By Howard Dyckoff
This article is excerpted from Spectrum: Interactive Media & Online Developer News (28 March 2000), edited by David Duberman.
Several hundred developers from the U.S. and around the world gathered in San Jose last week for the millennial installment of the leading conference for software geeks. They basked in the light of Pure Java and got down with XML as a key ingredient for e-commerce. They also got a large dose of Python -- an 8-year-old scripting language that is fast becoming a favorite of the developer set.
Java sessions were common as Java has matured and is now the lingua franca of the Internet. What was more interesting was how Java was being applied to a wide variety of problems and scenarios. The mating of Java with XML (to do really useful things easily) was also a common note and many sessions displayed code samples showing how this is best accomplished.
But it was the scope of Python at the conference that was truly striking. There were Python sessions every day and a short tutorial before the opening of the conference. There were Python BOFs and Python panels. But Python was also discussed in other sessions and speakers were generally approving. Why?
Because Python has the utility of Perl and the elegance of Java. Because Python fully follows the object-oriented model and, also importantly, because Python enforces writing style and Python code is easily read by mere mortals.
Early on, after completing a three-day tutorial on Intermediate Java, Bruce Eckel -- author of the Thinking in Java and Thinking in C++ books -- told developers at an evening Java session that he was using Python almost exclusively because "I'm 5 to 10 times more productive." Eckel maintained that he could do the design and prototyping phases together in less time than the design phase alone in either Java or C++, leaving more time for debugging and finishing the details of an application. Jpython, a variant written entirely in Java, can read and execute Java classes, allowing faster, simpler coding for sample applications.
Another surprise at the conference was the near-absence of Microsoft. Only a few speakers attended and a whole track on Windows 2000 was canceled. Other vendors stepped into the gap, among them Hewlett-Packard, which ran a full day of short technical sessions, including one on speeding up the Java Virtual Machine by factors of 4 to 11 with minor tweaks and good coding practice.
Power panels and thoughtful keynotes brought insights about the future of software development and how this could effect the future of computing. Luminaries such as Bjorne Stroustrup (designer of C++) and Guido Van Rossum (designer of Python) gave their personal visions of that future and tips on good programming as well. Cliff Stoll, author of The Cuckoo's Egg and Silicon Snake Oil, told us why too much technology isn't good for us. (But at least Cliff is funny ...)
Most exhibitors were selling tools -- code libraries, program extensions, version control, and so on. But the most useful item was in a category of its own: VMware. This is like a mini-operating system that lets you host other operating systems. This allows you to have all the variations of Windows and Linux installed and even running simultaneously on your computer (if you have enough disk and RAM). This should be indispensable to any serious media developer. Version 2 of VMware is now available.
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