There is a saying among Africans: "When two elephants fight, it's the grass the suffers most."

But fortunately this doesn't apply to the web; when two giants go at it, we get to tune in and watch the blow for blow, entertained.

On Friday Joel Spolsky published The Language Wars, in which he discussed an approach to picking a language/platform for application development. I believe his point had more to do with picking a well trodden path for a development project, as well as having an architect with lots of experience with your chosen platform/language. Along the way, however, he said:

... and a handful of platforms where The Jury Is Not In, So Why Take The Risk When Your Job Is On The Line? (Ruby on Rails). Before you flame me, Ruby is a beautiful language and I'm sure you can have a lot of fun developing apps it in, and in fact if you want to do something non-mission-critical, I'm sure you'll have a lot of fun, but for Serious Business Stuff you really must recognize...

The rest you can read in the post but these comments sparked a fire from Ruby on Rail's inventor, David Heinemeier Hansson who retorted quickly on his blog that Joel was full of FUD. It's an interesting exchange but Hansson points out that Joel's final thrust is about a language called Wasabi that is used at Fogbugz and completely outside the "well trodden path" or "proven platform" category he seems to espouse at the outset of the article.

Soon after the rebuttle was posted there seemed to be a lot of people who thought Wasabi was a joke that Joel was using to wink at his like-minded classicists with while stoking the fire of the Ruby hipsters - so much so that many posted that they "got the joke" maybe in part to feel like they were the clever Ivy League programmers they assumed Joel left the easter egg for.

But they were wrong, and Joel followed up with a post in which he confirmed the existence of Wasabi, while backing away a bit from controversy by not rebutting the rebuttle.

All in all, it was an interesting friday evening following this story around. I never assumed Wasabi was an inside joke; Joel's mentioned many times that Fog Creek had a compiler they used to generate Fogbugz code in PHP and VBScript amongst other languages. I didn't understand the big fuss on the part of Heinemeier Hansson either and others - the concept of a domain specific language written in something doesn't pull away its platform underpinnings. If anything the platform is a safety net of sorts. But beyond this, the most important piece of the puzzle is Joel's second point: an architect is absolutely necessary for big, enterprise software (in order to do a good job).

On the other hand I find Joel's skepticism toward Ruby on Rails as premature as the blind enthusiasm of many. There is a lot of room between "Serious Business Applications" and college projects. Many business applications are not mission critical banking - I just participated in a rewrite of a sales project management platform that could have been Ruby on Rails fodder. If anything there's going to be better, smarter business development tools as a result of the good ideas that Rails has fostered.

Time to stay tuned to the aftermath in the blog/web world.