Python Popularity: Questions and Comments

Ron Stephens rdsteph at
Thu Dec 27 04:58:52 CET 2001

OK, so its between the holidays and the newsgroup is quiet, so maybe I
dare waste a little bandwidth with that most useless (but fun)
commodity: gossip.

How is Python doing popularity wise? After such a meteoric growth
thought the nineties, and a spectacular climax in 2000 and early 2001,
is Python leveling out, going dot.bust, or still not yet at the knee of
the software world's most spectacular growth curve?

I'd be interested in some comments and observations and opinions from
others. Meanwhile, here  are a few of my own:

Python, while fabulously successful, is at an interesting point in its
growth curve. It will be difficult to maintain the extremely high rate
of growth exhibited so far; new contenders are possible problems; and
the recessionary economy could also negatively impact Python's growth.

1. Ruby is an especially interesting competitor to Python. I have been
monitoring the Ruby newsgroup, and it shows incredible growth and
vitality. Furthermore, Ruby is aimed right at the heart of Python's

If we view Microsoft's Visual Studio, especially Visual's C#
and VB, as the official 800 lb. gorilla of software development; and if
we view Java as the 400 lb. gorilla pretender to the throne; and if we
view Borland's Delphi and Kylix as no more than a smart leader of a
chimp; then everything else is the pack of open source chimps.

The open source world is still led by PERL, but PERL is truly more of a
text processing, web CGI, scripting specialist; not so much of a direct
threat to Python. PHP is a server side scripting specialist. Even
JavaScript is strong in its narrow niche of client side web scripting.
Lisp and Scheme dominate thier academic world. But Python aims to be
much more than these; Python aims to be a powerful general purpose
programming language, in addition to being a very easy to learn and easy
to use scripting language. And who can say that Python does not succeed
very well in all of the above?

But Ruby is also a more general purpose, object oriented, relatively
easy to read, language. Ruby folks include those who like its more
Perl-like syntax, but Ruby's core converts believe that its pure,
absolute object oriented nature exceeds those of Python and make it more
worthy to long term success. They seem to see Ruby as a more modern,
up-to-date version of Python. They see Python as a compromise between
object oriented and procedural programming.

Be that as it may, I suspect that much of Ruby's momentum is simply due
to its newness; all things new are seen as sexy in this world of ours.
But nonetheless, Ruby has the following going for it.

a. Usage on the Ruby newsgroup is growing much faster than on
comp.lang.python in the last year that I have been observing it. A year
ago, Python got typically three times as many posts per day as Ruby.
Now, its more like a 4:3 ratio, with Python getting say, 4000 per month,
and Ruby 3000. At this rate, Ruby could pass Python is  afew months, by
this measure! (Rest assured, Ptyhonis fdoing much better if mesured by
Sourceforge projects, about 1300 to 80). By the way, Just van Rossum's graph of Python
newsgroup coverage seems to show a slight decline from over 6000 per
month in late-middle 2001 to the current 3500 or so I see on here. Mr.
van Rossum said he may not be able to update these any more due to some
Yahoo change; anyway, am I interpreting these numbers and trends
accurately? Will the Python newsgroup usage turn upwards again? Does it

b. Ruby is getting alot of favorable press, and new books are coming out
now. First, Pickaxe , now, Matz' own Ruby in a Nutshell and several
others soon to be or already here.

c. Ruby actually seems to be a nice language to me. Its object oriented
features seem well thought out and yet its still easy to comprehend. I
will never leave Python behind, but will others? I see quite a few
former Pythonistas posting glowing reviews on comp.lang.ruby, but not as
many as I see former Perl aficionados.

d. Ruby has some smart and aggressive coders doing libraries,
extensions, Java version etc. etc. etc., tehy are agressive and
motivated; tehy think they will see world domination ;-)))

Ruby also has some problems I see:

a. Its windows version seems to have lots of problems. Specifically,
threading doesn't work well at all on Windows, but that's not the only
problem. Ruby on Windows is slow and somewhat buggy; seems to need a
re-write and Matz is engaged in an extensive re-write. Who knows how

b. Ruby has no where near the libraries Python has, since Ruby is so
much newer. But itime never stands still....

What so you all think of Ruby, and its impact on Python?

2. The economy is hurting Python's open source development model. It was
bad enough when the core Python coders were jerked around by Be Open;
now I am very sad to hear of Mark Hammond's not being with ActiveState
anymore? Without Mark Hommond's win32 work, Python would be a mere shell
of its current self. A person who has given so much to the Python
community as Mr. Hammond, deserves much better. How can an open source
community like Python help reward its hard working heroes like Mr.
Hammond? Will Guido and his team be next to suffer yet again? If
ActiveState can't support Python development, much less a true
Python.Net, who can? Will Zope survive financially? We should care. Why
doesn't someone form a company to market a first class Zope based ISP
service? The Zope folks saids they need such a thing to help promote
Zope. If it could not be profitable, is Python and all open source
development a mere flash in the pan? Without Mark Hammond, Python
windows based development would fall into the sloughs of despond just
like Ruby?

I hope not.

3. Third, Python faces the laws of large numbers. It is exceedingly hard
to continue a growth spurt past a certain point. Maybe were at that
point, maybe not. But ask yourself this; Two years from now, will you
see more Python success stories, more growth, or a leveling out? Five
years from Now?

Ten years from now, will Python still be Relevant? Oh, I know that
Python will still be being used, and the community will still exist, but
will it really be a thing that seems to Matter, like it does now.

I like to Look on the brighter side of life, but I also like to win a
few Spanish Civil Wars.

What do you guys think????

Ron Stephens Python City

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