|Python - The Future Of Programming?|
|Written by Mike James|
|Monday, 23 July 2018|
Bettridge's law of headlines suggests that the answer is no, but in this case it might be yes - as long as you don't look too far into the future. The Economist, a much admired publication, has an article about Python and world domination. It's interesting to see how other people see us.
The Economist is a strange publication, always readable - compelling even, but often its articles on technology read like something observed from a thousand miles away. It is an interesting read, but it might be behind a paywall.
It starts with an account of the origins of Python one Xmas and the role of Guido van Rossum in its birth and continued development. This reads slightly like a tribute, given Guido has recently given up his role as BDFL, as we reported last week. There are also some strange passages in the account:
Mr Van Rossum resembles a technological version of the Monty Python character who accidentally became the Messiah in the film “Life of Brian”.
This is presumably a reference to the fact that Guido has long repeated his claim that he was the curator of a mass market language by accident - well it couldn't really have been anything else, could it?
The fact is that Python is on the up, there are now 145,000 packages in the "Cheese Shop", which is something of a double-edged sword when you are looking for something specific.
Interest is also increasing;
In the past 12 months Google users in America have searched for Python more often than for Kim Kardashian, a reality-TV star. The rate of queries has trebled since 2010, while inquiries after other programming languages have been flat or declining
Did we really need to be told that Kardashian was a reality-TV star? Perhaps as this is a techie area we might have misheard and thought is was Cardassian instead?!
The article then meanders on, in the nicest possible way, to describe how many different things Python is used for. It is even used by Economist journalists when they are scraping data from websites - I hope they are using Beautiful Soup and not reinventing the Spanish Inquisition.
The rest of the article, in a section inventively(?) labelled "Rossum's universal robot" is about how Python is used in universities and education, but not really in computer science, or I think that is what is being implied because we are told what is is used for and CS is notably absent. Finally we have a musing on Python's future:
"How much longer Python’s rise will continue is anybody’s guess. There have been dominant computer languages in the past that, while not exactly “one with Nineveh and Tyre”, now skulk in the background. In the 1960s, Fortran bestrode the world."
So we need an explanation of Kardashian but we are assumed to know “one with Nineveh and Tyre”. Is this flattery or a measure of the gulf between us? Wait! "Fortran"? Oh yes I remember Fortran...
The truth of the matter, and now you have my opinion rather than that of person or persons unknown who write for the Economist which never credits its journalists, is that Python is a remarkable language but it isn't a good example of a clean academic language which illustrates some deep organizational principle. It is a usable language for the 21st century. It succeeds where more respectable languages fail because it is pragmatic and openly strives to be easy to use and powerful. If you mean by "The Future of Programming" the language that is the current Swiss army knife of code, then perhaps the headline is right. If you mean that it really, really, really the future of programming then you have a very narrow view of the computer science world. Python is the new century's Basic in the way that we use it if not in syntax and semantics.
I leave the, almost, last word to the anonymous writer of the Economist article:
No computing language can ever be truly general purpose. Specialisation will necessarily remain important. It is nevertheless true that, in that long-past Yuletide, Mr Van Rossum started something memorable. He isn’t the Messiah, but he was a very clever boy.
A clever boy indeed - the Python community will not be the same without him and this particular valedictory underestimates his role in the phenomenon that is Python by a mile.
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|Last Updated ( Thursday, 07 May 2020 )|