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Ruby—A Diamond of a Programming Language?

Ruby is an object-oriented, meta-programming language that has many developers wondering if there are actually better alternatives to languages like Java and C#.

ave you heard about Ruby? It seems to be a popular topic in software development circles today. This language came to my attention at a Java conference last spring, where gentlemen like Bruce Tate (author of Bitter Java and Better, Faster, Lighter Java), Dave Thomas (Pragmatic Programmer: From Journeyman to Master), and others were all talking about Ruby and telling many of us in the audience it deserved a look.

Now, if you are like me,you've been developing software for some time and you know that while learning a new programming language can be fun, you've been through enough of them that you probably look a little skeptically at another programming language. After all, the programming language wars in the '80s and '90s culminated in the conclusion that there are essentially two camps: the Java world and the development languages that Microsoft supported on .NET. Its not that I didn't want to learn another language, I just expected that the days of switching programming languages to gain a technological advantage were over. However, given the stature of these gentlemen in the industry, I decided to take a look.

Well, "I've been to the mountain top" so to speak and this article is a report on what I've found regarding Ruby. Bottom line up front, Ruby has some very nice features and is worth your investigation.

Setting Up Ruby
Ruby is an open source programming language developed by Yukihiro "Matz" Matsumoto in Japan in the mid-90s (for more on the history of Ruby, check out this article by its founder. Ruby can be obtained at www.ruby-lang.org. Originally built as a scripting language, it is available for many platforms, including Linux, many flavors of UNIX, MS-DOS, Windows, BeOS, Amiga, Acorn Risc OS, and MacOS X. As of this writing, the latest version of Ruby is 1.8.4. For those using Windows platforms, click here for the "one-click" Windows installer. Along with the base Ruby binaries and libraries, this download comes with several helpful (and free) IDEs and tools, including: documentation and sample code, RubyGems Package Manager, FreeRIDE (Free Ruby IDE), Fox GUI Libraries, fxri (a search engine and GUI guide to Ruby's documentation, along with an interactive command line tool), and SciTE (Scintilla Text Editor IDE). As of this writing, the "stable" version of Ruby offered through the Windows installer is 1.8.2, with a 1.8.4 version in preview form. This article was written using the 1.8.2 version of the Windows installer.

The installation of Ruby using the Windows installer is straightforward. You download and run a simple install executable (ruby182-15.exe for version 1.8.2) that initiates a standard install wizard. The download file is about 15MB and will take up almost 40MB when the wizard completes the install of Ruby on your Windows platform.

For those dedicated to using their favorite editors to program, a number of familiar editors offer Ruby support to include emacs, vim, JEdit, Jed, Nedit, and Textpad. Of course, there is also a Ruby Eclipse project. Ruby Development Tools (RDT) is an Eclipse plug-in that is still early in development but available here. Also emerging on the market are a number of inexpensive Ruby IDEs. Arachno Ruby is one such example.

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