Packet Rat: The Rat cuddles up to a snake

The Rat

Michael J. Bechetti

With the throngs jamming the Washington Convention Center for FOSE 2004, even the Rat'an experienced conduit crawler'was getting just a tad claustrophobic.

The trade show reminded him of nightmares he had as a ratling, of being plucked from the comfort of his mother's lab cage as the next entree for the python down the hall.

'This is like Comdex, but with actual people,' a friend of the furry one remarked as they rooted through their bags of loot like kids on Halloween night.

The Rat nodded in agreement. 'My personal space has been violated so many times today, I feel like I need a no-fly zone,' he sighed. 'At least I can use my connections and get us some breathing room in the press conference area.'

Having mastered bad timing some time ago, the Rat slid into the pressroom just as Sun Microsystems CEO Scott McNealy was finishing his post-keynote remarks. As the Rat heard McNealy answer the question about open-sourcing Java, the furry one felt a need to find his happy place.

He found it, ironically, where lots of people were talking about Python'not the constrictor, mind you, but the open-source programming language. Over at George Washington University, the cyberrodent took tech refuge at PyCon, organized and run by volunteers from the Python software community.

And it was just what the frazzled Rat needed'a crowd of about 300, a college setting, lots of projector screens filled with illegible lines of code (readily available over the GWU conference center's wireless network for up-close viewing) and an opportunity to soak in the gooey goodness of unadulterated geekhood.

While it has been slithering in the shadows of more over-hyped languages like Java and Microsoft's C#, Python is a favorite of the Linux set. Opsware, Marc Andreessen's new company, wrote the first version of its enterprise system configuration management software in Python; Lotus founder Mitch Kapor's Open Source Application Foundation is writing its collaboration software, Chandler, in Python as well.

And the open-source language has been evolving all the while. There's a version that can run on the Java Virtual Machine, called Jython, and another in the works that will run even faster on Microsoft .Net and Mono, the open-source version of the .Net framework being driven by Novell's Miguel de Icaza.

Python's cross-platform chops and devout developers remind the Rat of early Java. But Python is a whole lot easier to learn and use.

The Rat has been toying with Python. He tried prototyping his spam filter with it but found it had a few small conceptual problems: It deleted almost everything from outside of the .gov and .mil top-level domains. But he hadn't thought about the language's full potential much. As he ate a sandwich from the buffet line among the happy horde of codeheads, he had a realization.

'If McNealy doesn't open-source Java, he'd better be careful,' the furry one surmised. 'Otherwise, Python might just bite his ...'

The Packet Rat once managed networks but now spends his time ferreting out bad packets in cyberspace. E-mail him at rat@postnewsweektech.com.

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