Ruby in the Rough

I stood on the bank of the Watauga River, looking at the 16-foot, Class V monster known as State Line Falls. It had five boulders in the current with four chutes running through them. Three of the slots were all but impassable, especially at this water level.

The fourth was violent and intense. And yet, the approach was pretty easy, and I thought I could hit the line. Run this monster, or walk it. I had to choose.

Over the years, I've experienced a few moments like that one. Sometimes, I'd put my kayak on my shoulder and walk around. Other times, I decided that the line was good and my skills were up to the challenge, so I made the run. But this time, I simply stood, indecisive, with the wind and the spray from the falls washing over me.

I'm looking at a similar situation now. I do think that Java's leadership run, at least for applications, might be drawing to an end. But the stakes are unbelievably high should I decide to move. How can I know if the timing is right? Can I pick the right language? What do I risk?

I don't want this tutorial to be an exhaustive review of programming languages. I'd like to point out one language and two frameworks (one in Ruby and one in Smalltalk) that have something special to offer. In this chapter, I introduce one possible alternative language, Ruby. I want to show you that some languages can improve on Java, but that doesn't mean that Ruby will succeed, or that it's the best possible alternative. The best that I can do, for now, is to show you one possible alternative, so you can see if the case makes sense.