"Count what is countable. Measure what is measureable. What is not measureable, make measureable." -- Galileo

Thursday, October 11, 2007

PHP and Python Beauty Contest

This morning I thought I'd like to make some observations about Allan Benamer's comment, to wit: "I think that PHP is adopted over Python because PHP IS better for whatever reason. I think there is a wisdom to the masses."

While there is evidence that crowds converge on useful optima, many's the time I've watched groups settle on a sub-optimal solution for basically historical reasons. Re: Software examples, my favorite is the prevalence of MS Word, which has high usage largely due to its tight coupling with Windows. Ask a professional word processor who is fluent in a number of systems and you'll hear them rave about WordPerfect. Heck, back in the 80s Sandia National Laboratories homed in on Mass-11 (Mass who?) as their idea of the best word processor when WordPerfect 4.0 was available.

But perhaps the best all-time example of mass convergence on a seriously sub-optimal solution for accidental reasons is the keyboard I'm typing on--QWERTY. Dvorak keyboards are known to be faster and less error prone, but QWERTY takes the day, not because in any sense it is better, but because it was an earlier standard probably built to deal with jammed letters. Had any jammed keys on your computer lately?

Back to Benamer, PHP is not necessarily better, but it is manifestly more popular. My first thoughts on the matter (at 4:18 AM, so I may recant this by the clear light of day) is that PHP is tightly linked to Perl-like programming mindsets, while Python gets people to move into different paradigms, which may be uncomfortable.

Another thought is that like Word vs WordPerfect, Drupal vs Plone comparisons are missing the fact that Word has a different underlying framework--hide the codes--while WordPerfect is a fully transparent show the codes system. I think something like that is going on with CMS these days.

One place where I see PHP making hay is in the free hosting realm. You have to really look to find a free Zope/Plone host, while there are many servers out there that will let you have a basic LAMP site for nothing. That's slowly changing and as costs for servers, RAM, and drive space all come down (meaning capacities go up), Plone's heavier footprint becomes less of a matter.

That said, I should mention that a couple of my CSF students took off and set up Zope/Plone on their home machines, configured their routers to deal with Comcast correctly, and are now hosting Plone-driven personal sites off their home systems. Enfold's Windows installer makes the installation trivial.

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