It Fits Your Brain: the Ninth Annual International Python Conference

Extra, extra, read all about it.

The Ninth Annual International Python Conference was held March 5-8, 2001, at the Long Beach Hilton in Long Beach, California. Over 300 people attended. This article covers some observations made by a web developer, with a special emphasis on the funny things that were said. In case some of you are unaware, Python is a programming language; its home page is www.python.org, and a helpful tutorial is posted there.

The Opening Keynote

Guido van Rossum, Python's BDFL (Benevolant Dictator for Life), introduced the conference theme, "Python Fits Your Brain"--not everybody's brain, but at least the brains of those who like it. Guido has always preferred to make the language work well for its adherents (and especially for himself) rather than try to please everybody. Not only programmers but also artists, scientists and teachers are finding Python well suited for their work.

PythonLabs, the team of core Python developers, is now happily situated at Digital Creations, the company that makes Zope. (Zope is a web application server written in Python; see their web site.) Those who fear Python might become straightjacketed to Zope's wishes need not be concerned. Zope clearly has some clout over Python now, but the language will remain independent. In fact, the benefits are two-way because Zope also has some goodies for Python, like the Z Object Database (for a tutorial, see A. M. Kucheling's "ZODB/ZEO Programming Guide").

Since last year, some six to eight hundred bugs have been reported and squashed. Python 2.1 has some nifty new features: nested scopes, a warnings framework, pydoc and weak references, to name a few. Guido is especially excited about pydoc, a program that finds a module and prints its docstrings and structure in a format similar to a man page. "You can even run it as a server and point a web browser at it", he explained.

Guide also announced the Python Software Foundation (PSF) (www.python.org/psf), a non-profit organization to hold Python's copyright, which is described as follows: "Modeled after the successful Apache Software Foundation, the PSF's mandate is to provide educational, legal and financial resources to the Python community. Responsible for holding Python's intellectual property, the PSF will also act as an educational resource, maintain the Python web site and foster Python user groups."

Last year, Guido used the code name "Python 3000" to refer to a mythical future version that would be perfect but not necessarily backward-compatible. Since then, the Python team has realized that a quantum leap is not necessary. All desired changes can be implemented gradually using the new warnings framework and the __future__ module to give users a transition period (see "What's New in Python 2.1" for more information).

He then introduced Python Enhancement Proposals (PEPs) (see python.sourceforge.net/peps). A PEP document proposes one change to the language or to the standard library, and it serves as the definitive summary of the arguments for and against it. This replaces the disorganized free-for-all under which past language enhancements were debated (and then lost in the forest of newsgroup archives). It works great, Guido says, when somebody gets a bright idea that was rejected six months ago, "except when it's your bright idea that's being rejected".

He was so excited about Pippy, a port of Python 1.5.2+ for the Palm Pilot, that he got a PalmOS 3.5 upgrade just because it was "so cool". He thinks Python is a perfect match for small end embedded platforms. To facilitate this, the Python team must be extra diligent to avoid code bloat so that Python can run in 8MB of RAM with space for application code and data.

State of the Zope

Paul Everett, head of Digital Creations (DC), opened the Zope track of presentations at the conference. "Zope is finally maturing", he said. 2001 will be the Year of the Zope Books; five will be published by the end of the year. DC has three goals for Zope this year: increase its public profile, ease the learning curve and increase its use in enterprise situations.

"The Python language combines power and simplicity", he said. "Zope has at least half of that." Zope's main users are developers now, so DC is moving Zope to a more component-centric and developer-friendly architecture. Three major concepts that looked great at the beginning but have since shown their limitations (acquisition, inheritance and DTML) are being supplanted by other concepts that contain fewer "gotchas".

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