Ruby On Rails: jaw-dropping

Stuck for something to listen to on a train journey, I downloaded a recording (not strictly a podcast) of the opening session from last week’s South By Southwest interactive conference. Jason Fried of 37 Signals is a man talking my language: keep it small, keep it simple, stick to what you’re good at, don’t waste money. And perhaps most importantly, kill all functional specs.
That was all the encouragement I needed to download Ruby On Rails, and have a play with it. Inevitably, it took a little hacking to make it all work, but once I got it working… wow. A truly jaw-dropping moment. The tutorials aren’t kidding when they say you can have a functioning web app within minutes.
There aren’t many total-idiot descriptions of what Ruby On Rails actually is: so here’s my attempt. All web-based applications are basically the same. There’s a database underneath, probably the open-source MySQL. There’s a web server on top. You have to create a database structure, then write a load of HTML pages and scripts to add stuff to the database, view it, edit it, delete it, and so on. So why go to the trouble of writing all that stuff from scratch every time? Ruby On Rails won’t create your database for you, but within a couple of minutes, you’ll have a blank application template, with a load of bare-bones forms and scripts to get you started.
OK, of course there’s an awful lot more to it than that. Ruby is a whole new programming language, of which I’ve barely scratched the surface. But in one day’s tinkering, I’ve seen enough to realise that this is an amazing thing. I predict a few late nights.