[Python-Dev] Searching Python docs (Was: Python sidebar forMozilla/Netscape)

David Ascher DavidA@ActiveState.com
Fri, 05 Apr 2002 20:51:52 -0800

Tim Peters wrote:

> Sure.  Packing over 1,000 HTML files into the installer bloats it too 

Indeed.  ActivePython's installer is significantly bigger than the
Pythonlabs installer, because we have a lot more docs in there (not just
the Pythonlabs docs -- the PyWin32 docs, others.).  Our installer seems
to do a good job of compression, but it's still a lot of text.

> Possibly, but the idea that a new software process involving many megabytes
> of data won't create new time sinks isn't credible to me.  Fred takes pride
> in the appearance of his docs, so won't want to let small points slide
> either.

There is indeed flexibility in having the two-phase release cycle, which
sees Fred updating the docs several times per binary-release-cycle. 
That's nice, given that the documentation naturally lags implementation
(and will as long as the product is managed by developers =).

Also, figuring out how to create HTML files which look good on the
website, in HtmlHelp and in regular browsers is a real pain for people
like me who don't understand why browsers simply had to be so
incompatible =).

> > Many of them will no doubt refuse to RTFM, but for those who will,
> > providing them with the docs in .chm format (and actively promoting it)
> > might cut down on the "support cost" of the traffic on c.l.py.
> Perhaps ActiveState could address that from experience.

We spend a lot of time and effort making all of our tools as
self-sufficient as possible.  We also do a lot of work so that the
website (ASPN.ActiveState.com) provides as much help on both products
and technologies as possible, since when that fails, we incur developer
and support staff work, which doesn't scale and costs a lot.

I'm not sure that that equation is particularly relevant for Pythonlabs,
though -- most of the questions on c.l.py are answered by
non-Pythonlabers, so the benefit of investing in a somewhat better
distro isn't really apparent to the bottom line, while the development
cost is.  Pythonlabs doesn't have an obligation to answer every question
sent to python-list -- that burden is carried quite well by the
community, as it always has, and as it should be.  

It may sound weird to mention the bottom line w.r.t. how an open source
project is run, but a big reason Python is where it is is because
someone (in practice, several someones) have paid Guido et al. to do
this work.  So the bottom line matters -- and it is important for
Python's long-term future that the Pythonlabers take the responsibility
of thinking about where they spend their time as seriously as they do.

This week, it may seem to Pythonlabers that the users are being cranky
and whining (this is not directed at John's post, just at the general
tenor of comp.lang.python in the last few days).  I want to publically
state that I think the Pythonlabs folks are doing an admirable job,
above and beyond the call of duty.  Python _is_ evolving faster than it
did in the middle-early days (I expect the versions before 1.2 evolved
very fast), and our community is growing as a result.  The growth is a
strong sign of health, and seems to indicate that the language evolution
is overall in the positive, niche-expanding direction.  I am convinced
that some recent developments such as the better release management, the
filling in of the standard library and documentation, the cleanup and
maturing of the language are all factors which overall much outweigh the
pains that some feel with respect to managing multi-version code bases
or coping with language evolution.

At the end of the day, Python is still just as fun to program in as it
ever was.

--David "cheerleader" Ascher