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Why Learn Python?

written by: Dr. Crystal Cooper•edited by: Michele McDonough•updated: 6/4/2010

Python is a powerful open source, object oriented programming language. It has overtaken Perl in terms of programming popularity for the web. This article looks at some of the reasons why this is so.

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    Python Overtakes Perl?

    You can imagine my astonishment when I first learned of this development.The Race  I have been programming in Perl for many years, and even use it as part of my research. I am also familiar with its heavy use in fields such as bioinformatics.

    However, Tiobe announced that Python has not only jumped in popularity, but has even surpassed Perl. Python is now the reigning glue of the web, and its usage continues to grow steadily.

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    What is Python?

    Python is an open source programing language developed in 1990 by Guido van Rossum. It is very stable, object-oriented, and is cross-platform.

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    Why Python?

    Python is very popular for several reasons.

    • Python is easy to learn. The philosophy behind its development is that there should not be any shortcuts or tricks that would obscure program writing, operation, or maintenance.
    • Python is quick. It compiles and executes faster than many languages, including C++ and Java.
    • Python is flexible. You can use it with just about any language and you can use it with many frameworks. Examples are IronPython, which is a .Net implementation, and JPython, which integrates the language with Java.

    Item number one is the main reason why Perl is not attracting as many new users as Python. What with its myriad ways of coding the same line, its terseness and its notorious regular expressions, Perl has a large - and some think scary - learning curve. It's not unusual for even very experienced developers to have difficulty figuring out someone else's code.

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    Examples of Python Use


    Alice is a virtual reality educational program which uses 3d technology to teach students object-oriented programming languages such as Java or C++. It has quite a cult following. One of it's founders is the late Dr. Randy Pausch, who gave the famous speech "The Last Lecture". Alice 1.0 was Python, and it is now Java in its present incarnation, but many Alice developers script using Python. maintains a list of the uses of Python in education .


    A very popular math software program, ClawPack, uses Python. There is even an article on on its usage in reproducible research . In reproducible research, all of the details in computations, including data and code, are made available for everyone to see and use.


    Zope, a popular user friendly web content managment system, is written in Python.

    Not to worry folks, Perl is here to stay. It has a large legacy code base, and people will always be attracted to its way of condensing what in another program would be several lines of code into a one line, elegant solution.

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    Why Python?

    The best place to start is with the official website, Here, you can download the software and obtain documentation and tutorials, and there are sections aimed at beginners and advanced programmers. Extra goodies include lists of events, jobs, and community groups.

    For Perl users who wish to learn Python, Xah's Perl and Python Tutorial is a quick way to catch up on the basics. Perl code is included in the same section, allowing you to do a comparison between the two languages.

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    Python in a Nutshell by Alex Martelli