoft’s revenues system – we use Windows, we code in Visual Studio, we use Windows servers because that’s what we know and when we need a DB we directly go with SQL Server because it integrates perfectly with Visual Studio and other Microsoft products we have. By that I answer reactions I’ve seen like “if this is how Microsoft treats its open-source projects, we can’t trust it to continue with ASP.NET MVC too” – ASP.NET MVC will not die. Ever. Just because it follows all the preconditions. However, IronRuby does not – you do not use Visual Studio, you don’t have to use Windows, SQL Server is not so widely used with Ruby frameworks. And it gets even worst – you might be tempted to open the door and leave; to join your Ruby friends on the other side, the ones who write code in Mac and deploy their apps to, God helps us all, *nix machines.

In other words, CRAZY. The guy who approved that must have been drunk or something.

BUT, there was some rationality in the decision of writing a Ruby implementation on top of the .NET framework too – to give options, to make the framework better. In other words, to add value. And you know what, it might have had the power to even, God forbid, make these lunatic Ruby guys to show some interest in the .NET framework.

And you know what happens when money and making the product better are on the same scale? they burn the scale and the “making the product better” side up and run away with the money. That’s not Microsoft, that’s life.

So what does the future hold for us, IronRubyists? Well, I’ve got no idea. The current situation is kinda hazy – not here and not there. On the one hand, Microsoft is still controlling the code contributions, web site, github account and other related resources. On the other hand, they cut in human resources for the project.
My prediction is that Microsoft will give up IronRuby (and IronPython) in the next few months. As I said, if I was a director in Microsoft – I wouldn’t be able to justify its existence (but I would have so much more money too so I can’t really tell what I would have done :) ). And ones this happens, it will create a huge opportunity for the IronRuby community.

Since IronRuby is open source, the community will be able to take control and continue developing IronRuby. This will allow us to advance faster (hopefully) and more importantly, work on the features we want instead of the features we’re told we want. From the stuff I’ve been hearing and reading, the community of IronRuby is bigger than I though and people are willing to help. Along with the help of well-known icons like Rob Conery, Jimmy Schementi and others we can get to large audience and get even more people on board.

However, in order for this to happen I think that a few things should happen:

  • Microsoft must declare that the IronRuby project is not funded anymore and by that, it ceases to exist internally inside Microsoft.
  • Microsoft must pass the control over the entire code base, web site, github account, codeplex page, copyrights and all other related things to the community.
  • A single guy (or gal!) or a tiny team should become responsible for IronRuby. More people can be responsible for parts of the project but one or a very small amount of people should be responsible for all of it.
  • A roadmap should be written to allow people to start working.
  • Finding a contact point inside Microsoft is important too, IMHO. Someone who can help with DLR issues (the DLR is still being developed inside Microsoft) or other issues we might run into.

In conclusion, if you’re asking me, IronRuby is here to stay. It’s become stronger than Microsoft and the next months/years will be our time to prove it. Personally, I know I won’t stop working with it, talking about it and helping you guys with your questions about it. I’ll do it because I believe in it and papa always told me to do what I believe in.

“we are not alone, we feel an unseen love
we are sons and heirs of grace
we are children of a light that never dims
a love that never dies, keep your chin up child
and wipe the tears from your eyes”
-- from Music Box by Thrice

Shay.



Comments (4) -

When I first heard the news on Friday, I nearly tossed my phone in the rhinoceros cage at the zoo. From what I've seen and heard so far, there is still hope for IronRuby. Seems like there are a lot of people interested in not only using it, but also continuing the project. I'm one of those people and I look forward to see where IronRuby goes next. It's now up to the community to keep it going.

Reply

Microsoft is not the company it once was. That is becoming clearer all the time.

See, at one time MS was promoting language diversity for .NET, and was actively trying to engage developers who were not .NET developers.

Now... I'm not sure where they're going. I should have known it when Harry Pierson departed as the PM for IPy, and there was no apparent successor.

I don't quite buy the line that MS only does things that actively contribute to the bottom line. Think XBox and those Express versions of VS.

The surprise fate of IRb (and maybe IPy) is another worrying sign about the direction of MS: from hardcore tech company to boring accounting and enterprise company.

Too bad. I guess that I will have to look elsewhere for a techno-fix. Maybe its time to focus a lot more on Mono.

Reply

Hi Shay,

it was really frustrating to hear that bad news from Redmond.

Sure it is a chance for the community to add more and more value to the dynamic languages. But most of us are working in a fulltime position all over the world..

So I think there are lots of barriers to break down, to keep IR alive if MS is going to discontinue it.

The added value IronRuby and IronPython offer, is gone into core .NET FX with version 4. So MS got what they want to...

While reading Jimmy's blogpost I thought about, the everywhere mentioned, "Microsoft's community effort".

In my eyes there are no community efforts for the IronLanguages...

They spend billions of dollars to bring more and more developers to the .NET FX by marketing promotions and so on, why not paying thousands of dollars a year for OUR Iron-Team ????

So lets continue spreading and demonstrating IronRuby here outside the states to build an worldwide amry of IronRubyists Laughing

Thorsten.

Reply

Well said, Shay.

I think it's a shame, but I'm not convinced IronRuby is going to contribute to their bottom line.  I think it would be great if Microsoft pushed IronRuby forward with funding, but I'm not going to demonize them for bailing out.  I appreciate that they invested enough to get the project off the ground - hopefully we can take it from here.

-Charles

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