With Sun GPLv2'ing its Java software this week, a lot of focus is on the other open frameworks that have risen during the same era, and their comparative value in a post open source Java world. One such take is from well-known Sun insider, Tim Bray, who spoke at last week's International PHP Conference in Germany.
Bray, who is Director of Web Technologies at Sun Microsystems, co-creator of the XML 1.0 and XML Namespace standards, co-founder of Open-Text, and contributor to the Atom Publishing standard (whew!) spoke in a presentation entitled "How to combine PHP technology with Java based on Enterprise Systems" (download PDF).
In the slide below, Bray outlines the basic advantages of each of these three platforms (or rather the two languages and one framework if you are scoring at home). In perhaps in a nod to his new employer, Sun, Bray totally omits any mention of .NET or smaller products like Adobe's Flex/ColdFusion platform.
His idea, if you are able to take it on the surface only, is to rate your priorities of: 1) Scalability, 2) Dev Speed, 3) Dev Tools, and 4) Maintainability. In this highly generalized approach, you could theoretically pick your web application building language/framework based on only these priorities. Tim weighs-in heavy on the maintainability side, and we'd tend to agree with him. To quote:
"Good apps, once built, tend to be in production for an astonishingly long time. Which means that they have to be maintained for an astonishingly long time. Which means that maintainability is important. There are a lot of things that go into maintainability, but I suggest that the biggies are object-orientation, MVC architecture, code readability, and code size."
On the maintainability side Tim places Ruby on Rails out front. Quoting him again, Tim describes why RoR is in the lead here.
"Mostly because there's less code. The fact that Ruby *forces* MVC on you helps too, also the fact that the templating and [Object Relational Mapping (ORM)] and testing and application code are all so tightly integrated helps. Bear in mind that we still don't know how well Rails is going to work outside of the CRUD-centered greenfield app space where it shines."
Tim's metrics don't really exist on a quantitative level nor are they based on any published statistics -- just a very informed intellect and a privileged position. Obviously, additional parameters such as total cost of ownership and native security (PHP, we are looking at you) should also play a big role the decision making process.
As you can probably guess, in response to this presentation, the proponents of Java, PHP and Ruby are lighting the Internet aflame in defense of their platform of choice and at the same time nay-saying their fellow players. While very entertaining and sometimes educational to follow, not much is going to be gained from this bickering.
Bray concludes the presentation with the Rodney King-esque statement "One way or another we all have to integrate."
The reality is that there are a great number of ways to hone-in on the language or framework choice for a web application. Many factors have to be considered and weighed against each other. The beauty of what we have today is that there ARE a great many choices out there, much more-so than even a few years ago.
The fact that open source options are being stacked up against the likes of Java and .NET, and have a similar levels of support is a blessing. Today, with the open-sourcing of Java, we have a new entry onto the field. Rather than exclude one or another, this arrival is going to make the open source web world, warmer, more sophisticated, and for better or worse, a little sunnier.