NetBeans could make the Ruby on Rails experience great

NetBeans could make the Ruby on Rails experience great for the vast majority of developers who are using Windows, where installing Ruby, Rails, PHP, MySQL, Python, etc is always a pain and the end result is ugly. But it falls short in some important ways which turned my experience with it into a nightmare.

The reason I say “for developers using Windows” is because I believe that for everybody else, the experience is great already. Or as good as it can be and NetBeans can be an excellent IDE, but not improve the installation and managing experience.

This is my story, my rant.

I downloaded the latest NetBeans and installed it. When creating my first Ruby project, I encountered the first problem. Ruby chocked on my username, which was “J. Pablo Fernández”. You could say it was my fault. Windows 7 asked for my name and I typed it. I wasn’t aware it was asking for my username. Even then I would have typed the same, because Windows 7 doesn’t distinguish between usernames and names, and in the 21st century, computers should be able to deal with any character anywhere.

I know it’s not NetBeans’ fault, it’s Ruby’s. But! Can you imagine a Software Engineer telling Steve Jobs “oh, copying files in a Mac behaves weirdly because it uses rsync and that’s its behavior, you see, it makes sense because…”? Of course Steve would have interrupted: “You’ve failed me for the last time”. The next developer would have patched rsync, trying to get the patch upstream, or creating an alternate rsync or stop using rsync.

I’ve spent many hours creating another user, migrating to it, which in Windows is like 100 times harder than it should.

Hours later, as soon as I created a project I got a message saying that I should upgrade gem, Ruby’s package manager, because the current version was incompatible with the current Rails version. By then I had already played with NetBeans’ gem interface telling it to upgrade everything, it should have upgraded gem as well, not just the gems. Every single developer out there running NetBeans must be encountering this error, and indeed there are quite a few threads about it on forums.

Trying to upgrade gem with NetBeans was impossible. I think what they did to install and upgrade gems in NetBeans is excellent, but failing to upgrade gem itself was a huge drawback. This one was NetBeans’ fault. Neverfear, let’s do it from the command line.

When doing it from the command line I encountered another error:

\NetBeans was unexpected at this time.

Looking around it seems it’s because of the spaces in “Program Files (x86)”. That means that the command line environment for Ruby that NetBeans installs is broken for everybody. I repeat: everybody. The answer: install it somewhere else.

Well, I have two things to say about it: first, fix the freaking thing, Ruby, gem, whatever. Paths can have spaces and all kind of weirdness. It’s a big world full of people speaking languages that can’t be represented with ASCII and people that believe computers should do our bidding, instead of the other way around. “If I want spaces you better give me spaces, useless lump of metal and silicon”.

Second, if you know one of your dependencies is broken, try to avoid triggering the broken behavior or at least warn the user about it. “We see you picked C:\Program Files (x86)\ to install NetBeans, which is pretty standard, but you know, Ruby is broken and can’t work in there, not even JRuby, so if you plan to use those at all, please consider installing it somewhere else.”

I uninstalled NetBeans, or tried to. The uninstaller didn’t work. I deleted it and tried to install it on C:\ProgramFilesx86, which failed because some other directory created by NetBeans somewhere else existed from the previous installation, which halted the installation. I started a dance of run installer, remove dir, run installer, remove dir, run installer… until it worked.

Once I finished I found out that NetBeans installed in C:\ProgramFilesx86\Netbeans 6.7.1. Yes, that’s a space. Oh my…

As a bonus, NetBeans can’t automatically find Sun’s JDK in its default directory. I had to point to it by hand. Sun was, as usually, absolutely disrespectful of the platform conventions and installed its crap in C:\Sun. I would have picked another place but I thought “I’m sure some stupid program will want to pick that shit from there”. Silly me.

12 hours have passed and I still haven’t been able to write a single line of source code. I contemplated installing Ruby by hand, but it’s so ugly that I decided I’m not going to use Windows for this. I’m going to work on another platform where installing Ruby is trivial and where I would probably never touch NetBeans because I have other editors.

I know there’s a lot not really related to NetBeans here, for example, the fact that working with Python, or Ruby or MySQL in Windows is a pain; but it’s a great opportunity for NetBeans. There are developers wanting to use those languages and environments and if NetBeans makes it easy for them, they will pick NetBeans not because of its editor, but because of everything else (which is what I was hoping to get out of NetBeans).

Aside from doing some usability tests, the people working on NetBeans should learn from the people working on Ubuntu (not the people working on Evolution) and instead of asking me for debugging traces when I report a simple obvious bug and then tell me it’s not their fault, they should submit those bugs upstream, to Ruby, gem, or whatever. Whenever someone like me submits that bug to NetBeans they should mark it as duplicate of an existing open bug that points to the upstream bug. I would have followed that link and told the Ruby developers “wake up!”. As it is, I didn’t. It’s too much work for me.

Reviewed by Daniel Magliola. Thank you!


3 thoughts on “NetBeans could make the Ruby on Rails experience great

  1. hahaha
    One of the best rants I’ve read in a while. Its funny because its true :) When trying this on Windows I got the same result as you. Ended up using Aptana studio instead…

  2. If there is something I’ve learned so far is that you are better off using a Linux distro or OSX to work with Ruby than Windows. You’ll find lots of problems installing some gems which do not have a Windows version of it.

  3. Don’t loose sleep over giving it up, the experience doesn’t get much better once it is up and running

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