I picked up the Apress book about Ruby for Systems Administrators, because I plan on learning enough about Ruby to make it a viable tool that I can use if I have to use it at some point. I still plan on doing that, but in reviewing the first couple of chapters, I don’t think I’m going to like Ruby very much, and I think I’ll have to be dragged kicking and screaming to use it. Maybe as I gain some practical experience with it this feeling will subside.
I should say that I did all of my sysadmin programming in shell and perl for many years. I still use them somewhat regularly, if only to maintain existing code or to write code for clients who require Perl, or to work on systems that don’t have Python installed (yes, these exist. Basically, unless you’re using Linux, Python is not “just there”). If I have a choice or some say in the matter, I’ll tend toward Python if I’m writing new code. I’m pretty sure that all of the non-web code that I’m writing for AddThis, for example, is Python (web code is in PHP, and I do database development using straight-up SQL, because we’re using MySQL – if I were using PostgreSQL, there’s a chance I might use Python for that as well).
When I started using Python, I also looked at Ruby. It was one of those periods of time where I was pretty much out looking for a language to add to my repertoire. I had experience with Java, C/C++, PHP, Perl… enough languages that at this point I knew exactly what I wanted in a language: I wanted a language that I could use no matter what I was doing. Of course, I do mostly systems coding, but I wanted a language that would be enjoyable enough to use, and agile enough, and capable enough, and available on enough platforms, and <long list here> that I could use it for web and perhaps even GUI scripting as well (I tend to avoid scripting GUIs in any language because I just think going straight to the web skips an oft unnecessary step in the evolutionary cycle).
Turns out, Python won because it happened to be in heavy use on a couple of projects I was loosely involved in at my job at the time. However, I’ll state that I volunteered to be involved in them so I could get a better grasp of Python, and I’m glad I did. My feeling at that time was that Ruby looked too much like Perl to me, and I was really making an effort to move away from Perl, because after 10 years of coding in a language, you should not still feel like a complete neophyte every time you have to use it.
After more reading about Ruby, I’ve discovered that, due to the fact that Ruby supports things that don’t exist in Perl, yet tries to adhere to a Perl-ish notion that symbols are good visual indicators of various things (though the same symbols mean completely different things between the two), it actually looks even more cryptic to me than Perl does.
This is completely a “doesn’t fit my brain” thing. I’m sure Ruby is a fine language, and if I made regular enough use of it, I’d probably get used to parsing all of the symbols (though the same could be said for Perl and even shell as well). Python has some weirdness to it as well, which also took some getting used to. Unfortunately, I don’t really have a project to use Ruby on right now, and nothing forcing me to use it, and no existing projects that would be easy for me to involve myself in. I guess I’ll just have to find some sysadmin task that needs doing and see how Ruby works out. My primary language, though, is likely to remain Python, as I find it about 60 million times easier to read than Perl, and 100 million times easier to read than Ruby. I learn a lot by reading code, so I guess the ability to parse it readily is of primary importance to me in picking up a new language.