This is the last installment of my long-winded commentary on the 2005 International Ruby Conference. It’s a short one, because I had leave late Sunday morning to catch my flight home from San Diego.
David Heinemeier Hansson opened the morning’s talks with his presentation on the “The State of Ruby on Rails”. I missed last year’s conference in Virginia, where David introduced Rails, and so this was my first opportunity to hear him speak. It’s evident from his work on Rails and various Rails-based applications that he’s a talented software developer, but this presentation also revealed that he’s a natural salesman and a charistmatic public speaker.
It was for the most part a non-technical talk, a kind of review of the progress that has been made over the past year. From the 9+ Slashdot headlines, to the phenomenal download statistics, to the publication of Agile Web Development with Rails (with over 20,000 copies sold since August), it’s been a huge year for Rails. David commented on some of the things that he believes helped to make Rails such a success. He said that having a strong framework is important, but public “poster child” applications (like 37signals‘ Basecamp, or the Robot Co-op‘s 43 Things) help to convince the public that Rails is the real deal. He also noted that for a project or technology to succeed, you’ve got to tell people stories that they’re ready to hear. In Rails’ case, that story was that Java and J2EE based web applications really are too complex, and that there’s a better way to do it.
David closed his presentation by announcing the (now available) Rails 1.0 release candidate, and then talking about plans for the next phase of development. The focus is going to shift from core Rails development to platform tools. One, the SwitchTower utility for automated Rails application deployment, is already available and ships as part of Rails. The 37signals crew is also working on Gauge, a tool for monitoring the health of a clustered Rails application nicely (and in real time), as well as Conductor, a web application inspired by Naked Objects that makes it easier to develop Rails applications (a.k.a. “instant scaffolding for your application”).
Side note. During the Q&A that followed, someone mentioned a couple of books by Clayton Christensen that have influenced him: The Innovator’s Dilemma and The Innovator’s Solution. I’ve added both to my Amazon.com wish list if you want to buy one of them for me. He also recommended Kathy Sierra’s web log, Creating Passionate Users.
Nathaniel Talbott started his talk at 10:00, and I had to leave around 10:40 to check out of the hotel and catch my ride to the airport. I managed to hear a lot of his talk, but I wish I’d had enough time to hear it all. I’m going to need to find the audio for this and listen to it in its entirety some day soon.
The title of his presentation was “Rails: Serving the Long Tail in 1883 and 2005”. He incorporated a number of ideas, and as I’ve said, I didn’t get to hear the conclusion, but I think his point was that the combination of Ruby and Rails is making software development so “cheap” that it is creating new opportunities, new markets for which to develop software. Nathaniel used the example of some customized software he developed for his wife’s co-op, software that he was able to knock out in a relatively short time using Ruby and Rails. It’s a project he probably wouldn’t even have considered if he were still limited to Java and other, more tedious, development environments. The technology we now have enables us to tap into those long tail markets and finally make a living doing so.
Of course, because it’s Nathaniel, he managed to talk about the parallels he’s seen between how the introduction of the first transcontinental railroad in the late 19th century (and how that changed the U.S. economy) and what’s happening in software today. Thus, a different kind of “rails” managed to serve the long tail, in much the same way, back in 1883. Got it? Good.