Portrait of Edd Dumbill, taken by Giles Turnbull

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What I make

expectnation
a conference management web application


XTech Conference
a European web technology conference

Why Rails?

When I moved this blog from being Zope-backed to using Rails several people got in touch to ask why. This is a brief explanation of why I've moved.

Firstly I should point out I've had a long and mostly happy experience with Zope. I got into Zope originally because I'd spent some time in constructing web frameworks from scratch (we're talking 1995-1999 here) and found that not only does a framework need good templating, it needs reusable components within that.

Zope seemed like a good fit, so I spent some time getting up to speed and was happy there. However, there were some things that didn't make me feel completely comfortable. Zope offered a very stark choice between developing through the web based interface (DTML methods, etc.) and writing raw Python. To do really useful stuff, you had to get into the Python side of things, but also learn a lot about Zope guts that wasn't really well documented.

I spent more time than I probably should have had to reading Zope's own source code in order to figure out how things worked. Fine, for my own silly little projects, but not practical in general. It was hard to get the overall view of a project, and hard to test. The learning curve was a little too steep, I suppose.

So, once I'd got to a certain point I stopped, and looked around for a platform that gave me more code visibility and testability. Loyal readers will know I've looked at ASP.NET and Python, Quixote and Cheetah. ASP.NET I rejected because I didn't view Mono's web application server as mature enough at the time, and I also had reservations about ASP.NET's non-free baggage. Python, Quixote and Cheetah looked a lot more friendly.

What I wrote about Quixote and Cheetah at the time was "this combination isn't adequately presented and described anywhere." These were good technologies, but not integrated as a framework. I started work on integrating them, and made some interesting progress. I was correct that Python lacked a solid modern framework, and the time was certainly right for it, as we can now see by the emergence of Django and TurboGears.

However, at the same time I started looking at Rails and found out that it did pretty much what I wanted. To be honest, I'd avoided it for a while as a friend once did me the disservice of calling Ruby a cross between Python and Perl. "Why ruin Python?", I thought. And it takes me a while to get over the hype barrier before I conclude that there's a "there" there.

Now I've been using Rails for a while, I find its attractions have changed for me. The thrill of not having to write basic functionality over and over again has given way to more select pleasures. Writing in Ruby itself is a rewarding experience, as its idioms become plainer over time.

Sure, you can write Java or Perl in any language, and that's where I started off. But the subtle elegance of the Ruby idiom is a slowly appreciated and highly satisfying flavour. For developers who consider themselves as poets and artists too, I can't think of a better language.

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