Wednesday, May 24, 2006

JavaOne Wrap-up

It was a great JavaOne for JRuby! Now that Tom and I are back home and I've recuperated from a long and busy week, here's an update on the great JRuby JavaOne Adventure.

The Press Conference

Tim Bray continues to support and promote the JRuby project, along with other alternative JVM languages. He set up a press conference on Tuesday the 16th for us along with Sam Heisz from Caucho (presenting Quercus, Caucho's GPLed PHP implementation for the JVM) and Roberto Chinnici from Sun (presenting Phobos, a scripting-language-based web framework for JSR223-compatible languages). Sam presented first, then us, then Roberto.

My rough count puts the number of journalists and interested parties at 15-20 (some came in late or left early).

We were given ten minutes to make our case for JRuby. Tom kicked it off with a quick overview of what Ruby and JRuby are, and I made a quick statement about Ruby's potential on the JVM. Then I demoed building a tiny Swing app through IRB in under two minutes before handing it back to Tom for his JRuby on Rails demo.

I think both demos were well-received. With the press Ruby and Rails have been getting, JRuby tends to sell itself.

The inevitable questions about performance and business cases were mostly deflected by Tim, and for that I thank him. Comparing performance is somewhat pointless at this point in JRuby's development, since we've only recently begun to explore optimizations. The business case for JRuby is also simply the business case for Ruby; if the language suits your problem, JRuby is a good option.

There were also questions asking us to compare JRuby to the other languages and implementations out there. These we mostly punted on, avoiding a fight. Folks seem to really want the alternative languages implementors to fight, and this became a recurring theme during the week.

At the end of the press conference, a number of Sun folks talked to us about building a community around JRuby, and possibly having a presence on We're very enthusiastic about growing the JRuby community and will weigh the various options for some minimal presence.

Presentation for is a new online tech magazine currently launching. We were invited by Floyd Marinescu and Obie Fernandez to participate in the launch by presenting our JRuby talk, sans live demos and JavaOne branding, to be videotaped and published on the InfoQ site. This talk we gave on Wednesday the 17th at noon.

Floyd is one of the original founders of TheServerSide, and we were happy to help him kick off this new venture--especially given its broad acceptance of alternative development and web technologies like Ruby and Rails.

The presentation took place in the upstairs theater of the Thirsty Bear, a typical conference-goer's hangout near the Moscone convention center. The room was set up with rows of chairs, a projector, a podium, and a video camera. Upon starting, we had only a few attendees, but several more trickled in during our presentation. According to the InfoQ guys, we had the best turnout of any talks so far that morning.

A number of good questions came up, which Tom and I answered on camera. It was a great dry-run for our "real" JavaOne presentation later that day.

Look for the final presentation to be posted on the InfoQ site within the next week.

The Main Event

Some time before the InfoQ presentation I stopped practicing. I'm not one for scripted presentations; I do better with a general presentation outline and a couple practice rehearsals. I approached my RubyConf presentation this way and it worked out well, so I followed the same pattern for JavaOne.

In total, I think I rehearsed my part of the presentation only 4 times. I ran through the IRB demo many times, however, to make sure I had the sequence of commands memorized.

All that said, I spent the early afternoon relaxing. I hung out in the pavilion for a while, relaxed in the gaming area, and then attended the Groovy talk around 2:45. The basics of the Groovy presentation seemed much like in past years. The slides were mostly the same, and the content seemed to vary only slightly. There was an extensive demo using ActiveX to control an Excel document; I was not quite sure whether this was intended to be a Groovy demo or an ActiveX demo, since the same operations could be done by Java or any other scripting languages just as easily. At any rate, it was a good prep for our presentation which came immediately after.

I was obviously there early, and Tom showed up well ahead of time as well. We got mic'ed up, talked a bit on how ready we were, and then relaxed while folks streamed into the auditorium. I estimate it was perhaps 70% full, for around 700 people, but we'll get an official count sometime soon.

We decided on the following order for the presentation:

Introductions and opening words: Me
Agenda, intro to JRuby and Ruby: Tom
IRB demo: Me
Rails demo: Tom
JRuby in the Wild, JRuby's Future, and Conclusion: Me
Q/A: Tom and Me

Up until Wednesday morning, I had no plans for the introduction. I knew I wanted to ask a few introductory questions, and eventually settled on the following two:

- How many of you have heard of Ruby or Ruby on Rails? (Perhaps 75-80% of the attendees raised their hands
- How many of you heard of them for the first time in the past year? (Almost all the same hands)

"That's momentum. That's the momentum behind Ruby and Rails right now".

I proceeded to hold up the current Dr Dobbs Journal, with a cover story "Ruby on Rails: Java's Successor?". Most of the audience chuckled at the title, and I agreed that perhaps it wasn't the right question. I mentioned that the article described Rails as a potential tipping point in web development patterns and called out the fact that several new frameworks had sprung up in the Java world aping Rail's design. Then I handed off to Tom.

Tom gave a very quick and clean introduction to Ruby, JRuby, and features of both. I've read on several blog postings about the presentation that this intro was welcomed by attendees; though many had heard about Ruby, most had no experience with the code. The JRuby features also called out Java integration scenarios, which are the obvious reason why you'd want to run JRuby in the first place. Tom did a great job on these slides, which you can imagine were not terribly exciting for us to present. Then it was my turn.

The IRB demo was our first really cool thing to show off. I started off demonstrating some of the basic of Ruby and IRB, entering basic statements, defining a method, defining a class. Then I went straightaway into the fun stuff: building that little Swing app. Tom commented after the press conference and again after this presentation how impressive he thought it was, and there were certainly murmurs, gasps, and nods from the attendees. It really provided a good feel for how easy it is to call Java code from Ruby.

Tom came next, providing the "big surprise" for JavaOne attendees: a fully working Rails app, running under JRuby and using JDBC for database access. The wow factor was not as apparent here, since it just looked like a web application; however, several folks in the audience with more than a basic knowledge of Rails were notably impressed. Through follow-up questions and later blog posts, the gravity of this milestone has begun to be felt.

I gave a quick overview of RDT, RadRails, JEdit, and DataVision, four apps that make use of JRuby internals. Then I ran through the various plans and future milestones for JRuby, adjusting them based on recent developments (since our original slides were submitted in March, and mountains have moved since then).

We finished with about fifteen minutes to go, which I think was refreshing for most of the attendees. We covered everything we wanted to cover, and we knew people were having difficulty moving from session to session. We also wanted plenty of time for Q/A.

Questions ranged from performance to rails to "can I run normal Ruby code" to "can I use Java objects in Ruby scripts". We patiently answered all questions as well as possible; there was a lot of interest in using JRuby for its Java integration abilities.

Both Tom and I thought the presentation went extremely well. We were very happy with the turnout and we're excited to take the next steps with JRuby.


John Lam said...

Congrats on your 'coming out' party! I'm hoping that we get a decent reception at Tech Ed in a few weeks for RubyCLR. Doubt we'll get a press conference though! :)

Anonymous said...

Great writeup!! Thanks for giving us the opportunity to feel like we had attended..

There is also one part that answers a question I posted earlier as a comment: Are you guys from Sun or did Sun contact you to build a community? Seems as if you are not Sun employees and Sun didn't donate you, but gives you the 'opportunity' to be on Come on SUN! That's all? Wake up! Dynamic languages and implementations of them on virtual machines, be it YARV, .NET or the JVM will give Java the language a run for it's money in the long term...

Jan Prill

Charles Oliver Nutter said...

We are not employed or funded by any external entity. The only "help" we've received so far is that from Tim Bray, in the form of two Ultra 20 workstations and his own lobbying within Sun for the press conference and for dynamic languages in general. I would personally love to work on JRuby full time, and I think Tom would like to devote more daylight hours as well, but we have not yet been approached about this nor have we approached others. Calls from the community at large to hire us on might help :)