Open source object-oriented programming language Python hit a new milestone Tuesday with the official release of Python 2.4.

The latest version of the scripting language includes a list of bug fixes and feature improvements. Principal among them is the speed of the language itself.

According to the release notes, developers recoded a number of Python 2.3 modules for version 2.4, and added "speedups" to the interpreter.

The creator of the Python language, Guido van Rossum, told he considers the 2.4 release to be a significant milestone in the evolution of Python.

Version 2.4 "is not as revolutionary as 2.2 (which brought a complete overhaul of the object system and how classes are implemented), but it rocks the boat more than 2.3 which was mostly a stability upgrade for the new features introduced in 2.2," he said.

Van Rossum singled out generator expressions as one of the key new features. These are similar to list comprehensions, but instead of producing all values in a list container, they implement a form of lazy evaluation that produces values one at a time when they are requested. (For Unix/Linux users, this is like pipes vs. temporary files.)

Python 2.4 also includes a new module for implementing decimal floating point arithmetic.

"Unlike the standard binary floating point numbers, this package can represent decimal fractions exactly, which is extremely important for representing money," van Rossum said.

One change in Python 2.4 wasn't without controversy in the Python community: the decorator syntax alterations sparked a "flame war" among Python users.

"It's another example of the Python developers focusing on trivial syntax changes rather than addressing serious problems with the standard library," Allen Short, Python user and community member, told

Python's creator knows that it was controversial but noted that it is going to make those who need it very happy, even though others (who don't) might hate its esthetics. "I expect they'll soon get used to it," van Rossum said.

Although van Rossum created the language in 1990, Python (whose name derives from the comedy group Monty Python's Flying Circus) is currently managed by the non-profit Python Software Foundation. It is licensed under the Python open source license. It is often compared to other open source languages, such as Tcl , Ruby and Perl , as well as Java (currently not open source).

A great deal of Python's popularity is fueled by the popularity of the projects that utilize the language. The Python Web site itself is headlined with a quote from Google noting that Python has been an important part of the search engine since its beginning.

"Every morning I see the announcements on comp.lang.python.announce of new projects using Python and the depth and breadth of the projects is incredible," van Rossum said. "In the development world we see an influx of new, highly capable developers, giving me great hopes for the quality of future releases."

Python 2.4 is available for both *nix and Windows versions. Of particular note to Windows users: the new release now utilizes a Microsoft Installer (.msi) file for installation which allows for automated installation.