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Python & Perl in Wall Street Journal

Stephen Ferg
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Seen in the Wall Street Journal, Monday, July 21, 2003, page B1.

Lee Gomes' "Portals" technology column: "Two Men, Two Ways to Speak
Computerese and Two Big Successes".

This is a brief, non-technical story on Guido von Rossum, inventor of
Python, and Larry Wall, inventor of Perl.

I don't think this is available online unless you are a paid
subscriber to the WSJ online edition. So here are a few quick quotes
and a mini-review.

"They live a few dozen miles from each other, have strikingly
different backgrounds and world views, but in their own separate ways
they have created computer languages among the most important in the

"Over the past decade, ... scripting languages have come to rival
full-blown languages such as C and Java in power and performance. But
they've kept the ease of use that was their main attraction in the
first place. Hence their popularity."

"As the most popular of all the scripting languages, Perl and Python
compete with each other for mind share among the same communities of
programmers. The competition is good-natured, like the fake-Buddhist
Python Web site that tells how 'the origin of suffering lies in the
use of non-Python.'"

Mr. Gomes is right on the mark when he notes that "computer languages
have distinct personalities", but I think he misses the mark when
attempting to capture and contrast the personalities Perl and Python.
"Perl is famous for being permissive, with no right or wrong way of
accomplishing a task. Python by contrast, is considered more rigid an
exacting." I think it would have been more accurate to contrast an
eclectic grab-bag approach to language design with a clear, consistent
design philosophy.

The article goes on to contrast the characteristics of the languages
with the personalities of their developers. Larry Wall "gatekeeper of
the undogmatic Perl is a devout Christian." In contrast, Guido,
"started working on the my-way-or-the-highway Python as a typical
resident of the famously freewheeling city of Amsterdam."

It would have been just as easy to paint the languages as being highly
consistent with the personalities of their inventors. One might
observe, for instance, that Perl is extremely conservative. It is
unwilling to abandon any of the features of its multiple forebears.
Like Genesis with its E and Y sources, Perl is composed of pieces of
its predecessors, stitched together even when they offer differing
approaches to the same subject. Python, in contrast, is genuinely
innovative. How many other languages use indentation as a control

In any case, Mr. Gomes has written a very readable column that raises
the name-brand awareness of Perl and Python for a non-technical
audience, and for that he deserves a big round of applause from the
Python, Perl, and open-source communities.

-- Steve Ferg ((E-Mail Removed))
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Stephen Ferg
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Ooops. Make that "E and J sources".
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