Fanatics, Fan Boys and True Believers: Tech's Most Rabid Cults

Tech cult No. 2: Brotherhood of the Ruby

Established: 1994

Gathering of the tribes: RailsConf, RubyConf

Major deities: Matz, DHH

Mantra: MINSWAN (Matz is nice, so we are nice)

Programming language Ruby and its younger, sleeker sibling, Ruby on Rails, evoke the kind of devotion usually seen in disciples who've spent years in the wilderness, only to find themselves on the cusp of mainstream acceptance.

"It helps that we're better than everyone else," jokes Obie Fernandez, author of one of the cult's sacred texts, "The Rails Way," and CEO of Hashrocket, a Ruby on Rails development house. "One of the main ingredients for cult devotion is a sense of superiority. Also, from the beginning we faced a lot of resistance. That persecution complex definitely helped sow the seeds of cultishness."

[ See which IDE is best for Ruby on Rails in the InfoWorld Test Center's comparison of nine tools. ]

Ruby was created in 1994 by the Zen-like Yukihiro Matsumoto, known simply as "Matz." He wanted to create a scripting language he described as "more powerful than Perl, more object oriented than Python." An open source community soon formed around Ruby, along with the philosophy of MINSWAN, or "Matz is nice, so we are nice."

In 2004, David Heinemeier Hansson (DHH) developed Ruby on Rails, an application framework based on Ruby that enables rapid-fire development of sleek-looking Web sites. Unlike Matz, DHH has been known to drop the F-bomb on people at conferences and other public events. Nonetheless, RoR quickly garnered tens of thousands of acolytes, including several at Fortune 500 companies.

"Thanks to a groundswell of open source support, Rails is very mature right now," says Fernandez. "The amount of enthusiasm in the community has created a richness of libraries and plug-ins around the framework, making it both powerful and productive."

While there is some rivalry between Rubyists and members of the Python cult, Fernandez says both are sworn enemies of the compiler clan. Being a dynamic language, Ruby doesn't require compiling before being run, leading to less coding and fewer errors, he says. (Followers of static compiled languages like Java and .Net may not-so-respectfully disagree, he acknowledges.)

The Ruby cult is also fiercely Mac-centric. Brandishing a Windows PC within view of a Rubyist can become a life-altering event, and not in a good way. "From the beginning we've taken a page from Apple playbook and concentrated on being superior," adds Fernandez. "We're not afraid to show off and look more polished than everyone else."

Tech cult No. 3: The Ubuntu tribe

Established: 2004

Gathering of the tribes: Ubuntu Developer Summits

Major deity: Linus Torvalds

Minor deity: Mark Shuttleworth

Animal spirit guides: Breezy badgers, dapper drakes, feisty fawns, gutsy gibbons, hardy herons, intrepid ibexes, jaunty jackalopes

An offshoot from the Debian clan, Ubuntu may be the largest of the many Linux pagan belief systems, says Scott Steinberg, publisher of gadget site Digital Trends, in part because it's more accessible to less tech-savvy geeks.

"Ubuntu is one of the more robust and user-friendly builds of Linux available, and one that -- at odds with typical elitist mentalities -- comes with a community that's generally receptive and friendly to beginner- and intermediate-level users," he says. "Audience participation is welcomed and invited, and sincere efforts have been made to ensure appeal to a wide demographic."

[ Is Ubuntu as slick and user-friendly as its tribe claims? Find out in Neil McAllister's first look at Ubuntu 9.04. ]

Ubuntu code is governed by a council of more than 120 Masters of the Universe (MOTU), who handle development chores for the Universe and Multiverse repositories, plus another 55 mystics (core developers) and thousands of lay-programmers, says Ryan Troy, founder of Ubuntuforums.org. However, it is ruled by a single shaman: Mark Shuttleworth, CEO of Ubuntu's commercial sponsor Canonical, but more commonly known as Self-Appointed Benevolent Dictator for Life.

Although the word "Ubuntu" derives from an African philosophy meaning "I am what I am because of who we all are," disagreements abound among the faithful. Troy admits there's "a pretty good amount of drama" in the Ubuntu user forums, but says that overall the Ubuntu community is tightly knit and well governed. However, holy wars with followers of Windows, Mac, and other Linux distros continue to rage.

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