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The Eighth Annual Python Conference: Day One


The Python Conference began today, in Arlington, VA, just across the border from Washington, D.C. A freak snowstorm preceded the beginning of the conference by a few hours, but it had no effect on the 200 or so of us, bundled up together in toasty conference rooms.

This is my third Python Conference. At the first one, a loyal 70 or so Python loyalists debated potential new features of the language. At the second, 120 or so Python programmers split their time between a review of language features and the discussion of interesting Python applications.

At this conference, the third, we moved onto a completely different level. Presentations and demonstrations at this conference of nearly 250 attendees have covered applications built on Python. Companies are demonstrating their Python-based products. There is venture capital here. There are people here because they want to learn about Python. This year, mark my words: Python is here to stay.

Zope

The big story of the first day is Zope, the Z Object Publishing Environment. This product, from Digital Creations, has its own track at the conference.

The founders of Digital Creations have been Python afficianados for a long time, so some people, like me, thought it was nice, or supportive, or loyal, of the conference planners to give Zope its own track. Not for the first time, I was wrong.

Zope's conference room has been overflowing: more than 80 people at one of the sessions I attended. Interest in Zope since it became Open Source has been soaring. Jon Udell, one of the speakers (and author of the admirable O'Reilly book, Practical Internet Groupware, noted that some consider Zope the Open Source alternative, the only alternative, to Lotus Domino.

Zope is important to Python because it is a robust, important application built entirely on Python. Users are ready to do the kind of collaborative, web-based publishing that Zope makes possible, and when they do, they are using Python. Paul Everitt, the CEO of Digital Creations, asked the attendees of one session how many of them first used Python through Zope. Almost half of the room raised their hands. Zope may be the breakthrough application that leads people to learn Python.

Books

A few years ago, there were two Python books: Programming Python by Mark Lutz (from O'Reilly) and Internet Programming with Python, by Aaron Waters, James Ahlstrom, and Guido van Rossum (which is now out of print). Last year, O'Reilly published the Python Pocket Reference by Mark Lutz and Learning Python by Mark Lutz and David Ascher.

This year, Reiter's Scientific & Professional Books, the official bookstore of the conference, lugged boxes of Python titles through the snow to Northern Virginia. There were books from many publishers other than O'Reilly: Manning, New Riders, Prima, and Prentice-Hall. The star of the table, however, the one that sold out 20 copies before lunch was over, was O'Reilly's Python Programming on Win32 Platforms, by Mark Hammond and Andy Robinson. (Fairness forces me to note that David Beazley's Python: the Essential Reference, from New Riders, was also highly sought.) Python titles grew from three to nine in less than a year.

Jon Udell on Collaborative Web-Based Software

Jon Udell, late of Byte, described his vision of distributed, collaborative computing, and he said that Zope, while not perfect, is as close to his model as any software. Jon believes that three elements create the environment for the development of such applications:

These are the elements that Zope relies on.

Jon believes that XML will be the centerpiece of this development environment and urged the Zope team to move quickly to XML (from HTML).

I won't go into any more detail about Jon's talk, as I'm sure it will soon be available at the Python site, and probably at the O'Reilly site as well.

Eric Raymond: the Magic Cauldron

Eric Raymond, author of O'Reilly's The Cathedral and the Bazaar, delivered the keynote address, a variant of his essay The Magic Cauldron, a version of which appears in his book ( and on the Web). The address contrasted the "use value" of software with the "sale value" of that software. His conclusion is that proprietary software can't support the long-term costs and unmeasurable risks of product support.

Unlike most keynotes, Eric's was interactive; the audience, many of whom were familiar with Eric's ideas, argued and questioned. One perceptive question led the unflappable Eric to admit that he had to spend some time understanding the discounting of the future value of money. He suggested that he might talk to an actuary, but one attendee remarked, "Microsoft Excel can do it for you." A wise guy.

Demonstration Projects

The demonstration projects this year were interesting. Several were built on Zope, making them applications of a Python application. World Pilot is a Web-based organizer and messenger "powered by Zope".

Pythonware was again at the conference with their PythonWorks suite of tools for Python programmers.

My favorite demo, though, was Paul Prescod's conversion program. Many of you will recognize Paul as an XML authority and supporter. It irks him when conferences require him to deliver his slides in PowerPoint, an appearance-heavy presentation product that is anathema to semantic-loving XML experts like Paul. Paul built, and demonstrated, a conversion program that allows him to put together his presentations in XML and then use Python and COM to convert it to PowerPoint. "I'll deliver my talks in PowerPoint, but I won't use it," Paul bragged.

Read about Day Two and Day Three--Developer's Day.

Return to: Frankly Speaking

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