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Ruby on Rails – preparing for an enterprise invasion

Ruby on Rails has been popular with developers, but now management tools and IDEs for RoR are emerging, which could propel the framework deeper into the enterprise.

When was the last time you heard of a conference having to close registration because it was sold out? Not recently, I'll bet. Yet, it took barely 3 weeks for co-presenters O'Reilly Media Inc. and Ruby Central Inc. to close registration for their RailsConf running from May 17th to the 20th at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland, OR. Although unlikely to set off the kind of street-clearing excitement that marked the last G8 conference in Portland, this meeting does seem to be creating some excitement.

Unfortunately, we couldn't make a personal appearance at the conference, but we are hearing of the 'buzz' and excitement associated with the open-source based Ajax, Ruby, and Rails development environment. Our awareness arose in connection with some recently announced products making their way into the production environment and activities that will strengthen the already strong attraction of Ruby on Rails. Our interest has definitely been piqued about the interest and passion this technology pack arouses in the developer community.

What caught our attention is a sharp increase in production applications that are being written using Ruby on Rails with Ajax (Asynchronous JavaScript and XML) style development routines. Rails is a full-stack, open-source Web application framework built using the Ruby programming language. A list of the indications of Rails' momentum includes:

1. Rails has been downloaded 933,972 times to date with some 700,000 downloads in the last year alone.

2. Ruby on Rails will ship with the next version of Apple's OS X operating system (Leopard).

3. An increase in the number of noteworthy applications and high traffic Web sites appearing that have Rails as a foundation; these include such sites as Backpack, Twitter, Jobster and Revolution Health.

One of the most frequently cited reasons for this interest states that the combination improves both the speed of development (reports are of up to10x accelerations) and enriches the user experience. The development rate combined with a richer application interface and a low cost due to its open source roots makes it highly attractive to individual developers. It is also drawing increasing attention from emerging solution vendors and commercial IT executives looking to boost staff productivity, speed time to market for new solutions and reduce development costs.

Another benefit of faster, easier creation of Web applications with Rails will allow faster updates and revisions to interactive Web sites. The popularity among developers means they will be more motivated and efficient with the ability to quickly update and change information on interactive Web sites - a critical competitive advantage in today's environment. There exists sufficient activity today to suggest a large move toward this new environment with indications of significant creative activity directed at filling out a business ecosystem to both leverage and drive market expansion.

With all this in its favour, are there no drawbacks? There has been one flaw and that is the difficulty in implementing and maintaining the development environment as well as a distinct lack of management tools both for development and production applications. All that will change as evidenced by announcements made at RailsConf 2007.

FiveRuns Inc. announced plans and availability schedule for the first enterprise management solution for Rails that includes both products and services that promise to accelerate enterprise adoption. Check the FiveRuns commentary on our Web site -- Other announcements came from ThoughtWorks Studios with their own plans for RubyWorks, a support services and products for enterprises, while both ActiveState and CodeGear announced IDEs (integrated development environments) for Ruby on Rails. We expect to hear and write more about this Web 2.0 development environment and the evolving ecosystem in the coming months.

About the author

Richard Ptak is a senior analyst with Ptak, Noel & Associates. He is a former senior vice president with Hurwitz Group and D.H. Brown Associates. He is also the author of "Manager's Guide to Distributed Environments" (John Wiley & Sons, 1998).

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