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Clarity, not speed, makes Python an ideal language for beginners

Nick Langley
Hot skills: Fourteen years after its release, Python moves to version 2.4

What is it?

Python is a scripting language that can be learned quickly using tutorials and other material available free on the internet.

Like Perl, PHP and TCL, Python comes from the open source community but is in wide commercial use. It is bundled with most implementations of Linux and a great deal of system software. There is strong demand for Python in a variety areas.

Although intended for internet scripting, graphical user interface creation, systems and text programming, test script creation and applications integration, it is used for more general programming tasks.

Where did it originate?

Python was created in 1990 by Guido van Rossum, who has the same relationship with the Python community as Linus Torvalds has with Linux.

Python was based on a language called ABC, which Rossum helped develop to introduce beginners to coding. It also has elements of Lisp, Modula and Smalltalk programming languages.

Python is written in C and is sometimes called CPython to distinguish it from the pure Java version, Jython. Other versions are being developed for .net.

What is it for?

The official website, www.python.org, said it is an interpreted, object-oriented, high-level programming language with dynamic semantics. "Its high-level built-in data structures, combined with dynamic typing and dynamic binding, make it very attractive for rapid application development as well as for use as a scripting or glue language to connect existing components together."

Python also has features that make it possible to write larger programs by combining several modules.

What makes it special?

The co-operative approach which open source language development encourages is carried into Python programming.

The emphasis on code readability makes it more suitable for team developments than other scripting languages.

The Python approach puts correctness and clarity before speed. "Developers are not interested in making the interpreter run faster at the expense of unreadable or hard-to-follow tricky code," said the website. This results in high coding productivity, which is helped by program modularity and code re-use. The code is also easy to maintain.

How difficult is it to master?

Python is used as a teaching language for newbies, and is suitable for occasional users, although rich enough for advanced full-time developers.

Where is it used?

There is hidden Python code doing small but useful jobs in the applications and systems most of us use every day.

Acknowledged users include the New York Stock Exchange, Yahoo, Google, AstraZeneca, Nokia and Red Hat, and film companies such as Disney and Industrial Light and Magic.

Not to be compared with...

Perl, unless you are looking for trouble.

What systems does it run on?

The Python interpreter and standard library are available in source or binary form without charge, for all major platforms including Windows, and can be freely distributed.

What is coming up?

Like other open source products, Python is very stable. Fourteen years into the life of the language, Python 2.4 has only just been released.

Training
Visit the official site for links to tutorials, other Python sites, downloads and documentation.

www.python.org

Rates of pay

Python is used by test scripters, application developers, embedded software engineers, internet security specialists, systems administrators and database administrators. Salaries depend on what else is in your portfolio.

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