Thursday, October 21, 2010

The End of the Beginning

Well, the shoe has finally dropped: IronPython and IronRuby have been axed. Jimmy Schementi spilled the beans back in August, and despite my thoughts to the contrary, the fate of the DLR team was already sealed. As best I can gather, the team was officially kaput on September 1st, or thereabouts.  I found out in late September, and since then the former DLR team has been working to make the handoff as smooth as possible.

As of today, myself, Jimmy Schementi, Michael Foord, and Miguel de Icaza have become the coordinators of the IronPython, IronRuby, and DLR projects. Bill Chiles and Dino Viehland, who worked on IronPython, will continue to work in an unofficial (i.e. spare time) role as well. Some of the old IronRuby team will probably continue to run the show over there as well. But officially, Microsoft is completely hands-off.

Why end one of the few teams that was actually doing something new and different and interesting at Microsoft? The official word is that it's because of "resource constraints" and "a shift in priorities". Now, I realize that even Microsoft has to choose where to spend their dollars, but I have a hard time believing that the half-dozen staff on the DLR team were that big a deal compared to the 200+ working on WPF and SL, or the billion-dollar KIN debacle. Maybe that's why I only make the small-to-medium dollars instead of the big bucks.

It's also a bit mystifying that Microsoft would do this after promoting the dynamic keyword so heavily in .NET 4.0. That part of the DLR (the "inner ring") isn't going anywhere – it's in the .NET framework, which means it will be supported more or less forever. The hosting APIs, or the "outer ring", is now in the hands of the community. Hopefully the people working on projects like IronScheme, IronJS, and Clojure-CLR will contribute what they want to see out of the DLR, although getting changes into the "inner ring" is likely to be impossible.

The Future
I know there are companies and software using IronPython and (I believe) IronRuby in production: Resolver One is completely built around IronPython; it's built-in to Umbraco; Jimmy has said that's its in use at Lab49. I hope that these companies will step up by offering some of their employees' time to help a project that they use. Other than that, there's at least a few Python programmers like myself who have to work in .NET, and hopefully they will also help out. The future of IronPython and IronRuby is entirely in the hands of those who use it, which is a new experience for those used to Microsoft calling all the shots.

So what's next? As a group, we're still hashing that out. Now that the cat is out of the bag, we're going to involve the community as well. My goal is to get a production-ready IronPython 2.7 released before the end of the year. To do that, we'll need continuous integration infrastructure. After that, all sorts of decisions will need to be made, from boring stuff like managing infrastructure, to setting a roadmap for 3.2, to deciding what cool .NET stuff we want to include (such as LINQ support or static compilation).

I want to see Django running on IronPython. I want to see the DLR be the system for embedding scripting into .NET applications, supporting a multitude of languages. I want the Iron* languages to become so popular that Microsoft regrets ever cutting them off. But I and other coordinators can't do it alone. We need help. We need people to contribute code, libraries, documentation - anything. From this point on, IronPython and IronRuby will live or die by their communities.

Come join the mailing lists (IronPython, IronRuby) and help us decide where we are going to go from here. This isn't the beginning of the end. Far from it.