The collision of capital and idealism over a technology

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at:, or follow me on Twitter.

This is a good article, but is it appropriate to say that a technology is simply going through some growing pains when the technology is 25 years old? Doesn’t the long history suggest the problem here is a complex one, with a long history of its own? Python was a dying language until Google decided to make large investments in it. Now it is the main language for Data Science. This is a language that started off with a certain idealism, the belief that computer programming should be fun and easy to learn. Google’s large investments has changed the nature of the community, and shifted the priorities away from that initial philosophy.


Which brings us to Python’s leaky batteries issue most recently. During the latest Python Language Summit, when core developers get together to discuss the future, Amber Brown, who works on maintaining Twisted, a framework similar to Django, critiqued Python’s standard library for not being up to par and hard to change, and said that some of the older packages need to be taken out of the standard library in favor of higher-quality dependencies.

Her reasoning was that many of her framework’s users were still on Python 2, and as a result, Twisted couldn’t stop supporting them. Guido, fresh from both this controversy, and continuing to deal with Python 2 migration issues for years, was frustrated:

Brown said her point was to move asyncio to PyPI, along with most new feature development. “We should embrace PyPI,” she exhorted. Some ecosystems such as Javascript rely too much on packages, she conceded, but there are others like Rust that have small standard libraries and high-quality package repositories. She thinks that Python should move farther in that direction.

Van Rossum argued instead that if the Twisted team wants the ecosystem to evolve, they should stop supporting older Python versions and force users to upgrade. Brown acknowledged this point, but said half of Twisted users are still on Python 2 and it is difficult to abandon them. The debate at this point became personal for Van Rossum, and he left angrily.

What do all these problems mean? Really, what’s happening now is that Python is popular enough that it has to evolve to shiny new features in Python 3 (and a shiny new steering committee) and is being used everywhere in the latest hotness, from deep learning to cloud computing. This is the first head of the caduceus: looking forward.

But, the language is still very much bound by the rules and history of its past successes: Python 2, and its creator, Guido, whose time, energy, devotion, and passion, have made the language what it has become to date. This is the second head of the caduceus – the technical debt and the ecosystem of users who are now still stuck in migration limbo.

Which of the two should the ecosystem tackle as a priority? Should they clean up all backwards compatibility first? (that would be PEP 594, “removing dead batteries from the standard library”) Should they focus on moving everyone over to the new features?

The caduceus, for now, and as many open-source endeavors driven by lots of volunteers with lots of opinions, seems to be bent on moving forward, but still carrying the weight of Python 2 on its back with every Python 3 decision it’s trying to make.

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