Python's change in leadership

Shedding Its Skin

Article from ADMIN 52/2019
Guido van Rossum discusses Python's origin story, changes in leadership, and the future of the project.

I sat down with Python creator Guido van Rossum for a lively discussion of Python history and the future of the Python project.

"I don't know how much this is like a revisionist origin story, but the story I always tell is I was working as a programmer on a project named Amoeba [1], which was a distributed system," said Guido.

Amoeba was a micro kernel-based system. It's still famous in research circles. Amoeba resulted in a lot of good new ideas and a lot of Ph.D.s and papers. The famed Andrew S. Tanenbaum [2] was also involved in the project, and all of his Ph.D. students basically created parts of Amoeba.

Guido was just a programmer and they were using a very primitive Amoeba cluster, which the team had built out of MicroVAX machines. "We wanted to actually prove that Amoeba could be used for a programmer's day-to-day use. We wanted to develop a suite of applications or simple utilities that would be the equivalent of the standard Unix utilities in the Amoeba world," he said.

One of Amoeba's hang-ups was that it was not like Unix. The team had to write its own login application and filesystem and build its own backup tool.

Guido was part of a small team that was writing those applications, after the core of the operating system kernel had been implemented by the other team composed of Ph.D. students.

Guido was fed up because they had only two programming languages to use. "You could write your application either in C or as a shell script. It was like some kind of crufty port of the Unix v7 shell, which was not as powerful as shell scripting should be," he said.

The dilemma was that if you didn't want to do it as a shell script, you had to write a full-fledged C program with all sorts of issues. "If you wanted to read the lines from a file, you had to implement your own I/O

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