Free to Choose ebook deal reveals the programmer zeitgeist

Allen Noren, who runs, including all our online e-commerce, sent around a list of the top titles resulting from our Free to Choose Cyber-Monday promotion. I was so struck by the titles on the list that I thought I’d like to share it more widely. While it’s clearly a self-selected list — the people who order directly from O’Reilly are more likely to be our core audience of cutting edge “alpha geeks,” while people who buy in stores are more likely to buy consumer titles like the Missing Manuals — it still gives a fascinating view of what’s on the minds of that audience today.

Here’s the list:

Here are a few of the things that jump out at me:

  • Python and JavaScript have become the foundational languages for developers. We have been watching these languages for some time. HTML5 and node.js make Javascript even more important for web developers, while Python has a large following in data science. It’s particularly interesting, and important, that using Python to collect data from sensors (“Real World Instrumentation with Python“) made it onto the list.
  • The “big data” themes we’ve been sounding in conferences like Strata are resonating in our publishing business, as six of the top titles focus on data science. The rise of data science, coupled with the rise in data entrepreneurship, may well be the most important trend in computing.
  • HTML5 matters. HTML5, coupled with JavaScript, turns the browser into a full-fledged application platform that spans everything from phones to tablets to desktops. It is the big web story for the next few years. The only question is whether some sort of “embrace and extend” strategy will harm portability and lead us back into browser-dependency hell.
  • Microsoft and Adobe aren’t going away any time soon. It’s easy to write both companies off: Microsoft for losing ground to Apple in the consumer audio, phone, and laptop markets, and Adobe for being banned from Apple’s mobile devices. But they’ve both proven extremely adaptable. Microsoft’s Kinect shows they can still produce a winner, and their quick turnabout on hacking Kinect demonstrates an agility that is rare even in much smaller companies. Adobe quickly made alliances with Google, and is developing tools to generate HTML5 from Flash.

It’s no surprise that these themes are related: HTML5 drives the importance of JavaScript, big data drives the importance of Python, and both are driving the changes to which Microsoft and Adobe are reacting.

Would love to hear your thoughts.

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