Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Python demystified?

Four years ago I was asked to troubleshoot a project under tight schedule and budget. The team had committed itself to finish an ASP application within 2 years. When I was called, there were only 4 month to the deadline.

I agreed to manage the team under the condition that 2 out of 3 parts be substituted by standard OTS componenten (who needs to develop their own database or browser) and efforts being concentrated on the core functionality.

My proposal was rejected. The project team was confident that using Python programming language would give them an advantage to finish on time and budget.

Later I learned that the project failed and the company went out of business.

My argument then was that Python was not to be compared to C# or Java in efficiency. More so, no real libraries exist.

I was right about the potential of Python as a tool to finish in time.

However I was wrong about the true reason why Python has not gained momentum and probably will not in the future as Java and C# had.

Recent occupation with the subject led me to a different opinion.

1. C# is easy to use and convenient for writing software. However, C#'s strong typing requires programmers to define in advance what to do. Even with refactoring tools and support for generics changes in structure and data definition can cause headache.

Python (as JavaScript) offer weak typing. Objects can be of any type, programmers don't have to worry in advance what they have to handle. Python as opposed to JavaScript has a tight syntax an object declaration (var i, I know its var, so why do I have to state it?)
There are many more advantages to the Python language. Some of them are:
  • everything is an object,
  • strong string operations,
  • plethora of external modules,
  • integration into host operating systems,
  • integration with other programming languages,
  • etc. ...
These make Python a powerful programming tool.

Going from here, I would prefer Python to any language any day.

2. In the early days of Java, everyone wrote their own IDE. This was possible because Java offered AWT a platform independent graphics subsystem. That allowed for many programmers to adopt Java. C# is hosted in the Visual Studio IDE (with a free Express edition available). Even Mono has two prominent IDE's: MonoDevelop and SharpDevelop.

Python offers an outdated IDLE (basically a specialised shell with no charm), ERIC (a bloated QT based environment with an older version of python interpreter), PyDev, a slugish Eclipse plugin, and many more alpha and pre-alpha Editors.

Without any decent IDE (like Netbeans for Java) that allows for graphical programming and UI-design, I strongly doubt that Python will ever gain momentum.

3. There is plenty of introductory books about Java, C# or VB. There are some books around introducing Python. None of the books I reviewed showed how to set up a working python development environment. Maybe its the selection, maybe I am used to skipping chapters on how to get started with other languages. With Python I wasted hours installing, testing and deinstalling IDE's and development tools.

Without a cross platform native or Python based IDE I am pretty sure that Python will be something like Modula 2 in the 70s, ADA in the 80s and LiveScript in the 90s.

Looking back, finishing the project on time was absolutely impossible. Not because of missing power in the language but lack of a powerful IDE.

3 comments:

Molly said...

You write very well.

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Anonymous said...

Contrary to what you said, Python keeps getting more and more popular.