Ruby vs. Java: A matter of taste
"Jesus reflected on his situation and felt irrepressible sadness. His tear-ducts filled to a point where they could hold no longer and had to be released."
I prefer the later. My favorite author is Hemmingway and my favorite programming language is Ruby. My girlfriend hates Hemmingway, and that's fine. It is all a matter of taste.
A lot of heated debate is going on between the Ruby on Rails camp and the Java camp. In those debates, the dreaded "lines of code" (LOC) comparison frequently shows up in the Ruby side, and the equally misguided response "lines of code mean nothing" statement frequently shows up in the Java side. Usually, when there are arguments of this sort, the truth lies somewhere in the middle and emotions tend to make the arguments lean a little this way or a little that way. Here I will make a level-headed attempt to sketch both sides of the argument and try to pull out a deeper root.
Several times a week, the official Ruby on Rails weblog tends to post a story ala Apple's switch campaign where a deep rooted Java programmer "sees the light" and never wants to program in Java again. Many times, and by many people, the statement has been made that working in the Rails framework provides almost a 10x gain in productivity. Java people like to say that David (the creator of Rails) has brainwashed these people or that this is all hype . Another typical response is that there is no such thing as 10x more productive than Java, that people have been claiming this for years and there is always a catch. In any case, these statements generally degenerate into the following arguments.
LOC don't matter
You can't compare one language to another by lines of code. Look at Perl for example. Many people say that you can develop something quickly in few lines of code, but that you can never maintain it. There are much more important ways to compare languages: can it scale? is it enterprise?, is it maintainable?, how many programmers can I find to finish the job?, etc.  Lines of code comparisons are completely meaningless compared to these factors. They just take code out of context.
You can compare LOC because the less code you write, the fewer bugs you will tend to have. Also, as a matter of common sense, it takes less time to write less code. If I can write a program that does the same thing as yours in less lines of code, it will be easier to maintain and add things because I will have to do less searching and I won't have to remember as much to find out how to change things.
When worlds colide
One thing that Ruby and Java people can all agree on is:
"Ruby is a very elegant and descriptive language, which makes Ruby versions of Java code generally shorter and more readable."
Ruby code usually makes sense when read out-loud whereas Java code is over-laden with patterns and when it comes down to it, usually meant to be read by a compiler. That is one of the reasons Ruby people love to show code comparisons, it makes Java look over-complicated and unnecessary. Neither of these is the case, there are things you can do in Java that are simply unavailable to Ruby developers. However these comparisons ultimately lead to clashes like the following where emotions escalate and each tries to show why one is better than another.
Ruby Zealot: (excited about his discovery) hey, look how many fewer lines of code I wrote
Java Zealot: (heard this before, what does the magazine  say again?) that's stupid. it doesn't scale and you can't maintain it. you don't know what you are talking about.
Ruby Zealot: (on the defensive) what do you mean? of course I know what I am talking about. your stupid
Java Zealot: (on the defensive) LOC don't matter. no silly scripting language can scale and be maintainable. you'll never get a job with your toy language.
When it comes down to it, the essential feature that the Ruby people are claiming is that Ruby is terse. Rails makes web development terse. In Rails, the framework does the heavy lifting for you. Java people can't be expected to understand what this means unless they try doing their day to day work with Ruby. They can't understand this because Java was never meant to be terse. In fact, after many years of mastering the language, many Java developers revel in its verbosity. Java people like writing out System.out.println("Hello World!"); Some like it because they want to see and constantly be reminded of everything that is going on in their programming environment. Some like it for the same reason that people learn Klingon. Some like it because they don't know there is any other way.
Everyone is entitled to their opinions. My girlfriend thinks that overuse of terseness is a horrible way to write. I guess I am just lazy. I don't want to write for the computer, I want to write for me. I don't want to write 900 lines of Java and XML so that the computer can understand it easier, I want to write 600 lines of Ruby that I can read out-loud to myself because I love to program. I want to let Ruby do the heavy lifting for me, and I hate repeating myself. It is from this train of thought that Rails grows and flourishes.
Nobody's opinion can be forced one way or the other, but many humans prefer to be lazy and let machines work for them. Rails is the natural extension of this for the web-based programmers. That is why you will tend to see Java developers turning into Rails developers and not the other way around. This scares the Java community. Sure some Java developers will look at Rails and say, "that's not for me, I am already comfortable", but I can't imagine many Rails developers saying, "please let me work harder to do the same amount of work".
With regard to the bulk of websites, from low to high complexity, anybody that says that (Rails|Java|PHP|Python|etc.) can't cut it is ignorant and afraid to learn anything that he doesn't already believe in. These people are stuck in their ways and don't have anything constructive to say that transcends their day to day lives. Ebay and Amazon use Java, Yahoo and Friendster use PHP, Google uses Python, Livejournal uses Perl. Rails has been around for only 9 months, but it will have a household name backing it soon too. It has a lot to do with taste, although if you are talking about time-to-market, this changes the playing field. As Paul Graham has shown, terseness in programming has a lot of strong advantages.
In sum, Java zealots, please stop complaining any time David posts stories about people changing their opinions, he has a right to be proud of his hard work just like you do. Ruby zealots, let's be understanding that there are some people who happen to like excessive typing more than us.
 Food for though: Rails has no substantial corporate backing. It has no million dollar marketing campaign. These are regular programmers from many different backgrounds coming forward about Rails. They are the ones that you work with every day. Many of them to this day probably have not read David's blog, they simply send their stories to David who rightfully enjoys publishing them. Nobody is paying these people or twisting their arms, because there is nobody to do either of these things. Sun pays a lot of people to say a lot of things. Many companies like Java because they know Sun in a company like them. Companies twist arms, lie, and deceive every day in the name of their shareholders.
 From whom do you hear these questions most often: managers or programers? Who are the ones that take out advertisements proclaiming (not explaining) the answer on the pages of PC Magazine and Doctor Dob's Journal?
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