Wednesday, March 25, 2015

For Microsoft, Python support extends far beyond Windows installers

You might have known that Python's 1.0 release came at the start of 1994, but did you know Microsoft shipped its Merchant Server 1.0 product built on Python only a few years later in 1996? Microsoft, this year's Keystone sponsor, has long been a user and supporter of Python, with a history of use within build and test infrastructure and individual users all around the company. There are even a few lawyers writing Python code.

In 2006 they introduced the world to IronPython, a .NET runtime for Python, and later the excellent Python Tools for Visual Studio plug-in in 2011. They continue to release Python code, as it's "a must-have language for any team that releases developer kits or libraries, especially for services on Azure that can be used from any operating system," according to Steve Dower, a developer on Microsoft's Python Tools team.

"Python has very strong cross-platform support, which is absolutely critical these days," says Steve. "It’s very attractive for our users to literally be able to 'write once-run anywhere.'

"The breadth of the community is also very attractive, especially the support for scientific use," he continued. Microsoft has been a significant donor to the Jupyter project (formerly IPython) as well as a platinum sponsor of the NumFOCUS Foundation.

Along with supporting those projects, they have also been providing MSDN subscriptions to the core Python team to assist with development and testing on Windows. Beyond supporting the existing developers, they've jumped in the ring themselves as one of the few companies to employ developers working on CPython itself. "Python has done an amazing job of working well on Windows, and we hope that by taking an active involvement we can push things along further," offers Steve, whose work includes being a core developer on the CPython project.

Steve's CPython work has focused around Windows issues, including an improved installer for 3.5. Additionally, the team was able to come up with a special package for Python users: Microsoft Visual C++ Compiler for Python 2.7. Due to Python 2.7 being built on the Visual C++ 2008 runtime, which is no longer supported, they created this package to provide the necessary tools and headers to continue building extension modules for Python 2.7, which will live through at least 2020 as was announced at last year's language summit.

Along with efforts on Python itself, they're hard at work on improving tooling for the upcoming Visual Studio 2015 and Python 3.5 releases. "Practically everything we do will integrate with Visual Studio in some way," says Steve of Python Tools for Visual Studio. "PTVS has been free and open-source from day one, and combined with Visual Studio Community Edition makes for a powerful, free multi-lingual IDE."

As for what's next with PTVS, Steve says, "we try and be responsive to the needs of our users, and we are an open-source project that accepts contributions, so there’s always a chance that the next amazing feature won’t even come from our team. We've also recently joined forces with the Azure Machine Learning team and are looking forward to adding more data science tooling as well.

"We want new and experienced developers alike to have the best tools, the best libraries, the best debugging and the best services without having to give up Linux support, Visual Studio, CPython, git, or whatever tools they’ve already integrated into their workflow."

When it comes to PyCon, they see it as "a learning opportunity for Microsoft, as well as a chance for us to show off some of the work we’ve been doing." "For those of us at Microsoft who always knew how great the Python community is, it’s also been great to bring our colleagues and show them.

"We love that PyCon is about building and diversifying the community, and not about sales, marketing and business deals," says Steve. If you head to their booth in the expo hall, you'll find out first hand that they're there to talk about code and building great things. They're looking forward to showing off some great new demos and have exciting new things to talk about.

The PyCon organizers thank Microsoft for another year of sponsorship and look forward to another great conference!

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