The A-Z of Programming Languages: Python

Our series on the most popular programming languages continues as we chat to Van Rossum, the man behind Python.

Do you currently use CPython?

It's the only Python version I use regularly. It's also embedded in Google App Engine, and I use that a lot of course.

How do you feel about the 3.0 release series breaking backward compatibility?

It's the right thing to do. There were a number of design problems in the language that just couldn't be fixed without breaking compatibility. But beyond those and a few cleanups we're actually trying not to break compatibility that much -- many proposals to add new features that would introduce incompatibilities were rejected for that very reason, as long as an alternative was available that avoided the incompatibility.

Do you consider yourself a Pythonista?

It's not a term I would use myself, but if someone writes an email starting with "Dear Pythonistas" I certainly will assume I'm included in that audience. The Monty Python folks are sometimes referred to as Pythons; that's a term we never use. Similarly, Pythonesque tends to refer to "in the style of Monty Python" while we use Pythonic meaning roughly "compatible with Python's philosophy". Obviously that's a pretty vague term that is easily abused...

Where do you see Python going in the embedded space?

I'm assuming you're referring to platforms like cell phones and custom hardware and such. I think those platforms are ready for Python, with enough memory and speed to comfortably run an interpreted language like Python. (Hey, the Python runtime is a lot smaller than the JVM!) Actual adoption differs -- there's the Nokia S60 platform which has adopted Python as its official scripting language, and embedded platforms running some form of Linux can in theory easily run Python.

In your opinion, what lasting legacy has Python brought to computer development?

It has given dynamic languages a morale boost. It has shown that there are more readable alternatives to curly braces. And for many it has brought fun back to programming!

Where do you envisage Python's future lying?

Sorry, my crystal ball is in the shop, and I only use my time machine to go back in time to add features that are only now being requested. (That I have a time machine and use it for that purpose is a standing joke in the Python community.)

Has the evolution and popularity of the language surprised you in anyway?

I certainly hadn't expected anything of the sort when I got started. I don't know what I expected though -- I tend not to dwell too much on expectations and just like to fix today's problems. It also has come very gradually, so any particular milestone was never a big surprise. But after nearly 19 years I'm certainly very happy with how far we've come!

What are you proudest of in terms of the language's initial development and continuing use?

That Python is and has always been the #1 scripting language at Google, without contest. Also, that the language has made it to the top 5 of dynamic languages on pretty much a zero PR budget. That's a tremendous achievement for a grassroots community.

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