November 25, 2005

RubyForge surpasses 1,000 hosted projects

Author: Stephen Feller

RubyForge, the hosting repository for open source applications written using the object-oriented programming language Ruby, added its thousandth project last week. The language has exploded in popularity in the year since the release of the Ruby on Rails (RoR) framework.

The addition of developer Joseph Tremblay's Rolling Gemstone, planned to be an e-zine engine powered on RoR, pushed the Web site's project count up to 1,000 on November 7. RubyForge adds four projects a day on average, according to Richard Kilmer, one of two administrators for the site.

Kilmer and RubyForge system administrator Tom Copeland started the site in June 2003, because of what Kilmer said they perceived as the Ruby community's need for a place to host projects they were working on. Because of Copeland's achieving committer status on the GForge project, Kilmer said they chose it as the management framework for the site and got the information technology services company InfoEther to sponsor it.

"We are amazed by the growth actually," Kilmer said. "I think that the number of projects demonstrates the rapidly growing interest in the Ruby programming language."

Gathering no moss

Having spent the last 10 years working exclusively with Windows and the C++ programming language, Tremblay said that earlier this year he started looking at other languages and other operating systems to find out what he had been missing. He discovered Ruby through books such as The Pragmatic Programmer."

His project, Rolling Gemstone, is an e-zine engine powered by RoR. It's patterned after weblog engines like Typo. The software, he said, will be set up to manage issues of a magazine, including features and articles, columns, and letters. The name of the engine comes from a combination of the once pioneering counter-culture rock magazine Rolling Stone and the name given to Ruby projects, Gems.

Tremblay said he is moving ahead slowly with work on the project because he is still learning. Work on Rolling Gemstone is limited to his spare time as an "educational project" that he decided to try because Ruby seemed interesting.

"So far my experience with Ruby is very limited," Tremblay said. "But already when I am coding in C++ [at work] I find myself thinking 'this piece of code would be a lot simpler in Ruby: more concise and without repetition.'"

A gem of a language

Dave Thomas, who with Andy Hunt writes the "Pragmatic Programmer" series of books, said Ruby's growth has been steady since its debut in 1995 and took off in the last year since RoR was released because it's easy to use in many ways and saves significant amounts of programming time.

While Java is widely accepted as the standard for programming enterprise applications, Thomas said many "ex-gurus" he has spoken to are moving to Ruby -- or at least considering it -- because with Ruby the months it can take to write software is often cut to weeks. The consensus of people he has spoken to that have at least partially switched is that by using Ruby and RoR programmers can be between five and 15 times more productive than with similarly-used Java.

"Anybody who's coded any decent size Java knows [that] Java is no fun anymore," Thomas said. "[Programmers] go to an environment where it is back to being fun. But the thing that makes it fun is that it's productive. ... And when you're faced with that kind of disparity, it's almost negligent not to get alternative ways of writing applications."

Ruby was created in 1993 and released in 1995 by Japanese developer Yukihiro Matsumoto, who was looking for something to do because he didn't have many assignments or jobs during the recession in Japan at the time. The fact that people use it still surprises him, he said, as does the fact that nearly 4,000 programmers are involved with RubyForge and businesses that are starting to use it.

"I started developing something interesting for me," Matsumoto said. "Ruby was a toy in my toolbox, designed just for me. I was amazed how we programmers have similar preferences over choice of programming languages."

Matsumoto, like Thomas and Kilmer, points to RoR as the thing that has ignited interest in Ruby this year -- allowing people to more easily use a language in a community that invites newcomers and sets a tone for playing around to see what happens.

With a center around Matsumoto and a few others, Thomas said the Ruby community, including RubyForge, is purposely friendly and inviting and looking to help people. Keeping discussion civil is the rule, even in more sophisticated threads between experts, and no one is "flamed" for asking questions.

Kilmer said Tremblay is one in a growing mix of developers that includes seasoned professional programmers and architects and just as many who use Ruby for research or hobby purposes. He added that now, as professionals join the community for work purposes, they're also contributing back to the community in their spare time with open source projects at RubyForge as well.

"Ruby enjoys one of the most diverse mix of developer communities around," Kilmer said. "It seems that everyone shares an enjoyment of Ruby and RubyForge that you just don't find in other communities."

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