What's next for Microsoft's IronRuby?

Summary:Signs are pointing to Microsoft backing away from IronRuby, the .Net-targeted implementation of the Ruby dynamic programming language that the company has been developing and funding for the past couple of years.

Signs are pointing to Microsoft backing away from IronRuby, the .Net-targeted implementation of the Ruby dynamic programming language that the company has been developing and funding for the past couple of years.

For a while, it looked as if Microsoft was moving full-steam-ahead with dynamic languages. Adding the Dynamic Language Runtime to the Common Language Runtime made the Redmondians seem even more committed. A couple of weeks ago, Microsoft seemed to up the ante again by making IronRuby and IronPython available under the Apache 2 open-source license. Around the same time, Microsoft released version 1.1 of IronRuby and an alpha of IronPython 2.7.

But all isn't rosy in IronRuby land. According to a now former IronRuby developer, Jimmy Schementi, Microsoft has just one developer left on that project (who is committed to it half-time). Schementi recently quit Microsoft when his manager asked him "what else would you want to work on other than Ruby," he blogged.

Schementi's August 6 blog post about his departure from Microsoft has resulted in lots of questions about Microsoft's intentions around IronRuby, IronPython and dynamic languages in general. Developers are wondering whether to continue with IronRuby projects; whether Silverlight and Azure support are in the cards and more.

(I've asked the Softies a bunch of these questions, as well as about the future of IronPython, but no official word back so far.)

Update (August 10): Microsoft is not commenting on the future of IronRuby. Here's the official word from Chris Dias, Group Program Manager, Visual Studio:

“At this time, we have no announcements to make about IronRuby and IronPython beyond what we announced in July 2010 -- that we were putting these under the Apache License v2.0. Clearly, there is customer and community interest in these languages. With many organizations running mixed IT environments, we continue to value community feedback on how we can support their interoperability needs, and we remain committed to supporting multiple tools and languages that provide developers with the most choice and flexibility."

Members of the Ruby community already are talking about the possibility of transitioning IronRuby to non-Microsoft ownership, with members of the community taking charge of the project. For that to happen, however, Microsoft needs to be clear about its intentions, as Schementi told members of the IronRuby Core mailing list:

"Though IronRuby is licensed under an open-source license, it is copyright Microsoft. IronRuby.net is owned by Microsoft. The GitHub "ironruby" organization is managed by Microsoft. Etc, etc. If the intention is to cease funding IronRuby, then a non-profit foundation owning IronRuby, like CodePlex Foundation, would be ideal, so that we don't need to jointly own the copyright."

Some kind of an official transition is definitely in order, blogged Mono team member Jean-Baptiste Evain:

"The IronRuby team currently consists of one hacker. We don’t know much about the IronPython team. And everyone who wanted to work on .net with their favorite dynamic language is freaking out. To a reason. The good news is that the code of IronPython, IronRuby and the DLR is open source, and has recently been re-licensed under the Apache2 license. The official message is that IronRuby’s fate is now in the hands of the community.

"That doesn’t sound like a bright future. So far, the community has been excluded from the development process of IronRuby. It’s impossible to contribute code to the core compiler of IronRuby, let alone to the DLR which is now part of .net 4.0. The code in github is a mere mirror of an internal TFS repository, and may or may not be up to date. And until IronRuby’s divorce with Microsoft is completely consumed, it will stay like this. So, sure we can contribute to external libraries, but that’s definitely not where the fun lies, and from now on, nor where the real work will be required.

"So is the solution a fork?"

What's your read as to what's going on at Microsoft on the dynamic language front? Is it simply more Developer Division belt-tightening? Or did IronRuby lose favored status because of perceived competition with ASP.Net MVC? Should/could Microsoft pass the IronRuby torch to another group or the Ruby community at large?

Topics: Microsoft, Software Development

About

Mary Jo Foley has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications, including ZDNet, eWeek and Baseline. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008). She also is the cohost of the "Windows Weekly" podcast on the TWiT network. Got a tip? Se... Full Bio

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