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RIA & Ajax: Article

The Jury's Still Out On Ruby On Rails (RoR) and AJAX

"As far as the landscape goes, there will be a place for all these technologies."

In most cases I'm a patient and tolerant person. Once you get to know me, I'm easy to get along with, occasionally complex, but not very often. My patience and tolerance has pretty much gone out the window in the last week or so. It all stems from two technologies: Ruby On Rails (RoR) and AJAX.

Now let's be fair, no one really gave a garbage-collected object about AJAX until those boffins at Google brought us the "suggest" and maps utilities (this is what happens when you give programmers spare time; they come up with good stuff). What followed were Web sites, APIs, tutorials, and more applications than you can shake a stick at. JavaScript used to be a dirty word among Java programmers a number of years ago. At one point you may as well have called JavaBlogs JavaScriptBlogs.

We used to laugh, have secretly coded words when talking among JavaScript programmers, just to make them feel out of place. JavaScript was the annoying little brother that got in the way when you were trying to impress your new girlfriend. Now VCs are rubbing their hands together waiting to throw money at the next line of AJAX-fueled apps. For about two days I was thinking, "I may actually have to learn some of this stuff," then I came to my senses and thought better of it.

My main problem with all of this goes back to my original problem with all JavaScript things from years ago - browser compatibility. I still can't, to this day, get an AJAX app to work on my Pocket PC version of Internet Explorer (in fact I still can't get a decent JVM for it either). Another issue for me is that everyone has conveniently forgotten about testing any of this stuff with a dial-up connection (or at least it's never mentioned). Is a user seriously going to sit and wait for the data to bounce to and fro every time the mouse moves? Don't get me wrong, there are some real nice applications about, but at the end of the day AJAX is still the name of a cream cleanser in the UK. I usually wash the sink with it.

The arguments, agreements, and articulate announcements about RoR are also currently, in my opinion, spiraling out of control. It sort of reminds me of the same sort of arguments regarding Python and Java a couple of years ago. Ruby, as a language, has been kicking about for years but never really broke into the mainstream. RoR came about from a project management tool for 37 Signals. Now even the most seasoned Web app programmers can be in a complete giddy spell on how they can knock up a MVC-type Web app in, well, a bit less time than before.

I thought we'd gone beyond this "technology x is better than technology y" debate when .NET was supposed to be the biggest threat to humanity. We all gave it six months to blow over and then the landscape was quiet once again. Now the soothsayers are out again with their scythes of code reduction telling me that RoR will replace Java in the way that Web apps are done. The Java camp seems to be extremely defensive and a touch prickly toward the arguments, any argument in fact, and in some respects it's how we react to these comments that make us easy prey with the emerging technologies.

As far as the landscape goes, there will be a place for all these technologies. Some will be adopted more than others. Would you write a multi-language banking application in RoR? I wouldn't. What I do keep in my tool belt is a fresh open mind to new things. I looked at RoR, played with it, tried a few things, and thought, "Not for me now" and uninstalled it. More to the point I have more than enough paid work in Java, PHP, and a heap of other things. So I tend to go where the money is calling to make sure there's food on the table.

Where do I stand in all of this? AJAX, well I've seen good uses and some pretty dreadful ones too. These are just the baby steps of what's to come with AJAX-driven apps. I still need some convincing whether we'll all be lapping up AJAX apps to every Web site we ever go to. And where there is JavaScript, there are browser-compatibility issues.

With Ruby On Rails, I'm taking a back seat for six months to see what happens. I don't jump on these things easily, just like I didn't jump on Python. There is a place for it but I still think it's in the realms of the developer fantasy of "this might take over the world one day," when the rest of people really couldn't give a hoot about what language it was written in.

As a client said to me yesterday, "I don't care what you use, as long as it works." I feel the same. Enjoy what you enjoy.

More Stories By Jason Bell

Jason Bell is founder of Aerleasing, a B2B auction site for the airline industry. He has been involved in numerous business intelligence companies and start ups and is based in Northern Ireland. Jason can be contacted at [email protected]

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