Fog Creek Software
Discussion Board

An alternative to Groove might be REBOL

I found a lot of similarities between Joels frustration with Groove and my frustrations with REBOL, a terrific O/S independant, embedded platform with a great little language. You can find it at .

Having played with it for a couple of years now, I can honestly say I think it has a great future, but I think they're making the classic mistake Joel has spoken about by making it hard to developer for and costly to deploy. Don't get me wrong - the costs aren't unrealistic in a commercial sense. It's just that I suspect that they could make all the money they want to make by charging consulting fees for customising the platform for big companies, and releasing the actual software for free.

REBOL is both an internet language, and a platform for developing applications that run on just about every O/S from Windows and Linux to VMS and AS/400. They call it an Internet Operating System. It was built by Carl Sassenrath who built the Amiga O/S and countless compilers, and probably the best way to think about REBOL is as an O/S and languge which runs INSIDE whatever O/S you currently use.

All the internet protocols are built in (except ping for some obscure reason). It's a system that has massive implications for wide scale collaboration (offering fully secure point to point and broadcast text communications) as well as being very useful on the local machine for writing utilities and custom programs in just a few lines of code. It has a wonderfully compact, interpreted scripting language that handles databases, GUIs, and a wide range of everyday data types including URLs and IP addresses.

And yet, I have this awful feeling that it's going to be another Apple Mac, or BETAMAX tape format, or OS/2. The platform that was built right, but failed because of shortsighted, money-first marketing. Even Microsoft evantually got it right when they started giving Internet Explorer away. They may not have the whole market anymore, but they sure make a hell of a lot of money out of what they do have. I hope REBOL Technologies realises this before it's too late.

Please give REBOL try. The basic REBOL language interpreter is a free download, and there are lots of free scripts available on the developer site . You can even ask for a free evaluation copy of their amazing REBOL/Link product. If you like it as much as I did, I recommend that you lobby them (on their own forum) to give the platform away. The world could be a whole different place in five years.


Simon Mahony
Sunday, September 1, 2002

Rebol is interesting, but it's no Groove alternative.  I looked at Rebol a year or two ago when there was some buzz about it. Rebol is interesting technology, but it's far from mature. I don't see how Joel could consider it  for his CityDesk needs.

For those who have never heard of it, Rebol ( ) is one of those quirky, Scheme-like languages. It's not a P2P toolkit or platform, per se. If that's enough to turn you off, read no further.

Rebol fits many nice features into a single small package. However, there isn't much in Rebol that isn't available in other mainstream tools (Java, VB, Perl, Python). To its credit, cross-platform support is one of the things Rebol does well, perhaps better than some popular languages.

In addition to fixing the licensing issue, Rebol needs a lot of finishing work. How about a compiler, threading, or a real GUI toolkit (exactly which platform does that GUI match?)? Also, it would also be nice if Rebol had strong support for XML/SOAP.

In sum, Rebol is good, but it's not great. With so many languages out there, I need a very compelling reason (profit motive) to invest in a new one. As Joel said, building great software takes 10 years. In my opinion, Rebol feels like it has a few more to go.

My intent is not to bash Rebol. If you're a hobbyist or you enjoy exotic languages (Dylan comes to mind), Rebol is a solid choice. I downloaded it a year ago, and while I don't use it frequently, it's useful and interesting enough to keep around.

Sunday, September 1, 2002

Sounds like you are talking past each another.

JGlantz seems to be referring to the free version of Rebol, the developer environment.

There is another product called Rebol/IOS that is a well-featured P2P-style colloborative environment. Rebol/IOS is built on the foundations of Rebol, so it's lightweight & easy to maintain, easily scriptable and thoroughly cross-platform.

I disagree about Rebol being "quirky"; the only odd thing about it is that Rebol strives for (and largely achieves) simplicity. It's one of the few "new" technologies you can master and create end-to-end solutions in days.

In all fairness, Rebol/IOS has a lot of potential; it's worth a closer look.

Dusty Bottoms
Tuesday, September 3, 2002

Rebol/IOS is also $5,000.  And you have to ask for an eval copy, as opposed to just downloading it.  So I doubt that a clot of developers will take the time to evaluate it,

Everyone has their favorite language, and yours might or might not be Rebol.  But Rebol indisputably has the most compact runtime, and most cross-platform support.  Carl Sassenrath should focus his marketing efforts on PDAs and embedded devices, where those factors are important.

Scott Gamon
Wednesday, September 4, 2002

According to the site ( ) Rebol/IOS is $2,000 USD, which includes full licenses for 10 users. Each additional user is $99, without factoring volume discounts.

This is comparable in price to Groove.

I think the Rebol value proposition is about cross-platform compatibility and development speed. The IOS solution virtually eliminates cross-platform headaches, and the customization and development speed is quite startling by any standard.

It is true that you'll need to learn a new language to take full advantage of the Rebol platform, but at least the language is about as simple as HTML. A collaborative IOS app requires only a page or two of code. I shudder to think how many lines of code it would be in Java or .Net.

Dusty Bottoms
Wednesday, September 4, 2002

What do you mean by Java?  Are you excluding Jython?  If you want Scheme for Java VM, there's two or three solid ones by Per Bothner and Peter Norvig (currently google's director of search quality).

What does Rebol have over Java and .NET?  Can it be an embeddable language like SQL?  I can only think that it MIGHT have a defacto standard p2p system.

Wednesday, September 4, 2002

When I refer to Java and .Net, I'm pointing to the relative complexity of application development. I don't make the claim that REBOL is the solution for all problems, I'm making a case that REBOL is a productive language for networked/collaborative apps.

REBOL is quite different from Scheme. It is a simpler, friendlier scripting language with clear hints of several languages (Scheme, Forth and Logo). Hypercarders should also feel at home. The result is that REBOL is quite succinct; it is friendly to read and write, yet makes little compromise in terms of  leverage or power.

As a demo, here is a very simple applet I wrote in under a minute. It grabs the HTML from any url and displays it in a text area. Not that it counts for much, but it gives you an idea of the simplicity:$14

I've looked at other technologies, but I haven't seen anything like it (Curl is probably closest). I'm not aware of Jython projects in this area. In the Java camp, WebStart (or perhaps Thinlet) may be the closest thing.

Is REBOL embeddable? I don't know-- it certainly is compact. REBOL is designed to let you create your own dialects, so a specialized language like SQL should be fairly easy to implement. REBOL uses dialects for its GUI and for grammars-based parsing. Some members of the REBOL community have created special purpose dialects for HTML coding and publishing.

Dusty Bottoms
Wednesday, September 4, 2002

In comparison with Groove, REBOL IOS is more compact, very easy (quick too) to set up and customise.

Think of it as a glue that binds many systems together, giving shared documents context and providing an environment for sharing thoughts and ideas in many different forms (the most basic of which is an IM).  It works in harmony with legacy software like Word or Excel, offering for quick synchronisation across systems, but stops short at integration into the language.  It sits well with any group, regardless of geographical spread, that has to work together.

As a language, REBOL is very expressive without a huge learning curve, but it is only important if you want to customise.

Wednesday, September 4, 2002

*  Recent Topics

*  Fog Creek Home