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Ajax and Ruby do Vegas

With Java growing ever more complex and Ajax still unsteady, programmers at The ServerSide Java Symposium espoused the utility of Ruby on Rails.

Las Vegas - Two of the hottest technologies to emerge in the past year, Ajax and Ruby on Rails, took center stage this past weekend at the ServerSide Java Symposium in Las Vegas.

In fact, you could say that Ruby and Ajax have officially become an item.

 Java is really not that approachable anymore.
Bruce Tate
Independent Software Consultant

Yet it seems the Ajax and Ruby convergence is more the product of skepticism than romance. There are critics in the Java space who voice reservation about the ability of JavaScript to handle the heavy lifting for scripting Ajax applications, necessitating the emergence of Ruby.

Chief among the skeptics is Bruce Tate, an independent software consultant based in Austin, Texas, who argued that Java has become so complex it presents a barrier to programmers trying to start working with it. He proposed Ruby as an easier to learn, programmer-friendly alternative.

"I do think Java is in trouble on the low end," he told symposium attendees at a session titled "Beyond Java: Technologies to Watch." His contention is that Java language in general has grown increasingly complex over its 10-year lifespan. This has resulted in a steep learning curve for computer science students or experienced programmers seeking to transition from languages such as COBOL.

"Java is really not that approachable anymore," he said.

For projects such as building a Web front-end for a database application he argued that Ruby is a good alternative. "With Ruby you don't get quick and dirty you get quick and clean," he said. "The Ruby programming language is a very successful programming language for scripting today."

"The strength of Ruby is that it's very object oriented, it's very clean and it's very adaptable," he told the audience of mostly Java programmers.

But as Tate explained in presenting a brief history of Ruby, the language, which like Java has been around for about a decade, was until recently pretty much limited to Japan, the home of its inventor Yukihiro "Matz" Matsumoto.

In the past year just as Ajax was emerging, Ruby broke out of its niche status with the introduction of Rails, a Web application framework written in Ruby to support the scripting of applications. It is Ruby on Rails that is turning the heads of some Java programmers.

"Rails is the killer app" that is leading Ruby to growing popularity among programmers, said Justin Gehtland, a consultant with Relevance LLC, who spoke in two symposium sessions focused on Ruby on Rails.

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In a session titled "Building Quality Applications with Ajax Frameworks," Gehtland also suggested that programmers look at additional open source frameworks for Ajax applications. He said the Prototype JavaScript framework is designed to provide a JavaScript that is more "Ruby-like" for developing Ajax applications. Prototype works with scripts available with Scriptaculous, available, another resource recommended by Gehtland. He noted that both Prototype and Scriptaculous were invented by Ruby committers.

Whether Ruby on Rails will emerge as the language of choice for Ajax applications is yet to be seen.

In the same session with Gehtland, co-presenter Dion Almaer, CTO of Adigio Inc, said Sun Microsystems at Java One in May is expected to announce that JavaServer Fraces will do Ajax transparently. This will greatly simplify Ajax development, he said.

"People in two years will be doing Ajax without knowing they are doing Ajax," Almaer predicted.

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