Named irreverently after the cult 1970s comedy program Monty Python's Flying Circus by it's author Guido Van Rossum, Python was first released in 1991. Python is a scripting language which combines ideas from many other languages, including C, Perl and Java. It is an object oriented language. Python itself is written in C.
Python was designed to be powerful, easy to program, and easy to read. The language contains fewer symbols and more English keywords than other languages. The aim is for clear, readable source code. Simplicity is a virtue for the Python community. It contrasts sharply with Perl, which uses a plethora of symbols in it's code and has a reputation for poor readability.
Another advantage of the readable format of Python code is that it tends to be more uniform. There is less scope for different coding "styles". This is a topic programmers love to debate. Sometimes even in a heated fashion. Python means programmers who have to change code written in the past by another programmer no longer have to complain about an alien coding style.
The core Python language is intentionally kept small. Python includes the Python Standard library which makes writing applications easier. Like Java, Python's range of library modules is extensive. The library covers a wide range of different library modules (e.g. file handling, database handling, internet, encryption etc) written in either C or Python.
Python can be extended using C or C++ code. As mentioned above, some library modules are written in C (usually to make that module run faster as Python is a fair bit slower than C). C or C++ code can be called from Python. Conversely, C and C++ programs can call Python code.
Python is commonly used for web applications. Web frameworks (which make it easier to produce and maintain web sites) such as Zope, Turbogears and Django also use Python. Some major sites such as Google, YouTube and Yahoo! now use Python.
Python is also becoming the popular scripting language of choice. For administration of systems Python is replacing shell scripting and Perl scripting. Because Python performance for most uses is reasonable (it tends to be slightly slower than Perl) and the script code is easier to follow than either shell scripts or Perl scripts.