Sep 29

JRuby 0.8.2 released

Java, Ruby, Tech No Comments »

It was good to say that today JRuby 0.8.2 has been released:

This release fixes many problems. It also allows embedders to see Arrays and Hashes as java.util.List and java.util.Maps.

JRuby isn’t “there yet” of course, as you can see by the test failures, but it is getting there, and there has been an uptake of development on it which is great to see.

The day JRuby gets up to Jython levels, and then C Ruby levels, will be a great day.

Download JRuby

Sep 29

Pragmatic Ajax Beta Book

Ajax, Tech 1 Comment »

We are having a coming out party these days on our new Pragmatic Ajax book, that is published by the great Pragmatic Programmer’s.

Pragmatic Ajax is in the Dave and Andy style, in which we delve into the world of building real Ajax applications using Ajaxian techniques.

The bulk of the book is server-side agnostic, but server-side technologies are obviously discussed in detail too (Java, .NET, Rails, etc). There is also plenty on surrounding topics such as UI design for ajaxian applications and the like.

One really fun chapter comes from Ben and I talking about “Building Google Maps in 2 hours”. This chapter will walk you through building a Google Maps-like Ajaxian user interface, and will dispel the myths that “you have to be a rocket scientist”.

Look for the Beta Book soon!

Sep 29

British People: Boycott Thrillers with brit bad boys!

British 6 Comments »

After reading Flight attendants outraged over Jodie Foster film I have to say something.

I have been mad for years that the mad evil genius in Hollywood movies has always been a british guy.

The personification of this is Alan Rickman.

So, all brits out there… we need to ban any thriller where the english guy is portrayed as an evil one.

Hugh Grant Movies Only!

Sep 28

invokedynamic: New Java Bytecode for the Dynamics

Groovy, Java, Tech 83 Comments »

I am thrilled to see this post by Gilad Bracha, on the new invotedynamic bytecode that is “coming to a JSR near you very soon”.

I was beginning to think that this may not be coming, even though I know that people asked for it at the dynamically type language meetup at Sun, but look:

Last winter we had a meeting with various people who work on such languages – things like Groovy, Perl, Python/Jython. Our conclusion was that the most practicable thing was to support dynamically typed method invocation at the byte code level.

The new byte code, invokedynamic , is coming to a JSR near you very soon. I

Sep 28

Only Fools and Horses

British, TV / Movie 4 Comments »

BBC America loves to show Are you being served and Benny Hill, but misses the classics.

It has been great to see them put BlackAdder on the airwaves, but next I want to see Only Fools and Horses.

What made me think of this? I got sent a snippet from a classic episode


Sep 28

Gobby: Collaborative Editor for Many Platforms

IDE, Tech 2 Comments »

Ted Leung pointed me to Gobby, which is “SubEthaEdit for the rest of us”, as he put it.

I love SEE, so it is great to see something that I can use cross-platform, with people on other systems.

Now, if it could be an IDEA plugin….


Sep 27

JBoss and Microsoft News

Java, Tech 1 Comment »

Marc Fleury mentioned that there would be big news today for JBoss:

But I want to save the best for last :) But actually just a teaser because I will not say anything except that we GOT SOME DYNAMITE OF AN ANNOUNCEMENT COMING OUT ON TUESDAY MORNING. That’s right, I am chuckling under my breath when I think about it. The big-ness of it, the beauty of it, the surprise of it.

It will get the attention of mr Mills at’s for sure!…. Buaaahahahahahahaah

Watch the news on Tuesday. Right here, same channel. Go get the popcorn! entertainment ACOMIN’

The news that I saw today was
Jboss and Microsoft announce interop goals.

Now, there are some interesting things in there, and I think it is kinda a no-brainer for both sides.

JBoss wants to run better on Windows, which makes sense, especially since they said that ~50% of their deployments are on Windows (which is very interesting in itself).

Microsoft, well they live to sell the Windows Platform. Anyway to get more J2EE deployments on Windows is a win for them.

So, the news makes sense for both sides.

The Seam announcement is much bigger news IMO. They are going for the full stack, which Java really needs. If they pull it off with Seam that would be a big win. They will of course have competition from the other J2EE vendors, and Spring, which is only a good thing.

Off Topic: I was watching Chelsea, and suddenly listening to Jose Mourinho felt like listening to Marc :)

Congrats to JBoss on a good week.

Sep 27

An example Ruby patch

Ruby, Tech 3 Comments »

Todd Huss posted his thoughts on dealing with patches to dependencies that you rely on, in response to my Tweaking on the bleeding edge: Ruby vs. Java.

Sam Ruby found an issue in Rubys XmlMarkup builder.

He put up a fix for this which is very clean.

I much prefer this to a diff’d file for patch to run. Isn’t it a lot cleaner to see? A patch is real running code.

Also, since you are able to alias :foo :saved_foo you can even do something and call that old method!

#!/usr/bin/env ruby

# Portions copyright 2004 by Jim Weirich (
# Portions copyright 2005 by Sam Ruby (
# All rights reserved.

# Permission is granted for use, copying, modification, distribution,
# and distribution of modified versions of this work as long as the
# above copyright notice is included.

require 'config/environment'
require 'builder'
require 'test/unit'

class Builder::XmlMarkup < Builder::XmlBase
def _escape(text, extra={})
result = text.
gsub(%r{&}, '&').
gsub(%r{<}, '<').
gsub(%r{>}, '>')
extra.each_pair {|key,value| result.gsub!(key, value)}
return result

# Insert the attributes (given in the hash).
def _insert_attributes(attrs, order=[])
return if attrs.nil?
q = {'"' => '"'}
order.each do |k|
v = attrs[k]
@target << %{ #{k}="#{_escape(v,q)}"} if v
attrs.each do |k, v|
@target << %{ #{k}="#{_escape(v,q)}"} unless order.member?(k)

class TestEscaping < Test::Unit::TestCase

def setup
@xml =

def test_element_gt
assert_equal '<title>2>1</title>',!

def test_element_amp
assert_equal '<title>AT&T</title>',!

def test_element_amp2
assert_equal '<title>&amp;</title>',!

def test_attr_less
@xml.a(:title => '2>1')
assert_equal '<a title="2>1"/>',!

def test_attr_amp
@xml.a(:title => 'AT&T')
assert_equal '<a title="AT&T"/>',!

def test_attr_quot
@xml.a(:title => '"x"')
assert_equal '<a title=""x""/>',!

Sep 26

Theory of Intelligent Falling

Politics 30 Comments »

The evolution-schmevolution debate keeps going.

Latest we have New evolution spat in schools goes to court.

I love it when the school board gets sin there with gems like:

The school board says there are “gaps” in evolution, which it emphasizes is a theory rather than established fact.

Ahh the theory argument. Well guys, The onion published the long anticpated Theory of Intelligent Falling. Gravity is only a theory after all.

Science needs to work with things that are provable. Intelligent design is a tough one to proove (although I know that some groups are trying to do so).

Another classic is:

Fifty-five percent of Americans believe God created humans in their present form, the poll found.

Wow. In 2005. And we wonder why we

Sep 25

War of the Web: Revenge of the Dynamics

Ajax, HTML, Java, JavaScript, Lightweight Containers, Microsoft, PHP, Perl, Ruby, Tech, UI / UX, Web Frameworks 933 Comments »

As I was watching “24 hour party people” on DVD, I heard the main character talk about the ebbs and flows of the music business. He is talking about the scene in Manchester at the end of the 70’s, and into the eighties. Moving from Joy Division to Happy Mondays and New Order.

I think that we are in a new chapter for the web, and as is often the case, the wheel of time is repeating history for us.

There are a few dimensions to the current war though. They are on the client side (DHTML Ajax vs. simple HTML vs. Flash/PDF vs. XAML) and on the server side (Rails vs. Java vs. PHP vs. .NET).

Let’s start at the beginning.

Perl: Birth of CGI

Do you remember how the web changed as it moved from static HTML connected content to dynamic websites? That came about due to CGI, and how our nice web server would now fork off our programs to generate the HTML.

I remember my first CGI programs were written in C, and Scheme. I quickly moved on though, and found the beauty, and craziness of Perl.

I spent quite some time with Perl, trying to get by without writing too much NSAPI and ISAPI code (oops, I guess that core dump hurts the entire server?).

I really enjoyed the community at that time. #perl was interesting (some of the time), and CPAN became the holy grail. As soon as you thought you needed something, someone had kindly put that functionality up into CPAN. I even have some of my own modules hanging out there, and helped with others.

Over a short time period, we had developed some fairly rich web modules. We didn’t have to work with $ENV{’SOME_CGI_ENVIRONMENT’}, or STDIN or the like. Our framework abstracted all of that for us, and gave us a simple model. We lauched at the folks who generated html via methods such as b("whee") and we stuck close to HTML itself, allowing our design teams to simply open the html files and see what their stuff looked like. We even had the notion of components, and special tags that you could create. <$mytag name=”…” /> was nice because the name of the tag was the key for the framework to dynamically discover that functionality. No config files, or interfaces, in the strict sense. The coupling was based on a name.

In retrospect, life was pretty simple for web development, a lot simpler than some of the frameworks we have today!

But, we moved from Perl. CGI was not the nicest for our high load servers. It was crazy to think that we would fork a process for every little request that came in, and that a Perl interpreter would start up, load the program, do the work and then die off.

We naturally moved to solutions such as mod_perl, and that helped. It was so new though that it was buggy and we had a lot of problems. Some of the problems had nothing to do with mod_perl itself, but due to laziness and side-effects.

When you work in an environment like CGI you can be a very bad man indeed. If you don’t close something correctly, or don’t play totally nice with resources, baaaah who cares? The server is going to kill me in 2 seconds anyway, so I will get my job done and have him kill me. In mod_perl world though, these programs start to live longer, and they get fat and oily.

Java: No more stinking processes!

Remember the beginning of Java (Oak!). We were building applets, and feeling the pain very early on.

Servlets were the big thing though. We ported our Perl based framework over, and were able to see significant performance improvements at the time. Some of the team loved the change, others hated the verboseness and static typing.

The nice threading model that Java gave us was huge though, even with the poor JVMs back then (Microsofts was by far the best remember!).

This is when we moved from the world of Perl to having Java start to take over. That isn’t to say that there wasn’t competition. In the waters we saw the lurkers of ColdFusion, ASP, and the beginning of the PHP revolution. Java came up with JSP to compete with these tag based approaches, but it was the advent of the rich MVC style frameworks that really spurred everyone on.

In my opinion Java is still in the hot-seat, especially in the corporate world.

Preparing for the server war

The troops are being gathered. Strategies are being worked out. We are currently getting ready for a new battle on the server side.

What’s happening?

  • Ruby on Rails: Whatever you think about Rails, it has lit a fire under the server side web development community. Many have jumped on the bandwagon, claiming real productivity improvements. Some of the PHP converts enjoy a richer language, which is still nice and dynamic, with a framework that enforces clean MVC techniques. Some of the Java community are frankly a little bored of Java, and enjoy the new challenge. They also love the freedom of the language, and the fact that they now have just ONE stack to worry about. Will the Rails buzz keep growing? Will it be the Perl of Web 2.0?
  • Java: Java isn’t going down without a fight. Some argue that the problem with web development in Java is that it has been too complicated and heavy for much usage. I have personally called for the need of a common stack for Java, and people have stepped up to the plate. On one side we have companies that will certify a set of technologies (JavaServer Faces + Spring + Hibernate). Then we get frameworks taking on simplicity themselves (WebWork now embedding Spring). Finally we have initiatives like JBoss Seam, which is trying to combine the component models of JavaServer Faces and the backend. Seam aims to give you the power of the Java tier, but also giving you a simple productive environment. So, Java frameworks are rising to the challenge of Rails, and we will soon see how much of the success of Rails is Ruby, and how much can be duplicated in other platforms.
  • PHP: We can’t discount PHP. A lot of “serious engineers” (read: anyone who isn’t a PHP developer thinks they are serious) poo poo the PHP world. Yet, by all accounts, there is a LOT of PHP development going on out there. PHP has the advantage of being something written JUST for the web. Take a look at how Wordpress came along (PHP based blogging software) and in no time at all there were thousands and thousands of plugins that you could simply drop into your Wordpress system. Literally, you drop in a file and you are done. There are numerous PHP frameworks that are aiming to mimic, and compete with Rails, so we can’t forget about these guys. The question with the PHP community is: will it grow more into the enterprise, or will it be for script-kiddies.
  • .NET: Never discount Microsoft. ASP.NET keeps getting more productive, and it is hard to compete with their end to end story, which includes fantastic tooling in their latest Visual Studio. And, we get Avalon and XAML along for the ride, as well as the futures of C# 3.0 which takes a lot of ideas from the dynamic languages and puts them into a static structure (such as: var foo = new Bar(); and the relational/xml integration)

It is going to be an interesting couple of years, as all of these platforms mature, and take eachother on, trying to get mindshare!

Client Side: JavaScript is cool again

But what about Ajax? The battle for the client side is going to be just as hot as on the server. And they will even intertwine with eachother.

Firstly we have the big debate of how far Ajax is going to go. Is it a one hit wonder? or will it become a standard part of our toolbox and even just be called dhtml again?

As an Ajaxian, I obviously have my thoughts on this matter. But there is a lot of competition inside and outside of Ajax:

  • Flash/PDF: Adobe/Macromedia are a definitely force to be reckoned with. Flash is almost ubiquitous, and PDF is used everywhere. Now the companies are combined, what do they have in store for us?
  • Avalon/WPF/E/XAML: Microsoft announced WPF/E, which is a subset of XAML that will be ported on various platforms and available in many browsers. This means that you can build your rich application in the .NET set of tools, and have it run in Safari on Mac OSX. Impressive. When are we actually going to see this in a form that we can deploy to the real world?
  • HTML: How much do we want to work in the open (ish) world of HTML. A large group of developers do not want to jump into any monopoly, and will therefore want to stick to a more open environment. But, another set will just want to use the best tool to add business value. What will the split be?

JavaScript will play a big role in this war. JavaScript 2.0 offers big improvements, that many people will cheer for. Also, the same people who poo-poo’d JavaScript in the past have come to realise that it really is a great language. It may not be what they are used too (it uses prototype-based OO vs. class-based OO), but it is powerful and robust. There are some features missing, and a big question around libraries. JSAN and others are trying to build a CPAN for JavaScript. We also worry about the black box of the JavaScript VM in the browsers, and cross-browser bugs are truly real painful. Fortunately, frameworks like Dojo and Prototype are trying to help us out on that front.

We are also seeing that we need to take JavaScript from the former:

“That is just crappy code that the web dood View-Source’s and pastes into the web pages”

to the future:

“JavaScript also needs to be engineered, and is a first class citizen”

Thus we finally see more unit testing of JavaScript code, and professional ways of creating modules and namespaces for our code. We also see great advantages with features like E4X where XML becomes a native type.

JavaScripts increased popularity, thanks to Ajax (and Flash/ActionScript) has also drawn it into the server side. Mozilla Rhino gives you a quality Java-based approach, so why not use a cool dynamic scripting language for certain tasks on the server side? You don’t have to use JavaScript for everything, but it has its place, and that place is growing.

The Battles Join

This is where the battles are joining. We have JavaScript bleeding across the layers, and we have the need for server-side frameworks to support the new Web. It isn’t enough to generate simple HTML and be done with it.

Today’s frameworks need to be able to help us build Ajaxian components, and help us write this applications quickly and cleanly.

There are various directions that frameworks are going in here.

  • JavaScript Code Gen: Why not give you a simple macro that splits out the ugly JavaScript that you would have to write?
  • JavaScript Framework Code Gen: Spitting out low-level JavaScript is too much work. Many frameworks are writing on top of a higher level JavaScript framework like Dojo or Prototype. Now the code-gen is less, and you get the benefits of the rich functionality, browser compatibility, and visual effects available from these frameworks.
  • Tools and Widgets: Should developers even care if a piece of their page is Ajax or not? Some frameworks give you drag and drop editors that let you setup widgets or components. Some happen to be ajaxian. Some are not. Who cares?
  • Markup based: A lot of frameworks are giving us markup based solutions. That is one of the strengths of Microsoft Atlas, not the fact that they added support for $() etc. Are we going to want to build using markup or via programatic APIs?


It is hard to predict the winners of the new battles, and the losers will not die off totally, but it is an exciting time to be watching web development. The dynamic languages of Ruby, JavaScript, and PHP are making a big run, and people are realising that they aren’t just cheesy scripting languages that can’t be used. It’s time to take them serious.

We are going to start really working out what makes sense for usability on the web with rich interfaces. And, at the same time we will get simpler and simpler backend tools to make the generation of rich web experiences easier and easier.

I am looking forward to seeing this battle!