I know, it's been said so many times before... But why does web development with Java EE have to be so complex?
I have previously worked with EJB 2.0 which felt like a pain... The turnaround time was horrible (the compile, deploy, test process took about 2 minutes). And it felt especially bad since most of the functionality offered by EJB was not even necessary for the project. It was a great relief to switch to another project where Spring Framework was being used.
Still, however, the complexity of doing simple things is rather high. At my current project, we use Struts, combined with a homegrown framework (which itself adds to the complexity while adding some functionality). Adding a new page involves so much XML configuration and boilerplate code that you wonder when you're going to do some real coding.
This is one of the main reasons why I have been smitten by the Ruby on Rails bug.
I think Rails has a sensible, pragmatic approach to web development. As David Heinemeier Hansson has often stated, Rails is not everything for everyone. The purpose is not to fulfill all needs for every possible web application but rather to ensure that it makes life easier for the bulk of applications. IMHO, this is a very healthy way of seeing things.
I think many Java developers -- myself included, although I'm working on it :-) -- in general have a tendency to want to do everything the "right way" from the beginning and always with the approach that "what if the customer/framework user/etc. want to do this in the future..." This is so non-pragmatic!
I think a problem in the Java world is that there are simply too many options. I like the fact that Spring is able to integrate multiple APIs for the same purpose (ORM APIs, for instance) with a more or less common interface. I know that these APIs fill different niches on the ORM market (perhaps quite large niches), but it just adds to the complexity. Sometimes it would be easier to stop and think whether you really need it all. As Java developers we have a tendency to want a framework be able to do everything for everyone, preferably being configurable (in XML) for any possible situation. I don't think this is a bad thing in itself, it just complicates matters. There is no way this is ever going to be simple (Anders Hejlsberg calls the phenomenon simplexity when you try to take something complex and try to "pretend" that it is simple by wrapping it in something simple).
One of the extremely nice approaches in Ruby on Rails is the focus on "Convention over Configuration" (i.e. using defaults as long as you adhere with the conventions, eliminating the need for configuration). This is so obvious and yet so powerful. Very often, I have had the feeling that I'm just repeating something that the framework should have been able to figure out itself. Basically, the use of "smart defaults" could eliminate so much of the configuration (if not all) as well as a whole lot of boilterplate code.
So far, I have only used Rails on a small pet project, but it really feels right. The defaults chosen by the framework are sensible and intuitive and really makes developing web applications more fun!
I really hope to get an opportunity (i.e. an excuse) do some Ruby on Rails development on a real-life project so I can see, whether the promises and my initial impressions still hold true.
In the Java world, I'm pleased to see that the focus on simplifying things is increasing. Spring 2.0 will bring a simplfied syntax for a number of typically used configuration cases (such as JNDI lookups, transaction configuration and AOP pointcut definitions). Also, they are focusing on adding smart defaults for obvious settings.
A project I intend to follow closely is the new Struts Titanium (Struts Ti) which is the "merger" of the WebWork framework with the Struts framework (in reality, it is basically a rebranding of the WebWork name). What is interesting, beside the fact that this completely different implementation of Struts should still be able to support legacy Struts web applications, is that the team is focusing closely on simplifying development of Web applications along the lines of the Ruby of Rails framework. There is much focus on intelligent defaults based on naming of actions, pages etc.