It's not you, it's me: Microsoft kills IronRuby

Down to one part-time Ruby programmer, Microsoft's move may signal end of flirtation between big companies and small projects

Microsoft's decision to pay the salaries of several Ruby hackers was akin to a lawyer dating the bassist from a cool local band. Thus, it's sad, but not surprising, to hear about the breakup: With the departure of Jimmy Schementi, Microsoft's Ruby team is now down to one part-time developer.

Keep in mind that Ruby is one of a newish breed of dynamically typed languages much beloved by open source developers and those interested in agile methodologies. It has a whiff of hipness that doesn't necessarily accrue to hopelessly square (but widely used) languages like Visual Basic and Java.

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Why was Microsoft paying the salaries of these counterculturalists in the first place? Well, Schementi and his mates were working on IronRuby, an implementation of the Ruby language for Microsoft's .Net framework, which could be integrated into the company's Visual Studio IDE line. It's the sort of synergy between an establishment player and an upstart project that looked good in press releases.

But was it a good fit for either side? You can make the argument that Ruby users aren't natural Microsoft customers, and advances in .Net bring many dynamic language features to C#, which removes much of the incentive to implement Ruby on .Net in the first place. Schementi hints in the blog post announcing his departure that typical large-corporation management issues hindered the nimbleness of the IronRuby team.

It's a shame for any open source project when people who formerly got to work on that project all day for a living have to go find another job. But big companies must keep their shareholders happy by relentlessly focusing on the bottom line, and even a two-person team -- tiny by Microsoft standards -- eats up cash. Ironically, smaller companies with vision (and, sometimes, indulgent venture capital) can often better afford to fund projects they truly believe in.

Last year, in an episode not dissimilar to this one, the two developers working for Sun/Oracle on JRuby, the Java Ruby implementation, jumped ship to the much smaller Engine Yard startup. And Ruby on Rails, the Web application framework that is the premier Ruby app, is thriving under the aegis of 37signals, a company with fewer than 30 employees that puts Ruby on Rails at the heart of its main offerings. The lesson for small projects may be that it's better to be a small company's heart and soul than a big company's PR move.

This story, "It's not you, it's me: Microsoft kills IronRuby," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Get the first word on important tech news with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog.