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A Ruby amid computer programming diamonds

Madison, Wis. - Ruby on Rails is swiftly becoming the tool of choice for many promising web application developers, not to mention certain college professors.

Programmers are becoming fluent in the platform because, by some accounts, it allows experienced web application specialists to write programs about ten times faster than current top-level programmers using Sun Microsystem's Java or Microsoft's .Net.

In some instances, programmers using Ruby on Rails have reproduced the functionality of Java and .Net applications with a 20-to-one reduction in lines of code. This kind of efficiency has already attracted approximately 4,700 people to the main Rails mailing list.

Eric Knapp, a Madison Area Technical College computer information systems instructor who is teaching the school's first Ruby on Rails class, said it is a landmark tool in the web development universe.

"It's so nice that it's fun," said Knapp, who has 20 years of IT experience and 10 years of web development experience with companies like Land's End.
"This has an element of speed and joy and elegance that I haven't seen. If you already know programming well, learning this new one is really fast."

"Riding the Rails"

Ruby is a general-purpose scripting language like Perl, and operating within this language is the web development framework called Rails.

First developed by Danish programmer David Heinemeier Hansson, Ruby on Rails was released to the public in July 2004 but has been known to only a small group of people.

In August 2006, developers announced that Apple is shipping Ruby on Rails with the next version of Mac OS X. That version, the Mac OS X v10.5 "Leopard," is slated for release in the spring of 2007.

Although companies with large investments in other programming languages often cannot afford to integrate Ruby, some of the most notable computer programmers in the industry already have switched over.

One of the most recognized figures in Java programming, James Duncan Davidson, is among the converted. While a software engineer at Sun Microsystems, Davidson wrote the Java-based webserver application, Tomcat, and the Java-based build tool known as Ant, but is now building applications exclusively with Ruby on Rails.

Additionally, a growing number of viable online companies are built on Ruby on Rails.

Blinksale is an online billing application based in Southlake, Texas, and written by a programmer with Ruby on Rails.

Odeo has risen to become arguably iTunes' most significant podcasting competitor since Noah Glass and Evan Williams began coding the site in December 2004. The company's small development team uses Ruby on Rails to put out a new production release at least once a week.

"We wanted something more lightweight and faster to develop in than Java, and Rails sounded like more fun than PHP," Williams said. "Rails has definitely allowed us to build a lot of things and iterate a lot faster than we otherwise may have."

Other examples include Punchstock, a royalty-free stock photography agency, and Jellyfish, a comparative shopping site.

In addition, a large number of presenters from the touring Java software development symposium, No Fluff Just Stuff, have developed their careers partly based on Ruby on Rails. Authors of bestselling Java books, David Geary and Bruce Tate, provide consulting services for Ruby on Rails. Other Java experts versed in Ruby on Rails include programmer Dave Thomas and consultant Glenn Vanderburg.

Ruby at MATC

With no marketing whatsoever, Knapp filled his Ruby on Rails class to its 25-chair capacity. "Ruby on Rails is the finest experience in writing web applications that we've seen by a very large margin," Knapp said. "It is dramatically and convincingly and compellingly better than anything else we've tried. Nothing has happened like this in my 20 years in IT.

“The barriers to a student getting in to it are as low as I’ve ever seen,” he added.

Mike Masino, an IT security instructor at MATC, concurred with Knapp’s judgment about the framework’s intuitiveness. Within an hour of being introduced to the framework, a programmer can have a server up and running and build simple working applications in minutes.

“From what I’ve seen, it does have a consistency that most other programming languages do not have. Once you’ve learned something, it’s not like there are exceptions all over the place,” he said.

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