On Dec 16, 2016, at 5:07 AM, Nick Coghlan <ncoghlan@gmail.com> wrote:

On 16 December 2016 at 20:57, Glyph Lefkowitz <glyph@twistedmatrix.com> wrote:

Anyhow, Xcode is far from perfect - many of the places it touches the UNIX pipeline are extremely sharp edges you can easily impale yourself on (and don't get me started about codesigning) - but it nevertheless points at a different potential direction.  For example; why expose the concept of a "virtual environment" directly at all?  "New Project" could just create a requirements.txt and a setup.py for you, alongside a git repo and a virtualenv for that project.  Or, the UI could be geared towards setting up a tox.ini rather than a virtualenv, and run everything through tox so it's in an isolated environment with defined requirements.  This is a best practice anyway so why not make it easier to start early?

This might all be way too much work, but I think it's important to remember it's possible.

Yeah, I think we agree more than we disagree here.

Quite.  But the devil's in the details :).

The main thing is that one of the key ways newcomer-friendly environments make themselves more approachable is to *constrain choice*.

I think framing this as "constraint" is a little misleading.  In a sense it is a constraint, but a better way to think of it is: provide a reasonable default.  Right now, the "default UI" that most users get is a bare bash prompt where commands like 'pip install' fail with an error for no reason they can discern.  They can still choose to inject a different tool at any point in the process (after all, we're talking about frontends which create existing concepts like virtualenvs and package installations) if they so choose; they just get a default that does something - anything - useful.

XCode usability benefits from being Apple-centric. Ditto for Visual Studio and MS.

Linux and Python, by contrast, were both born out of a DIY culture where folks being free to choose their own tools was initially perceived solely as a highly desirable feature, rather than as a potential barrier to entry for newcomers.

That means there's an argument to be made that something like YHat's Rodeo [1] might be a better starting point for data analytics in Python than jumping straight to Jupyter Notebook, and it's also why the Mu editor [2] exists as a dedicated tool for folks learning Python by way of the micro:bit project.

[1] http://rodeo.yhat.com/docs/

Minor point - nobody should use Mu yet, at least not on the mac: https://github.com/mu-editor/mu/issues/206 :)

More significantly, I think any text editor will do just fine (as long as it's not Emacs or Vim) - I've had great success with http://www.barebones.com/products/textwrangler/, and even Notepad will do in a pinch.  There are already pretty good integration points where editors can be told to open specific files.  One of my frustrations with the educational ecosystem is the focus on the (quite difficult) problem of providing students with a fully integrated text editing / script running / debugging environment, rather than figuring out how to orchestrate and launch the quite powerful and sophisticated tools we already have.

However, the reason I brought up the Curse and Firefox GUI examples was to emphasise the problems they hide from the default rich client experience:

- their default focus is on managing one environment per device

In the analogous Python tool, one could replace "per device" with "per project" - and perhaps have a "default project" so something useful could happen even before you've decided what you're doing...

But we've immediately bumped the complexity level up in doing so, and it's a level of complexity that many people initially spending all of their development time on a single project may not need.

I think we're underestimating potential programming students.  The idea of managing multiple documents is likely something they're familiar with from word processing apps.  If not, then fine - we can start them off with a default document.

I thought this thread was already interminable, I look forward to reading the never-ending rest of it now that you've raised the grim spectre of the PyPI user-ratings feature from the dead :).

All the arguments against integrating user ratings into a service that's focused on lowering barriers to publication still hold, so I'm really just noting that that decision to create a friendlier publishing environment *does* introduce some additional constraints elsewhere in the distribution pipeline.
User-curated package sets strikes me as the _lowest_ priority feature out of all of those, if we are ordering by priority to deliver a good user experience.  I know "steam curators" have been brought up before - but we're talking about adding curators (one of my least favorite features of Steam, for what it's worth) before we've added "install game" ;-).

In many educational contexts, adding "install game" without support for institutional curators of some kind is a complete non-starter (even if those curators are a collaborative community like a Linux distribution, there's still more accountability than software publishing sites like PyPI tend to provide).

I initially wanted to disagree when I read this, but I'm not actually sure what educational contexts you're talking about, and why "accountability" is important?

Schools, mainly. Lots of administrators are still scared of the internet, so one of the attractions of things like Raspberry Pi is that the software updates come from Debian rather than directly from the software publishers.

Sometimes you can get away with "What the bureaucracy doesn't know won't hurt it", but it's more convenient when teachers don't have to do that.

I think it's very good that we have people focused on institutional concerns.  My focus is somewhere else - peer learning.  I want students to be able to take what they've learned in class and easily apply it in a personally useful context.  And frankly, I think this is useful to a huge audience of people who aren't exactly "students" - people who already sort of know how computers work, who spend all day long sitting in Excel and writing macros (because the UI to do so is discoverable!) and are keen to learn something better to actually do tasks that they have in their job, not just to learn to code.

"beginner" is a direction, and not a fixed position; many people more "beginner" than the current audience could be well-served by a discoverable initial project-creation and REPL UI.  While I don't doubt that some backend pieces might help (although I still don't see how the one being discussed would), I also think that it would be very hard to say that the back-end is a limiting factor in UX improvement for the Python onboarding process; the front end could move quite a bit up the value chain without touching any of the various backends it would need to interact with.

But of course, if I really wanted to make this point, I'd just write it; dstufft is certainly right that volunteer time is not fungible.  If I'm lucky, I'll have the time to do that at some point, since my efforts to convince someone else that this is the high-value target have been failing for some years now ;).

I'll confess that one of my ulterior motives for encouraging computing teachers to engage more directly with the upstream Python community is that I kinda hope we'll eventually run into one that either decides none of the current editors are good enough and creates their own, or else decides that "create the introductory editor that you wish you had when you started learning to program" might make a good collaborative student project :)

I think we're going to remain stuck in our current quagmire until we let go of the idea of writing a text editor :).  An all-singing all-dancing integrated development environment would be great.  But editing text is a problem that's already solvable with a huge plethora of tools, most of them free.  The tricky part where everybody gets stuck is making 'pip' or 'python' in a command-line window do anything useful at all.

Alternatively, I've recently started using Visual Studio Code as my editor for work [1], and it seems likely that would be hackable enough for someone to create a plugin that bootstrapped a complete Python toolchain such that the bootstrapping flow became:

1. Install VSCode
2. Install the "New to Python" plugin
3. Run the plugin's "Setup Python Environment" command


[1] Oh the irony that the first cross-platform editor I've tried that I actually think looks nice and find pleasant to use on Fedora was released by Microsoft :)

Turnabout is fair play - maybe 5 years from now we'll all be lamenting the terrible state of Python on UNIX and wishing it was as well-supported as Windows :).