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Fear, Uncertain, and Doubt by Joel Spolsky

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David Heinemeier Hansson

Posts: 512
Nickname: dhh
Registered: Mar, 2004

David Heinemeier Hansson is the lead Ruby developer on 37signal's Basecamp and constructor of Rails
Fear, Uncertain, and Doubt by Joel Spolsky Posted: Aug 31, 2006 10:31 PM
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Joel Spolsky is a good writer. I've thoroughly enjoyed many of his pieces. Language Wars is not one of them. Actually, let me recant that. It's not entirely true. I did enjoy his latest piece on one level. It's one of the purest forms of FUD I've ever seen against Ruby and Rails. Not even the best of the Java guys can keep up with Joel on this.


I for one am scared of Ruby because (1) it displays a stunning antipathy towards Unicode and (2) it's known to be slow, so if you become The Next MySpace, you'll be buying 5 times as many boxes as the .NET guy down the hall. Those things might eventually be get fixed but for now, you can risk Ruby on your two-person dormroom startup or your senior project, not for enterprisy stuff where Someone is Going to Get Fired.


I'm really not sure that you won't hit scaling problems, or problems interfacing with some old legacy thingamabob, or problems finding programmers who can understand the code, or whatnot. So while Ruby on Rails is the fun answer and yes I've heard of 37 Signals and they're making lovely Ruby on Rails apps, and making lots of money, but that's not a safe choice for at least another year or six.


Ruby is a beautiful language and I'm sure you can have a lot of fun developing apps it in, and in fact if you want to do something non-mission-critical, I'm sure you'll have a lot of fun, but for Serious Business Stuff you really must recognize that there just isn't a lot of experience in the world building big mission critical web systems in Ruby on Rails.

This is truly golden. Now, now. Some might accuse Joel as being a little late to the FUD party. That most of the guests already went home. But what's a few years off? It wasn't too long ago Joel thought VBScript was a reasonable language for web development. Or that these new fancy exceptions probably didn't scale.

But it gets better. Joel finishes off with a prize so good you can't help but wonder if he's pulling your leg or not. So in summary, Ruby and Rails are both immature, right? A decade for the language, two-something years for the framework. Tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of programmers exposed between the two. Okay, I buy that this could be seen as "immature" if you're into comparing quantity of programmers or deployed applications against, say, Java or PHP.

Now strap yourself in and reach the final paragraph:

FogBugz is written in Wasabi, a very advanced, functional-programming dialect of Basic with closures and lambdas and Rails-like active records that can be compiled down to VBScript, JavaScript, PHP4 or PHP5. Wasabi is a private, in-house language written by one of our best developers that is optimized specifically for developing FogBugz; the Wasabi compiler itself is written in C#.

So Joel and friends invented their own language, which has to reasonably compile to three and a half different ones. Yes, they're building their Serious Business Stuff application on a 1-off, closed language. So please do as I say, not as I do, dammit. And pick something mainstream and "safe".

I swear I couldn't make this stuff up even if I tried. Joel, you're my new hero of irony. And as soon as you start selling those t-shirts with "Serious Business Stuff", I got green ready to flow. Short of that, I'd take a red teddy bear with the embroidering "Someone is Going to Get Fired".

Read: Fear, Uncertain, and Doubt by Joel Spolsky

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