Sun surprises at RailsConf Europe 2007

By David Heinemeier Hansson on September 19, 2007

The biggest surprise at RailsConf Europe 2007 was hearing Craig McClanahan from Sun speak. Craig is the creator of Struts, the original blockbuster web framework for Java, and more recently Java Server Faces. Not exactly an obvious advocate for Ruby on Rails, but he sure played the part well.

And not just on a superficial level because Sun was a diamond sponsor of the conference, but from months of experience developing Rails applications using the latest techniques and frameworks (like pushing the envelope with Active Resource). He even went as far as to say that developing web applications in Java after working with Rails would probably not be a particularly pleasant experience for him. Wow.

Sun's support for Rails goes even further, though. Their work on making Netbeans a kick-ass Rails IDE seems to be progressing at a rapid clip (and already winning fans). Yet it pales in comparison to the rise of JRuby as driven by Thomas, Charles, and Ola. These guys are improving their JVM implementation of Ruby at a truly insane speed.

JRuby on Rails is already in production at a fair number of companies. The Rails is just a WAR argument is certainly making it easier for companies like ThoughtWorks to push Rails deep into the enterprise. Throw the "integrate with your Java legacy" argument on top (where you can even go as far as work with EJBs!) and it's easy to see why The Enterprise is getting all giddy.

"Why are they doing all this?", that's a common concern with most Ruby folks (and a question I must have asked them personally at least half a dozen times ;)). Apparently, they see this as something quite simple: A Sun that's heavily involved with Rails on the software side is a Sun that's much better positioned to sell loads of hardware to run all these new Rails applications in both the enterprise and to start-ups.

It seems to be working too. Joyent is running all their new gear with Sun badges. And they got some serious applications cooking there, including Twitter.

So it's kinda hard to argue with their good deeds. Which is a peculiar feeling for a Rails person to have towards a company that used to be regarded solely as the high church of enterprisey. I guess that they've accepted that Java (the language) is no longer always the answer regardless of the question, as it used to be.

Yet there's still that nagging doomsday image of a mystery man sitting somewhere inside of Sun petting a black cat with a hollow laugh just waiting to reveal his evil master plan as the reason for all this. But the exceptional work and high character of people like Tim Bray, Nick Sieger, Thomas Enebo, Charles Nutter, and now even Craig McClanahan championing Ruby and Rails inside Sun, I think I'll have to waive goodbye to the last sliver of that suspicion very soon.