Guido van Rossum Looks at Python’s Past, Present, and Future

This week from 63-year-old Python creator Guido van Rossum shared some interesting stories with ZDNet’s senior reporter Nick Heath:

While sharing software with the world today only takes a few clicks, in the 1980s it was an altogether more laborious affair, with van Rossum recalling the difficulties of trying to distribute Python precursor ABC. “I remember around ’85, going on a vacation trip to the US, my first ever visit to the US, with a magnetic tape in my luggage,” says van Rossum. Armed with addresses and phone numbers of people who had signalled an interest in ABC via the rudimentary email system available at the time — which wasn’t suited to handling anything as large as source code — he travelled door-to-door posting the tapes. Despite this effort, ABC didn’t really take off. “So, no wonder we didn’t get very far with the distribution of ABC, despite all its wonderful properties,” he says.

But as the internet revolution gathered steam, it would be much easier to distribute Python without a suitcase full of tapes. Van Rossum released Python to the world via the alt.sources newsgroup in 1991, under what was pretty much an open-source licence, six years before the term was first coined. While Python interpreter still had to be joined together into a compressed file from 21 separate parts and downloaded overnight on the Usenet network, it was still a vastly more efficient delivery mechanism than the hand deliveries of a few years earlier.

Guido also shared some new comments on why he stepped down as Python’s Benevolent Dictator for Life:

“I was very disappointed in how the people who disagreed technically went to social media and started ranting that the decision process was broken, or that I was making a grave mistake. I felt attacked behind my back,” he says. “In the past, it had always been clear that if there were a decision to be made about a change in the language or an improved feature, a whole bunch of core developers would discuss the pros and cons of the thing. Either a clear consensus would appear or, if it was not so clear, I would mull it over in my head and decide one way or another. With PEP572, even though it was clearly controversial, I chose ‘Yes, I want to do this’, and people didn’t agree to disagree.

“It wasn’t exactly a revolt, but I felt that I didn’t have the trust of enough of the core developer community to keep going.”

He thinks the change in how disputes about the language play out is partly a result of how many people use Python today. “It’s probably also the fact that the Python community is so much larger. It’s harder to reach any form of consensus, of course, because there’s always fringe dissidents, no matter which way you decide.” Earlier this year, Python core developers — those who work on maintaining and updating Python’s reference CPython interpreter — elected a steering council to oversee the future of the language. Van Rossum was elected, alongside Warsaw and fellow core developers Brett Cannon, Carol Willing, and Nick Coghlan.

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