Computer Programming History

To fully understand computer history, it is also necessary to understand the computer programming history. The history of computer programming contains many types of programming languages and some of the best computer programming languages of today have evolved from them.

As there are a couple thousand computer programming languages, below is a basic programming language history so you have a general idea of its evolution.

Computer Programming History: Where It All Started

One cannot successfully discuss computer programming history without mentioning the grandfather of all programming languages: FORTRAN. It stands for FORmula TRANslation and was developed by IBM in 1957, lead by John Backus. FORTRAN was mainly used for scientific purposes. Strangely enough, it is still widely used in scientific and industrial programming, despite being over 40 years old.

Over in the field of Artificial Intelligence at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, another important programming language developed was called LISP. LISP stands for LISt Processing.

Computer Programming History: The Next Generation

Now things start picking up a bit. In the history years from 1959 to 1964, second generation computers were built based on transistors and printed circuits as opposed to vacuum tubes as in the prior generation. As a result, computers were much smaller and more powerful and could handle such new languages as COBOL (COmmon Business-Oriented Language). COBOL was developed by Grace Murray Hopper and its primary used was for business, finance, administrative systems and governments.

At about this time, ALGOL (ALGOrithmic Language) also hit the scene and was designed specifically for programming scientific computations. Although its development started in the 1950’s, it was formalized in the early 1960’s. ALGOLs claim to fame was that is was a more structured programming language, giving the ability to program in blocks or segments of code. Additionally, it was the first programming language to be machine independent (at this time, programming languages were tightly coupled (highly dependent) on the computer being programmed.)

Another programming language at this time was APL, which stands for “A Programming Language” and was developed in the 1960’s at IBM by Ken Iverson and colleagues. Mathematically inspired, its main purpose was to serve as a powerful programming language for mathematical algorithms.

Computer Programming History: The Third Generation

Between 1964 and 1972 was the “Third Generation” computer era. They were based on the first integrated circuits, creating even smaller and faster machines.

At the beginning of this era, PL/1 (Programming Language One) was developed by IBM and was designed for scientific, engineering and business applications. The goal of PL/1 was to develop a single language usable for both business and scientific purposes. Its language format was English-like and was suited for describing complex data formats, with a rich set of functions to manipulate them.

A little later, about 1970, came the introduction of PASCAL. It was developed by Nicklaus Wirth and has its roots in ALGOL. (By the way, unlike almost all other programming languages, PASCAL is not an acronym. It was named after French mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal.) Aside from being a very efficient language, PASCAL was to used teach good programming practices using structured programming and data structuring. This means that the language and the data can be segmented into logical parts that make up a complete workable and maintainable program.

One of the most significant periods in computer programming history was the development of ‘C’. ‘C’ is a general-purpose programming language developed in 1972 by Dennis Richie at Bell Telephone Laboratories. Its purpose was to implement the new machine-independent UNIX operating system. Although an excellent system programming language, ‘C’ is also widely used today to develop application software and is the first or second most popular language used today.

So now, about the mid-1970’s, we arrive at a language called BASIC, which stands for (here goes…) Beginners All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code. Actually, the original BASIC language was designed in 1964 by John George Kemeny and Thomas Eugene Kurtz at Dartmouth in New Hampshire, USA.

The purpose of BASIC was to provide a simple general-purpose programming language that was easy for beginners to use and yet advanced enough for experts.

In 1975, a company called MITS, released Altair BASIC, developed by college dropouts Bill Gates (uh…who?) and Paul Allen as the company Micro-Soft (By the way, here’s a perfect example of not needing formal training to be successful – just some knowledge and a will to succeed.)

Over the next several years, there have been many versions or dialects of BASIC including BASICA, GW-BASIC, QuickBASIC, Turbo BASIC and AmigaBASIC just to name a few.

But more recently (within the past 10 years), a new generation of BASIC has emerged, developed by Microsoft, called Visual Basic (VB). Visual Basic is a third-generation, event-driven (computer instructions activated from a mouse click or key press) programming language. VB is widely used today and considered a relatively easy to learn programming language because of its graphical development features and BASIC heritage.

And Finally…

Computer Programming History: Object-Oriented Programming

In the early 1980’s, one of the most significant advances in programming is the introduction of Object-Oriented Programming (OOP). Up to this point, programming languages have been procedural-type programming. In very simple terms, procedural programming has one segment of data and one segment of code (instructions) that operate on that data. Object-Oriented Programming is a way of programming that deals with “Objects”. An Object contains its own data and code segment. There can be many Objects in an Object-Oriented program, each having its own function. This style compartments various tasks and makes programming very simple, flexible and maintainable.

A major incorporation of the Object-Oriented programming style was the development of C++, an extension of the C language.

About a decade later, a language called Java was developed by James Gosling at Sun Microsystems. Much of its format was derived from C and C++ but had a more simple approach.

Continuing along the C evolutionary line, C# (pronounced C Sharp) was developed by Microsoft. It was originally named Cool, which stood for “C-Like Object Oriented Language.” However, in 2000, when Microsoft made the project public, it was renamed to C# for trademark reasons. Its lead architect at Microsoft was Anders Hejlsberg. Hejlsberg had been involved in the development of many previous computer languages. C# was his solution to the shortcomings of those prior languages. C# is intended to be a simple, modern, general-purpose, object-oriented programming language.

Further Research Recommendations

It should be mentioned here that the basic programming language history mentioned above is not the complete list of computer languages ever developed (There are actually over 2500). These are the major ones that show how computer programming languages have evolved.

If you are interested in a free timeline poster of computer programming history, which shows many, if not all, of these languages then download poster of computer programming history.

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