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At RailsConf2007 there was a lot of excitement over JRuby. This small team had taken a moribund project and turned it into what looks like a first class implementation of the Ruby platform on the JVM. They got a lot of cheers and deserved them all.

So with JRuby pretty much here, the spotlight moves onto the other common managed code runtime - .NET. Microsoft's intentions for Ruby are currently much less clear. They have announced Ruby as a language for scripting Silverlight - but that still leaves a lot of open questions. Is this a full implementation of the ruby language, or is some form of Ruby++ - an enhanced subset of Ruby?

JRuby serves two distinct but complementary purposes. On the one hand it's a powerful scripting language for the JVM, allowing you to weave a dynamic language into a Java application. It's second purpose is an implementation of the Ruby platform in the JVM, which allows a Ruby application, in particular a Ruby on Rails application, to run on the JVM just as well as it runs on the MRI (Matz's Ruby Interpreter, the current C runtime).

The big question for Microsoft's "Iron Ruby" is how compatible will it be? Will it be a full implementation on the CLR? All the signals I hear tell me that John Lam, the main force behind Iron Ruby, is determined to get a fully compatible implementation. However this may be very difficult to do as things stand. Soon-to-be-ThoughtWorker Ola Bini, a JRuby committer, reckons that it's almost impossible to figure out how to implement a Ruby runtime without looking at source code of the MRI - but Microsoft imposes drastic limitations on its employees' ability to download open source software, let alone look at the source. The open-source community does much of its communication through source code - so this makes collaboration with an open-source community very difficult.

Overshadowing this, of course, is Microsoft's historically difficult relationship with the open source world. In the past Microsoft has gone out of its way to vilify and threaten the open source community. In recent years things have improved, but there's a real question about Microsoft's core intentions. The recent patent threats are seen by many as proof that Microsoft is still intent on fighting open source to the death.



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