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Guido van Rossum Speaks
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ORN: Tim O'Reilly's keynote at OSCON was quite thought provoking. What do you think were his most interesting points?



GvR: I really liked his point about how the nature of the popular applications changes, and that Amazon or Google are applications just as much as Word or PowerPoint. I thought his point that those applications have a lot of data, and that they leverage the people who interact with the data, was particularly telling.

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I think that was the key idea from his speech, and I really think that in the Python world there are things we can do with that idea. For example, the PyPI, the Python Package Index, might actually become much more useful if people can feed back what they think of a particular piece of software.

ORN: Do you think that the open source development model has proved itself as a viable alternative to proprietary methods? Can the cathedral coexist with the bazaar?

GvR: Open source development methods have absolutely proved themselves, and I don't think there's any immediate likelihood that the cathedral will be demolished. However, among open source projects, I'm a fan of those that are consciously run with a bazaar-style model.

The projects where there are a lot of programmers paid by a particular company, whether it's Netscape with Mozilla or Sun with Open Office, even though they claim a lot of success in terms of downloads, are extremely hard for the average programmer to make a contribution because the code base is so enormous, and the learning curve is therefore rather steep.

Projects that started out as grassroots, like Python, have developed more of a community and a process that makes it much more acceptable.

ORN: Python is a part of a larger open-source community. What do you see as the major challenges facing that community in the next couple of years?

GvR: Oh, man, I'm not that kind of visionary, to have an opinion about that. Some people are worried about a few things, like software patents, but in my view software patents are so absurd that I expect that open source will happily survive all that, even if situations arise where a few specific projects are forced to rewrite some of their code to work around a patent.

A few individuals will probably be hit by unfair lawsuits, but by and large I don't think that's going to break the open source community.

ORN: I sometimes think it's a good job nobody has patented breathing; otherwise we'd all owe them money.

GvR: I guess there was prior art among the reptiles [smiles].

ORN: How does Python differ from other open source projects?

GvR: I guess one difference is that it has a long history, since it was first distributed in 1991. In those days nobody talked about "open source", and Richard Stallman [founder of the Free Software Foundation] wasn't very well known and the GNU General Public License didn't exist.

It's amazing how many people who are still active in the Python community were at the first Python workshop in 1994.

ORN: How has the Python development community changed over the last few years?

GvR: The role of PythonLabs has actually been diminished, and although the perception is that PythonLabs still controls a large percentage of the core code, in fact the reality is that PythonLabs folks have all been hacking on various pieces of Zope and ZODB. So the larger developer community has taken over and has done so very successfully.

We've had a lot of "new kids" join as developers and become active in the community. We've also seen that the geographical base has broadened quite a lot, with contributions coming in from outside Western Europe and the United States.

ORN: Why do you think Python is less popular than Perl?

GvR: Perl was there first. It's definitely older than Python, and when I decided to create Python I looked at the existing Perl, which I think was 3.0. Even by that time it had managed to create a lot of mind share, and it definitely filled a need in the user community.

Perl, Python, Ruby and Tcl are the four dynamic programming languages that get the most publicity as open source projects, and I think they have a lot more in common than they differ.

ORN: What's being done (and by whom) to improve Python's visibility and grow the user community?

GvR: I don't know that enough is being done, but there are certainly a number of people who are very active in that area. I do it myself by staying where I am and giving keynotes at conferences and making my personal life the subject of discussions on Slashdot. I didn't elect to do that, but it happened--someone listening to my OSCON keynote posted the news of my move to Slashdot, and some people seemed to feel they had the right to comment on it.

ORN: Perhaps they should get lives of their own instead of discussing yours?

GvR: Perhaps. Anyway, there are some people taking specific actions to promote Python, notably Kevin Altis, who among other things put the OSCON Python track together and has set himself the goal of increasing the number of Python users tenfold in the next year or two.

There's now a "python-marketing" mailing list, and Stephan Deibel of Archaeopteryx is very active there, issuing press releases for the Python Software Foundation about various things. He'll be doing another one for the upcoming Python 2.3 release, where hopefully we can include a quote from Apple about the inclusion of Python 2.3 in the next MacOS X release.

ORN: How did you come to decide to set the 2.3 release date so the software could be included in the gold master for the next Mac OS release?

GvR: Well, Apple expressed interest, and the schedules almost matched already. Basically all we had to do was bring our deadline forward one week.

ORN: Have you seen a good response to this decision from the developer community?

GvR: Very good! Usually what happens is that when I get my act together and set a release date, all sorts of people who have been putting off checking in their changes and reviewing their patches suddenly become active. So we've seen a flurry of activity.

Of course there are a few people who are disappointed with the compressed schedule, because it's meant their changes have had to be rejected for 2.3, but there's always 2.4 or even 2.3.1.

ORN: How would you like to see the Python Software Foundation develop over, say, the next three years?

GvR: Observing how other similar non-profits like the Apache Software Foundation and also the Open Software Initiative, of which I'm a board member, I'm struck by how the PSF is still run by geeks, none of whom have significant experience running a non-profit. I think as a result we're not always doing the right things, and we don't always do things at the right time; we don't exactly know how to do it. So either we argue endlessly about how to do things, or we do them badly.

It would be good to invite some new people who are friendly to Python onto the board for the next year. You could say that I think the board needs a little adult supervision [smiles]. I realize that this is not something I'm good at: I head the board because people know my name, but I'm not very good at the schmoozing that it takes to get companies to sign up as a sponsor member, for example, or to attract large donations.

ORN: What's the situation with the python.org domain ownership, and do you anticipate any changes any time soon?

GvR: As you might know, CNRI still owns that domain, and has let the PSF use it without much restriction, although they did ask us to keep the 1.6 release on there despite the fact that nobody much uses it.

They have finally approached me, having found the time to address the question, with a contract to handle the transfer of the domain name, which is probably the most important thing, a number of trademarks, and the copyright to the content of the python.org website. The CNRI position has been that they own that copyright because the web site was started when we were all at CNRI.

That's actually quite an important contribution to the open source movement by CNRI.

ORN: What are the most difficult aspects of reconciling open source software development and making a living?

GvR: It gets more difficult once you have a family, because it's more important to have a steady stream of income that lets you pay your bills and put something away for when the kid goes to college. It seems a long way away, but you have to start saving almost from the moment they're born.

That limits me in the choice of employment.

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