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IBM developerWorks: Improving the social infrastructure of Python: pydoc and distutils modules

Sep 03, 2001, 20:04 (0 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by David Mertz)

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"One year ago, if you were to ask an honest Python evangelist if Python was missing anything important that Perl, for example, had, the answer would most likely have been "yes". It wasn't that Python lacked a breadth of module and package support (both Python native and extension modules). It certainly wasn't the clarity of expression or clean object orientation in which Python positively excels. What is Python? Python is a freely available, very high-level, interpreted language developed by Guido van Rossum. It combines a clear syntax with powerful (but optional) object-oriented semantics. Python is available for almost every computer platform you might find yourself working on, and has strong portability between platforms.

What Python was missing is what Perl developers describe as "social factors." But even here, the missing social factors were not the absence of an active, intelligent, and supportive Python community -- Python abounds in that. What the Python of a year ago sorely lacked was a sufficient programmatic infrastructure for sharing Python code. Code sharing was ad hoc, decentralized, and just plain too much work.

The first step in improving the social infrastructure of Python was probably Tim Middleton's creation of the Vaults of Parnassus (see Resources later in this article). For the first time, Python developers had a single place to turn for (nearly) all contributed third-party modules, packages, and tools. Still having its quirks, making it possibly less advanced (but nicer looking) than the Comprehensive Perl Archive Network, the Vaults merely point to actual resources rather than mirroring them. Manually maintained by Middleton, updates are sometimes slow; and Vex.Net (who generously hosts the Vaults) has had intermittent outages. Overall, however, the Vaults of Parnassus has provided an invaluable resource in building the architectural prerequisites of a strong Python community."

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