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ActivePython 2.0 Now Available

10/25/2000

ActiveState has released ActivePython 2.0, build 202. ActivePython is ActiveState's packaging of Python 2.0. For Microsoft Windows users, this build is essentially the same software BeOpen offers, but with the Win32 extensions built in and packaged for the new Microsoft Installer (MSI). The documentation has been converted to an HTML Help format. ActiveState plans to include more add-on modules in future builds of ActivePython.

With so little different from BeOpen's BePython, there is not a lot of reason right now to use ActiveState's build of Python over BeOpen's build. For the savvy Python developer there may never be. Python developers, however, are not the game for which ActiveState is hunting. They're aiming for the people who will run those programs Python developers develop. These are likely to be business people who want an all-in-one install of the main Python modules, and will want it delivered to them with regular updates. A one-stop Python that sheds on a schedule. Expanding beyond the MS Windows crowd, ActiveState is even offering binaries for Linux and Solaris systems. They are attempting to build a reputation for rock solid distributions. To protect that reputation, ActiveState adds their own license to ActivePython. The license is, not surprisingly, more restrictive. You may not redistribute ActivePython without asking ActiveState first. Instead, they say to point those who want it straight to ActiveState, where they can pick up the latest, most dependable version.

ActivePython will be most useful to you if your program uses the additional modules it includes. When a client asks you, "What do I need to run this program?" you don't have to point them to all the pieces they need to assemble; you just say, get ActivePython. That is a pretty clear win. Of course ActiveState isn't developing a rock solid one-stop Python for altruistic reasons. ActivePython is also bait. It will get people's eyes on their web site. ActiveState has plans for commercial add-on products. This has been a big part of their business model surrounding ActivePerl. As the premier spot for obtaining Perl for MS Windows, they were in a great position to sell add-on products. Like many open source developers, the Python community is a bit skittish about commercial interest in their program. The commercial nature of BeOpen has them on alert, and ActiveState's interest hasn't got them any more relaxed.

The anti-commercial sentiment is not uncommon among champions of free and open source software. Partly because of their great success, many people distrust Red Hat. Actually, Red Hat makes a good comparison for ActiveState. You might think of ActivePython as a particular distribution of Python, like Red Hat or Slackware are distributions of Linux. O'Reilly Network administrator Rob Flickenger once explained to me his preference for Slackware, a more basic distribution of Linux, on his network systems. He likes to know just what is on his systems. Because he doesn't need everything, and feels perfectly comfortable compiling and installing his software manually, Slackware is a better fit. It gives him a very basic system on which he can build. Tailoring his systems this way means fewer security risks and a more reliable system overall. On a desktop system though, you might want everything installed. If you want bells and whistles and great package management, something like Red Hat is just the thing. Reflecting on the success of Red Hat, commercial is not always a bad thing. Red Hat has played a major role in the growth of Linux. ActiveState played a major role in broadening the interest in Perl on MS Windows systems. Their support of Python will likewise help Python in its growth.

Stephen Figgins administrates Linux servers for Sunflower Broadband, a cable company.


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