Monday, October 15, 2012

Happy Birthday, Fortran!

Freedom has meaning beyond the political or economic interpretation.  In programming, it sometimes refers to release from the drudgery of architecture-specific code. 

A Wired article reminds us that on October 15, 1956 a small team of software engineers at IBM led by John Backus published the first Fortran manual.  As the manual states,

Higher-level languages like Fortran revolutionized computing, making it possible to do in hours or days what took weeks or months to accomplish using only the native language of the hardware.

My first programming job was writing Fortran programs for data reduction of transonic wind tunnel tests.  The target computer was an IBM 1800, sometimes referred to as a mini-computer.  Before the 1800 and before Fortran two sharp programmers in the wind tunnel facility coded on a Burroughs Datatron using that machine's language.  Once the switch to Fortran and the 1800 were made, productivity rose astronomically. 

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