The Man Who Gave Us Ruby

Back to Contents of Issue: June 2002

Yukihiro Matsumoto is the creator of Japan's only established open source programming language, Ruby. He spoke with J@pan Inc's Sam Joseph about his creation.

Why did you build Ruby?
When I was young, in high school, I had an interest in programming languages. I thought, one day I will create my own. Once I had honed my programming skills I invented something useful -- the Ruby programming language. I was 28.

Where did you study computer science?
Till the end of high school I was self taught. At university I specialized in computer science. During university I associated myself with research departments that were working on programming languages and compilers.

Tell us a little about yourself.
I am the head of research at a company called Network Communications Laboratory (an open source systems integrator). I was born in Tottori prefecture and I live in Shimane-ken. I have a wife and three children. I graduated from Tsukuba University in Information Science. I haven't studied abroad, but as a Mormon missionary, I have been involved in religious activities with Americans.

Why did you distributed Ruby as open source, and why did you choose the GPL?
There was no reason not too. Let us say for arguments sake that I didn't open the source and tried to sell Ruby, I wouldn't have any users and the result would be just me using the language for personal satisfaction. The language itself would follow the exact same fate as thousands of other dead-end programming languages. Because of the decision to go open source, along with a fair amount of luck, Ruby has become widely used.

As for using GPL, that was just because GPL is widespread and generally well understood. However, the GPL is somewhat restrictive so a Ruby-specfic license can also be chosen.

What are the merits and demerits of open source?
There are various merits, but for me the biggest is freedom. I prefer the term 'free software' more than open source. The demerit is that financially supporting open source activity is very difficult. I am very happy to be employed by the Network Communication Laboratory so I have a stable income, but other people are not so fortunate.

Do you think there is any special relationship between Japan and open source?
I don't think so. Particularly Japanese have a weakness when it comes to communication in English, which acts as a barrier. Software is the speciality of the West.

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