Martin Fowler’s article on Ruby and Microsoft

There has been lots of interesting news related to Microsof and Ruby recently, mostly about DLR’s support of dynamic languages. One of my favorite tech authors stirred the waters once again last Friday with an article that goes beyond this and tries to paint larger picture of the uneasy relation between Ruby platform, Agile movement, OpenSource Community and Microsoft.

One quote from the article:

The attitude to open-source is a large part of this problem. When Java appeared there were yawning gaps in its portfolio, and worse some dreadful standard tools in its API (visions of Entity Beans spring to mind). Those gaps and bad ideas were fixed by the open-source community. Ant gave us a build tool, EJB was displaced by Spring and Hibernate. .NET has also got its gaps, and again the open source community has stepped up to fill them. Yet Microsoft refuses to collaborate with these efforts, even seems to go out of its way to undermine them. I was particularly sickened by Microsoft’s reaction to NUnit – an excellent XUnit testing tool, elements of whose design were lauded by Anders Hejlsberg at OOPSLA. Microsoft ended not just bringing out a competitive library, but deliberately making it incompatible. That’s not the kind of reaction that encourages people to invest their time in the platform.

There has been many reactions, the most notable by Rocky Lhotka, Sam Gentile, Cory Foy. They do not necessarily agree with Martin Fowler (but quite often do), but mostly they do confirm, that there is indeed a problem with how to deal with Open Source. Microsoft on one side would like to be the center of grass-root movement, lead and inspire it and benefit from innovation coming from the masses – and at the same time keep full control over the community project’s direction and code base. This is impossible, as other companies (like Sun) found out the hard way.

Unlike the reactions above, there was also lots of very different reactions – as one could expect with such flame-baits in text :-) Like this one – proudly promising “deconstruction” of Fowler’s article. The author even found in the article lots of between-the-lines meanings like:

“Fowler is, in almost as many words, claiming Ruby is not a language, but a religion. Complete with values (commandments), a community (church), and a priesthood (himself, among a few others). I had to pick myself off the floor the first time I read that. ”

Strangely, even after re-reading the article, I did not see that. What I saw is confusion between the community passionate about platform or technology and a religion. Which only confirms that it is very hard for Microsoft’s hardcore fans to understand how open source movement and communities work. I think that an unbiased reader can find the Aaron’s article filled with more religious-like zeal than Fowler’s:

“LINQ, Lambdas, Expression trees, WCF, Workflow, WPF, Silverlight (again), IronPython, IronRuby, holy !@#$. A loud yawn? From whom? Certainly not from my clients or colleagues, who are salivating over this stuff. LINQ, more than Ruby, more than Java, will change the way we code – no other language since Foxpro has had this level of support for set operations directly in the language (yes, I know people that still do Foxpro, and they are laughing their *!#es off at how LINQ is a reinvention of what they have been doing for 20 years, but I digress).”

Truly enough, there is merit to the statement that mixing SQL (or SQL like) code with language used to code the user interface (which in a nutshell is one the LINQ “innovations”) has potential to change the way how we code. For the worse …

The other caveat is that it already did happen few times – and latest incarnation of this masochistic coding practice is used a lot in the PHP camp. And before PHP – let me think: DBase ? FoxPro ? MS-Access ? SQL-C ? None of these is exactly major enterprise software platform today, right ?

I also quite share the excitement for lambdas and other functional programming constructs, but do not quite get how should they be a LINQ or Microsoft’s innovations – or innovations at all. Apart from the fact that languages such as Python, Ruby, Haskell do have very powerful functional programming support for like 10-15 years – and IMHO better one than C# or LINQ – all this goes back to Lisp, which will be celebrating 50th anniversary next year.

But it is not the technology that is main source of tension and controversy here. It is the relation between open source projects and Microsoft. This relation was always problematic one – which is one of the reasons why are there so relatively few thriving OSS projects on Microsoft based platform, considering the Windows domination (I do NOT say that there are few projects, I am saying that with Windows owning maybe 90% of installed PC base, there should have been many more MS toolset based opensource projects than there are).

As one the reactions on Fowler’s article did put it: “Microsoft consistently moves to take the air away from its competitors, and it views successful OSS as competition. If you ask me why my team at Oxygen uses MbUnit instead of MS Test, Castle instead of ObjectBuilder, NAnt instead of MSBuild, and Subversion and CruiseControl instead of Team System, there are a few reasons. The first set of reasons are the standard OSS arguments: control, community, fitness to purpose, and price. The second set of reasons boil down to me being pissed off that Microsoft is trying to suffocate these projects instead of supporting them.”

Our recent experience with last two large .NET projects confirms this findings – we ended up using NAnt rather than MSBuild, because it was much easier for us to enhance and extend it, using CC + CVS/Subversion + MbUnit rather that VSTS – as there was no appealing reason to justify the cost and overhead.

As long as this is reality, the strange relationship MS vs OSS will probably continue. Which is too bad – because pragmatic software developers need the MS platform and MS needs developers and thriving communities. The .NET is pretty decent development platform – the best we had on Windows in last 20 years. After developing for many years for Windows in C with Win32, C++ with MFC and ATL, COM and DCOM, VB and doing ASP Websites I really do value how huge improvement is C#, .NET and the VS2005. It is therefore very sad to read that people and teams who work on improving the tools for the platform are attacked, rather than supported by the platform owner. Or hear about legal threats and possible patents lawsuits against open source …

To demonstrate how company cares for developers, shouting Developers, Developers, Developers does not really cut it – even if shouting is really loud and delivered by the CEO. Supporting and encouraging more really successful projects like DotNetNuke or Mono – or sites like CodePlex does.

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One Response to Martin Fowler’s article on Ruby and Microsoft

  1. […] Cory Foy, Luke Melia, Jeremy Miller, Rockford Lhotka, John Lam, Evan Hoff, Karl Seguin, Ola Bini, Miro Adamy, Charles Nutter, Peter Laudati, Nick Malik Category: Martin Fowler  |  Comment […]

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