Analysts: NetBeans' Dumping of Ruby on Rails 'Predictable,' Future of NetBeans in Doubt?

Version 7.0 of the NetBeans IDE, set for release this Spring, will not support Ruby on Rails, the NetBeans community announced on Friday.

In an open message posted on the Web site, the NetBeans team cited "low usage trends" of the popular scripter-framework combo among users of the IDE and the need to devote engineering resources to the upcoming release of Java SE 7.

"A key objective of the NetBeans IDE has always been to offer superior support for the Java platform," the message states. "To maintain that objective and capitalize on the JDK 7 release themes -- multi-language support, developer productivity and performance -- it is necessary that our engineering resources are committed to a timely and quality release of NetBeans IDE 7.0."

As of January 27, the Ruby on Rails module will be gone from development builds of NetBeans IDE 7.0, the team said. However, Ruby on Rails functionality will be available in the NetBeans IDE in version 6.9.1 and earlier.

Even though the NetBeans team won't be supporting Ruby, they say they would be glad to see other community members tackle that job. "[W]e strongly encourage our community of NetBeans Ruby users and developers to volunteer to take on development of Ruby on Rails support for the NetBeans IDE," according to the NetBeans FAQ page.

Developers interested in maintaining Ruby on Rails functionality in NetBeans can sign up on the NetBeans Ruby developers mailing alias [email protected].

Sun Microsystems, creator of the NetBeans IDE, first added Ruby support in 2007. When Oracle acquired NetBeans with its acquisition of Sun, the company promised to promote NetBeans as a development environment for dynamic scripting languages such as Ruby. Why the about-face?

"I suspect that, for Oracle, there simply wasn't ample revenue or associated income from supporting Ruby in NetBeans," commented RedMonk analyst Michael Coté to this site. "Competition for Ruby IDEs (or just editors) is tough. There are a lot of them, and many are free. Arguably, growing the Ruby community helps Oracle grow the sales pie for MySQL (which they also now own), but I'm not sure that'd be a big enough or direct enough correlation for the money-minded Oracle decision makers."

Bola Rotibi, research director at Creative Intelligence Consulting, said the move was predictable.

"If you were managing a struggling IDE," she asked, "which NetBeans is, which would you want to focus your limited resources on: Ruby or Java? It says to me that NetBeans users simply weren't using that IDE to develop Ruby apps. If Oracle saw a future for Ruby in NetBeans, believe me, they'd be supporting it."

Gartner analyst Mark Driver agreed that NetBeans isn't strategic for Oracle. But he also sees this decision as evidence that the company just doesn't care that much about dynamic scripters. 

"This was Oracle's only real toolset for Ruby, PHP, and the popular scripting languages NetBeans supports," Driver said. "I just don't think Oracle cares much about those languages. I think it's focused like a laser on Java. They sure didn't dump Ruby because it's unpopular."

Driver said he doubts that Oracle will continue its commitment to support NetBeans, long term.

"I've said this to them myself," he said. "They keep telling me, Mark, we'll prove you wrong. And I do give them credit for the support they've given the IDE so far. But this is their third IDE. They don't need it, and they wouldn't have it but for the Sun acquisition."

It's also unlikely that the NetBeans community will find a way to continue supporting Ruby, Coté added. 

"As the official note mentions, it's a question of engineering resources (read: people either left, Oracle doesn't want to provide budget, or both)," Coté says. "And while Oracle says they're happy for the community to carry the Ruby torch, I doubt that will happen. IDE work is difficult and requires much time and money, even if the final result is free."

About the Author

John K. Waters is the editor in chief of a number of sites, with a focus on high-end development, AI and future tech. He's been writing about cutting-edge technologies and culture of Silicon Valley for more than two decades, and he's written more than a dozen books. He also co-scripted the documentary film Silicon Valley: A 100 Year Renaissance, which aired on PBS.  He can be reached at [email protected].