May 2, 2011, 4:10 a.m.
posted by bruce
The Life of Python
Python was invented around 1990 by Guido van Rossum, when he was at CWI in Amsterdam. It is named after the BBC comedy series Monty Python 's Flying Circus, of which Guido is a fan (see this chapter's sidebar "What's in a Name?"). Guido was also involved with the Amoeba distributed operating system and the ABC language. In fact, his original motivation for creating Python was to create an advanced scripting language for the Amoeba system. Moreover, Python borrowed many of the usability-study-inspired ideas in ABC, but added practicality in the form of libraries, datatypes, external interfaces, and more.
The net effect was that Python's design turned out to be general enough to address a wide variety of domains. It is now used in increasingly diverse roles by hundreds of thousands of engineers around the world. Companies use Python today in commercial products for tasks as diverse as web site construction, hardware testing, numeric analysis, customizing C++ and Java class libraries, movie animation, and much more (more on roles in the next section). In fact, because Python is a completely general-purpose language, its target domains are limited only by the scope of computers in general.
Since it first appeared on the public domain scene in 1991, Python has continued to attract a loyal following and has spawned a dedicated Internet newsgroup, comp.lang.python, in 1994. As the first edition of this book was being written in 1995, Python's home page debuted on the Web at http://www.python.orgstill the official place to find all things Python. A supplemental site, the Vaults of Parnassus, serves as a library of third-party extensions for Python application development (see http://www.vex.net/parnassus). More recently, the Python Package Index site (PyPI at http://www.python.org/pypialso known as the "Python Cheese Shop"began providing a comprehensive and automated catalog of third-party Python packages.
To help manage Python's growth, organizations that are aimed at supporting Python developers have taken shape over the years: among them, the now defunct Python Software Activity (PSA) was formed to help facilitate Python conferences and web sites, and the Python Consortium was formed by organizations interested in helping to foster Python's growth. More recently, the Python Software Foundation (PSF) was formed to own the intellectual property of Python and coordinate community activities, and the Python Business Forum (PBF) nonprofit group addresses the needs of companies whose businesses are based on Python. Additional resources are available for Python training, consulting, and other services.
Today, Guido is employed by Google, the web search-engine maker and a major Python user, and he devotes a portion of his time to Python. A handful of key Python developers are also employed by Zope Corporation, home to the Python-based Zope web application toolkit (see http://www.zope.org and Chapter 18; Zope is also the basis of the Plone web content management system). However, the Python language is owned and managed by an independent body, and it remains a true open source, community-driven, and self-organizing system. Hundreds, if not thousands, of individuals contribute to Python's development, following a now formal Python Enhancement Proposal (PEP) procedure and coordinating their efforts online.
Other companies have Python efforts underway as well. For instance, ActiveState and PythonWare develop Python tools, O'Reilly (the publisher of this book) and the Python community organize annual Python conferences (OSCON, PyCon, and EuroPython), and O'Reilly manages a supplemental Python web site (see the O'Reilly Network's Python DevCenter at http://www.oreillynet.com/python). Although the world of professional organizations and companies changes more frequently than do published books, the Python language will undoubtedly continue to meet the needs of its user community.