Are the Iron languages dead? Neither IronRuby nor IronPython have exactly set the .NET development scene alight - despite initial enthusiasm. It might be they delivered too little too late.
One of the key Microsoft developers, who left the IronRuby team recently, has revealed some embarrassing details in a recent blog. The basic accusation is that Microsoft isn't committed to IronRuby.The IronRuby team is now down to just one member.
Version 1.0 was only released in April (2010) and Visual Studio support has been slow in arriving - and with virtually no one working on the project it is going be slower in the future.
Recently Microsoft released both IronRuby and IronPython under modified licences - Apache Software Foundation - to make them more acceptable to open source supporters. It might well be that the future of both projects is to be handed on to an external organisation such as CodePlex.
There have been suggestions that the once well supported project simply clashed with Microsoft's recent ASP .NET MVC developments. After all you don't really want two MVC frameworks in the same .NET development space and while IronRuby may just be a language it is natural to think of Rails when considering an MVC framework to use with it. Perhaps it was feared that comparisons between a .NET Rails and ASP .NET MVC might not have been flattering.
It is, however, all too easy to elaborate conspiracy theories. Even before the blog revelations the IronRuby website was showing signs of limited activity and the download number following the release of the latest version suggested that few users were interested.
IronPython, for which there is far less information, seems to be faring better. It has reasonably good integration with Visual Studio and there are fewer barriers to actually making use of it. Even so, judging `by download activity it too isn't a best seller.
So why aren't the Iron languages popular? The reasons might be that both the Ruby and Python communities aren't exactly Microsoft fans. Ruby users, and the Ruby development community in particular, are well known for their rejection of the norms and Microsoft doesn't really fit in. The point is that if you want to work with Ruby why bother with .NET?
The issue is less clear with respect to Python which is slightly less radical in its outlook and worldview. Python on .NET seems more reasonable, but - as in the case of IronRuby - hardly essential. When you also throw in the fact that the dynamic language runtime (DLR) has allowed mainstream languages such as C# to acquire dynamic features there seems even less point in pursuing .NET versions of Ruby and Python.
Ignoring politics and social attitudes for a moment there is still one big reason why the Iron languages are likely to fail. They are both difficult to use and lack any reasonably integration with Visual Studio and with the wider .NET framework. Why construct a user interface using code when you can drag-and-drop in VB, C# or C++? Without the final push to get the languages working under Visual Studio and integrated with the designer both Iron languages are probably dead - and Microsoft seems to have lost the will to make them a success.
The Ruby Programming Language