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Introduction to Python

Python is an open source language that is getting a lot of attention from the market. It combines ease of use with the capability to run on multiple platforms because it is implemented focusing on every major operating system. Guido van Rossum created the language nearly 11 years ago and since then, Python has changed through the years, turning itself into one of the most powerful programming languages currently available.

Python is a good prototype language. In just a few minutes, you can develop prototypes that would take you several hours in other languages. It also embodies all object-oriented concepts as part of its core engine. Therefore, creating programming object-oriented applications in Python is much easier than it would be in other languages such as Java or C++.

As I just said, Python is an open source project. Consequently, it is truly free. No copylefts or copyrights are involved in its license agreement. You can change it, modify it, give it away, sell it, and even freely distribute it for commercial use. Its copyright only protects the author from legal problems that might occur if someone decides to sue the author for errors caused by using Python, or if someone else tries to claim ownership of the language.

Maybe you still don't know Python, but many companies are out there using it. The problem is these companies don't want to go public talking about it because they think that using Python without getting the attention of their competitors is a good strategy. Okay, I know that you are curious to know who in the world is using Python. Organizations like Industrial Light and Magic, Yahoo!, Red Hat, and NASA are some of companies that run Python applications.

Note

You can always check out the latest news about Python by visiting

http://www.python.org/News.html.



Nowadays, many developers are contributing to Python's support. That means that, currently, a lot of people are testing and designing modules for the language. If you spend some time visiting Python's official Web site, you can get a list of several development groups that are working hard to give Python some support to new technologies, such as XML and image processing.

Both Perl and Java already have a large group of programmers who are very devoted to their programming languages, and, today, Python is starting to get there.

Notice that Python is a language extremely easy to code if you have ever programmed before. Guido claims to have fun every time he has to do something using Python. Learning Python through this book will be exciting too. Soon, you will have some practice and understand the reason I say that.

In this chapter, I give you a quick overview of Python's main features. The other chapters of this book cover in detail the topics that I mention next.

Python!? What Is It?

Let's define Python:

Python is an interpreted, high-level programming language, pure object-oriented, and powerful server-side scripting language for the Web. Like all scripting languages, Python code resembles pseudo code. Its syntax's rules and elegant design make it readable even among multiprogrammer development teams. The language doesn't provide a rich syntax, which is really helpful. The idea behind that is to keep you thinking about the business rules of your application and not to spend time trying to figure out what command you should use.

Quoting Guido van Rossum"Rich syntax is more of a burden than a help."

It is also true (and later you will have a chance to check it out) that Python is interactive, portable, easy to learn, easy to use, and a serious language. Furthermore, it provides dynamic semantics and rapid prototyping capabilities.

Python is largely known as a glue language that connects existing components. It is embeddable in applications from other languages (C/C++, Java, and so on), and it is also possible to add new modules to Python, extending its core vocabulary.

Python is a very stable language because it has been in the market for the last 10 years and also because its interpreter and all standard libraries have their source code available along with the binaries. Distributing the sources for everyone is a good development strategy because it makes developers from all around the world work together. Anyone can submit suggestions and patches to the official development team, led by Python's creatorGuido van Rossum.

Guido is the coauthor of the second implementation of the scripting language ABCa language that was used, mostly, for teaching purposes in the '80s by a small number of people. Python is directly derived from ABC.

Python was born in an educational environment, in the Christmas of 1989 at CWI in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Guido was a researcher at CWI at that time. Initially, it was just a project to keep him busy during the holidays. Later, it became part of the Amoeba Project at CWI. Its first public release was in February of 1991.

For a long time, Python's development occurred at CNRI in Reston, VA in the United States. In June of 2000, the Python development team moved to PythonLabs, a member organization of the BeOpen Network, which is maintained by the lead developers of the Python language, including Guido.

On October 27, 2000 the entire PythonLabs Team has left BeOpen.com because of some mutual disagreements concerning the future of Python. The Team is now working for Digital Creations (the makers of Zope - http://www.digicool.com/), and Guido has just announced the idea of creating a non-profit organization called Python Software Foundation (PSF)in order to take ownership of future Python developments.

By the way, Python was named after the British comedy troupe Monty Python. It had a comedy series called Monty Python's Flying Circus on the BBC in the '70s. Guido is a huge fan.

As many Monty Python quotes are throughout the chapters of this book as in any other Python book. That is something of a standard behavior among Python authors, and I won't be the one who will try to change it.

Note

"Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition" is one of the most famous quotes that is always recited by Guido. Each chapter of this book is headed by a famous Monty Python quote.




Last updated on 1/30/2002
Python Developer's Handbook, © 2002 Sams Publishing

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