[Idle-dev] [Python-Dev] Removing IDLE from the standard library

Bruce Sherwood basherwo at ncsu.edu
Sun Jul 11 23:58:32 CEST 2010

Perhaps there are two separable issues. Many of us see it as extremely
important that some IDLE be part of the standard Python distribution
("batteries included"), for the reasons that several people have given.
However, there is merit to the suggestion to have an active separate
development, with the understanding that periodically this separate
development is a candidate for inclusion in the standard distribution,
replacing whatever IDLE had been there.

In the 2009 Google Summer of Code I was the mentor for a Brazilian
student, Guilherme
Polo, who completed and extended important improvements to IDLE made during
the previous year by David Scherer. Given the somewhat official nature of
this work, I assumed that these needed improvements would make it into the
standard distribution, but as far as I know that hasn't happened. It would
seem that if even this "sponsored" project didn't impact the standard Python
distribution, something is broken in the procedures, and probably what is
needed is, as Guido says, that someone be given the authority to get
improvements to IDLE into the standard distribution. Making a significant
change to the update procedures is clearly needed.

Even if this needed change is made, there is also merit to Tai's suggestion
of creating a separate project, to encourage developers like him to work
together to improve IDLE, without having as a first priority to worry about
getting it into the standard distribution, but with the clear understanding
that this is the place to go for improvements to migrate into the standard

Bruce Sherwood

P.S. I'll add that IDLE has been EXTREMELY important for a large population
of relatively casual users of Python, the thousands of science and
engineering university students enrolled in the "Matter & Interactions"
intro physics curriculum developed by Ruth Chabay and me (
matterandinteractions.org). A major feature of this curriculum is a serious
introduction to computational modeling, in which students write short Python
programs to model physical systems. Computational modeling is now central to
all of science and engineering but alas has not made its way into
undergraduate curricula in an institutionalized way.

A big difficulty is that students come to college knowledgeable about all
aspects of computers save one: programming. So the programming environment
has to be exceptionally easy to learn and use. Python itself has the
necessary properties, and Python+Visual (called VPython, vpython.org) lets
the students focus on the physics while VPython generates real-time
navigable 3D animations of the computational models, as a side effect of the
computational code.

IDLE has proved to be the right editing tool for this population, as
essentially nothing needs to be learned, and there is near-instantaneous
edit/run transitions which encourage rapid testing. In a physics course we
have to focus on strict minimalism as far as the programming is concerned.
We teach a bare minimum of needed concepts; for example, we introduce while
loops but not for loops. We cannot afford to teach about a professional IDE;
IDLE is fine and has worked well for us. (We're currently bundling with
VPython the Scherer/Polo version of IDLE, which for reasons of clarity we're
calling VIDLE.)

A final personal note is that while I use Eclipse for working on the Visual
module, which is written in C++, I find VIDLE a delightful environment for
developing Python programs for physics education.
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