History of languages: 1980s – super freaky!

Prior to the 1980s, language development was often constrained by hardware, and memory specifications. The advent of standardized platforms such as the 8088-based system, had made languages easier to implement, and spread. The 1980s were the age of the personal computer, and languages who were to survive would have to encompass this new reality. By the 1980s, structured programming had become the new norm. BASIC continued to coalesce its grip on programming.

The largest change was the introduction of OO, or object-oriented programming. Although the ideology had first revealed itself in Simula, way back in 1967, data evolved into objects. Smalltalk 80 was the first major development along the OO path in the 1980s (although Smalltalk itself appeared in 1972). Bjarne Stroustroup developed extensions to C known as “C With Classes” which developed into the full-featured language C++, which was first released in 1983. It was the first true “decedent” of C – an object-oriented descendant that is.

Ada appeared in 1983, designed by a team led by Jean Ichbiah of CII Honeywell Bull. Ada was named after Ada Lovelace , who is often credited with being the first computer programmer. Ada was originally targeted at embedded and real-time systems, and is still commonly used for those purposes. It was targeted at embedded, and real-time systems. Because Ada is a stongly-typed language, it has been used outside the military in commercial aviation projects, where a software bug can mean fatalities. The fly-by-wire system in the Boeing 777 runs software written in Ada.

In 1987 Larry Wall developed Perl (Practical Extraction and Reporting Language), because the text manipulation tools available such as sed and awk were not strong enough. Perl has often been described as the “duct tape of the Internet”, because it is most often used as the engine for a web interface or in scripts that modify configuration files. It has very strong text matching functions.

The 1980s also saw the popularity of some languages increase through the family of Turbo languages produced by Borland. This new generation of languages came in a complete development environment, making programming easier: Turbo Pascal, Turbo C, Turbo BASIC (and even Turbo Prolog). While Pascal had gone mainstream (at least for teaching purposes), Niklaus Wirth introduced Modula, its apparent successor in 1980. Modula was based around the idea of interacting modules somewhat similar in concept to OO, such as data hiding and encapsulation.

By the end of the 1980s, the true language winners were likely C++, and BASIC. C had been relegated somewhat to systems level programming, and in the world of business, nothing had changed – Cobol evolved to Cobol 85, and 60 features were changed or deprecated. Major changes included scope terminators (e.g. END-IF), nested subprograms, and a switch-like statement EVALUATE. Work was also underway on a major revision of Fortran, to be known as Fortran 90. Modula-2 never really made headway, evolving to Modula-3 in 1989, and disappearing in the 1990s.


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