January 27, 2003

Guido van Rossum sounds a lot like a lisper sometimes [via Aaron].

Over the years Python's data types have collected a lot of useful functionality. The data types are powerful. That makes Python very powerful. And yet because Python has a very small set of data types, it doesn't feel like you have to spend a year learning the language before you know everything that's there. The minimal finger typing and powerful data types work together to make your program small, and make you feel more productive.


Yeah. I always feel that the interesting programming jobs are the ones in which you don't know exactly where you'll end up. Implementing another spreadsheet is boring.


Early on, when the Web was just becoming interesting for things like shopping online, a small company called eShop was developing various commerce servers. eShop had proprietary protocols and proprietary applications, and it realized that it should just be able to use a Web server and Web browser. The developers decided to do a prototype in Python. Because they used Python, the eShop developers were the first to release a beta version compared to many other startups doing exactly the same thing. They never actually released working code after their beta release, because the company was acquired by Microsoft. Microsoft spent two or three product revisions to eventually replace all the Python code with C++. But if eShop hadn't started in Python, it would never have released something interesting enough for Microsoft to acquire in the first place.

If this were a Philip K. Dick novel, one day Guido would wake up and comp.lang.python would contain a vituperative northern European, graybeards recalling details of ANSI meetings of 10 years ago, and people looking for advice on convincing their bosses to let them use Python. And the Python syntax, of course, would be slightly different.

Posted by jjwiseman at January 27, 2003 01:43 PM

Well, it's nice to see a lisper seeing some commonality between Python and Lisp. Unimaginative Python people often seem to think they are totally dissimilar.

That said, there has been very little direct influence of Lisp on Python (or Guido) -- it's just that starting with certain assumptions (interactivity being the main one, IMHO) you're pretty likely to make some decisions in the same way.

Posted by: Michael Hudson on January 28, 2003 05:06 AM

I wonder if eShop was bought by MSN. Then we would have a story that is exactly like PG's Viaweb, only in Python.

Posted by: Jay on January 28, 2003 06:31 AM

I think eShop was bought by Microsoft before MSN really existed. Not sure. Their product came out as "Microsoft Merchant Server" and got renamed to "Microsoft Commerce Server".

eShop is the reason Greg Stein has lots of free time to hack on Apache and subversion and so on...

Thawte Consulting -- which made enough money to get Mark Shuttleworth into space -- used Python quite heavily at one stage. Google has Mark Shuttleworth asking faintly dumb questions on comp.lang.python back in 1996 or so, which is quite amusing.

There must be something in this high-level language malarkey...

Posted by: Michael Hudson on January 29, 2003 03:35 AM

heh, the ghost of usenet postings past attacks again!

Posted by: Jay on January 29, 2003 06:02 AM

I don't consider Python and Lisp to be very similar. Imagine my surprise when I tried to use the sort method in a [sane] Lispy manner. The language is built with a procedural feel.

Advantages of ``weak typing'' being that ``it lets you bend the rules a bit when deciding what goes into your array''? Heh, you didn't quote the part where Guido makes himself look like an idiot.

Posted by: Matthew Danish on January 29, 2003 11:04 AM

Matthew: of course not. I had my spin, *then* I chose quotes to fit. :)

I don't think Python and Lisp are all that similar either, other than that they have similar typing, a REPL (which, as Michael Hudson said, tends to guide some aspects of the design down certain paths) and have useful built-in data types.

I do think that Python in some ways hasn't realized the full potential of its own design. E.g., Lisp has several features that make using the REPL convenient and productive that could be easily replicated in Python (Eric Tiedemann[1] described this as Python's "low hanging fruit" of productivity enhancement, or something).

I get the feeling a lot of Python programmers just don't use Python interactively very much.

[1] http://www.hyperreal.org/~est/

Posted by: jjwiseman on January 29, 2003 12:10 PM
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