A while back, I blogged how
MonadWindows PowerShell can be used to do a lot of the things the Ruby advocates are saying is one of Ruby's biggest strengths, that of "scripting" and driving things from the REPL environment. Glenn Vanderburg jumped all over me, believing I was suggesting that this was some kind of contest by which Ruby was supposed to come out in the Negative Points Zone. Had that been my intent, I would heartily agree with his critique; unfortunately, that wasn't the point.
For a while now, people have been holding up Ruby as this "incredibly productive tool", with the implication that such productivity cannot be achieved on the platforms that are currently the standards among the industry--that is, the CLR and Java virtual machine. Dynamically-, weak- or non-typed languages, for example, are all the rage now because they mean we don't need to try and "fool" the compiler on a regular basis with typecasts, we can have things like closures and continuations, and so on. My point simply was to point out that such argument is FUD--we can have closures, continuations, and so on, in platforms like the CLR and JVM--it's just that the major languages of the day don't provide those features (yet).
The Ruby advocate may snicker at my splitting of hairs here--"OK, so your platform may support it, but your languages don't. I'd rather use a language and platform that does support these features, instead of waiting for somebody else to come along and give them to me." It's a fair question--why is this an important distinction? Because asking existing infrastructure and applications to switch to a new platform is almost impossible. Asking them to integrate with a new platform is painful. Asking developers--particularly those on the team who don't get the beauty of dynamic/weak/non-typed languages--to switch to an entirely new way of thinking is going to mean you're going to spend at least five years learning the "new way".
If we can get those features we want from languages like Ruby onto a platform that we've already standardized on gives us a best-of-both-worlds result. Those developers who are comfortable with statically-typed objects can stay with statically-typed objects. Those who want the more dynamic features of "scripting" languages can do so. We can then blend the two together, to form an interesting and seamless whole: "Give me my Rails, but let me call into a J2EE Connector implementation to talk to the mainframe while we're at it." Getting Ruby to run on the JVM or CLR would be a Very Good Thing. It would answer one of the principal criticisms of Rails, for example, that of the idea that it doesn't do well when dealing with Large Enterprise Things--if Rails could create a javax.transaction.XATransaction before it kicks into ActiveRecord code, for example, suddenly we have a two-phase commit possibility that includes not just databases but mainframes and messaging systems. And yes, people DO need those kinds of Large Enterprise Things in the real world sometimes. Would it not be a win for Ruby to be able to hook into those without having to write all that code themselves? :-)
As a particular footnote to the discussion, Lee Holmes (whose blog entry I quoted to start all this) points out that there is a more concise version of the
MonadWindows PowerShell script that compares more favorably (in terms of the "lines of code" metric, which, as Glenn notes, I don't really put much stock into) to the Ruby version. But that's not the point--the point is, there *is* a way to do Ruby-esque things in the Windows world, even if you choose not to learn the Ruby syntax. If that makes your life easier, hoo-hah, Sargeant! If you instead want to use JScript.NET and compile into IL, hoo-hah, Sargeant! If you choose to do Ruby, hoo-hah, Sargeant! Whatever makes life easier for you to Get The Work Done.
But don't underestimate the costs of integration, and certainly don't sacrifice integration on the altar of productivity--the time that you saved up front writing the thing will be more than spent when you try to make integration with the rest of your company's IT systems (or your new partner's IT systems, or your new consortium's standards, or....) work. Integration has been, is now, and will remain the Number One challenge to companies today, and that's not going to change in the future, Ruby or no Ruby. :-)