Ruby scripting language makes embedded play

Main Ruby version, however, is viewed by founder Yukihiro Matsumoto as needing only minor improvements

Popular scripting language Ruby is branching out into embedded applications, with an Mruby version of the language. But the main Ruby variant is viewed by its founder as needing only minor improvements in upcoming versions.

Appearing Wednesday afternoon at a Ruby user site in the San Francisco Bay Area, Ruby founder Yukihiro Matsumoto talked of his latest project, Mruby, the lightweight version of Ruby for embedded applications that was first released last year. Mruby will vie with languages such as Java and C in the embedded space, but Matsumoto sees Mruby as a superior language to Java -- at least when it comes to embedded development. He downplayed the usefulness of Java ME (Micro Edition), which is intended for embedded development, saying it was "not really Java."

Oracle lately has been pitching embedded Java for use in the so-called Internet of things, which features a multitude of connected devices. Both ME and, to an extent, the standard edition of Java are being positioned for embedded systems. But the ME version does not have the Java ecosystem and requires more memory than C programs, Matsumoto said, at the offices of cloud-based transaction software company Coupa.

Embedded systems are getting bigger and bigger these days, and being featured in systems such automobiles, said Matsumoto. Mruby, with its flexibility and productivity benefits, can play a part in this, but it will not dominate, he said. "Most of the system will still be in C or C++." The next step for mruby is to improve its stability, Matsumoto said. Mruby is housed on GitHub.

For smartphone app development, there already is a bridge between mruby and Objective-C, Apple's programming language for the iPhone, making it possible to write iPhone apps in Mruby, Matsumoto explained. Programs are written in Mruby and compiled to binary code, which can access underlying Objective-C libraries. This usage of Mruby, however, is still in an alpha stage of development.

Matsumoto also talked up the completeness of his Ruby reference implementation, CRuby 2.0, also known as Ruby 2.0. This upgrade was released in February and features garbage collection, for memory management, and keyword arguments, for being more descriptive about method calls. Matsumoto sees version 2.0 and its critical improvements as an important milestone. Later versions, such as 2.1, 2.2, and 2.3, will only need minor improvements, he said. Version 2.1 is due in December with even more improvements in garbage collection as well as literals capabilities, for mathematical programs.

Matsumoto started developing Ruby in 1993. "I designed Ruby as a hobby in the beginning," he said. Matsumoto stressed enjoyment of the Ruby language as a benefit that produces motivated programmers. "Motivated programmers become very productive."

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