About This Course
Very stable. New, stable releases have been coming out roughly every 6 to 18 months since 1991, and this seems likely to continue. As of version 3.9, Python will have a major new release every 12 months (PEP 602).
The developers issue “bugfix” releases of older versions, so the stability of existing releases gradually improves. Bugfix releases, indicated by a third component of the version number (e.g. 3.5.3, 3.6.2), are managed for stability; only fixes for known problems are included in a bugfix release, and it’s guaranteed that interfaces will remain the same throughout a series of bugfix releases.
The latest stable releases can always be found on the Python download page. There are two production-ready versions of Python: 2.x and 3.x. The recommended version is 3.x, which is supported by most widely used libraries. Although 2.x is still widely used, it is not maintained anymore.
How many people are using Python?
There are probably millions of users, though it’s difficult to obtain an exact count.
Python is available for free download, so there are no sales figures, and it’s available from many different sites and packaged with many Linux distributions, so download statistics don’t tell the whole story either.
The comp.lang.python newsgroup is very active, but not all Python users post to the group or even read it.
Have any significant projects been done in Python?
See https://www.python.org/about/success for a list of projects that use Python. Consulting the proceedings for past Python conferences will reveal contributions from many different companies and organizations.
High-profile Python projects include the Mailman mailing list manager and the Zope application server. Several Linux distributions, most notably Red Hat, have written part or all of their installer and system administration software in Python. Companies that use Python internally include Google, Yahoo, and Lucasfilm Ltd.
What new developments are expected for Python in the future?
See https://www.python.org/dev/peps/ for the Python Enhancement Proposals (PEPs). PEPs are design documents describing a suggested new feature for Python, providing a concise technical specification and a rationale. Look for a PEP titled “Python X.Y Release Schedule”, where X.Y is a version that hasn’t been publicly released yet.
New development is discussed on the python-dev mailing list.
Is it reasonable to propose incompatible changes to Python?
In general, no. There are already millions of lines of Python code around the world, so any change in the language that invalidates more than a very small fraction of existing programs has to be frowned upon. Even if you can provide a conversion program, there’s still the problem of updating all documentation; many books have been written about Python, and we don’t want to invalidate them all at a single stroke.
Providing a gradual upgrade path is necessary if a feature has to be changed. PEP 5 describes the procedure followed for introducing backward-incompatible changes while minimizing disruption for users.
Is Python a good language for beginning programmers?
It is still common to start students with a procedural and statically typed language such as Pascal, C, or a subset of C++ or Java. Students may be better served by learning Python as their first language. Python has a very simple and consistent syntax and a large standard library and, most importantly, using Python in a beginning programming course lets students concentrate on important programming skills such as problem decomposition and data type design. With Python, students can be quickly introduced to basic concepts such as loops and procedures. They can probably even work with user-defined objects in their very first course.
For a student who has never programmed before, using a statically typed language seems unnatural. It presents additional complexity that the student must master and slows the pace of the course. The students are trying to learn to think like a computer, decompose problems, design consistent interfaces, and encapsulate data. While learning to use a statically typed language is important in the long term, it is not necessarily the best topic to address in the students’ first programming course.
Many other aspects of Python make it a good first language. Like Java, Python has a large standard library so that students can be assigned programming projects very early in the course that do something. Assignments aren’t restricted to the standard four-function calculator and check balancing programs. By using the standard library, students can gain the satisfaction of working on realistic applications as they learn the fundamentals of programming. Using the standard library also teaches students about code reuse. Third-party modules such as PyGame are also helpful in extending the students’ reach.
There are also good IDEs for Python. IDLE is a cross-platform IDE for Python that is written in Python using Tkinter. PythonWin is a Windows-specific IDE. Emacs users will be happy to know that there is a very good Python mode for Emacs. All of these programming environments provide syntax highlighting, auto-indenting, and access to the interactive interpreter while coding. Consult the Python wiki for a full list of Python editing environments.