The development of FORTRAN I

Stumbled upon this link from an old bookmark.

The first FORTRAN compiler was a milestone in the history of computing,
at that time computers had very small memories (on the order of 15KB,
it was common then to count memory capacities in bits), they were slow
and had very primitive operating systems (if they had them at all).
At those days it seemed that the only practical way is to program in
assembly language.

The pioneers of FORTRAN didn’t invent the idea of writing programs in a
High Level Language (HLL) and compiling the source code to object code
with an optimizing compiler, but they produced the first successful HLL.
They designed an HLL that is still widely used, and an optimizing compiler
that produced very efficient code, in fact the FORTRAN I compiler held
the record for optimizing code for 20 years!

This wonderful first FORTRAN compiler was designed and written from
scratch in 1954-57 by an IBM team lead by John W. Backus and staffed with
super-programmers like Sheldon F. Best, Harlan Herrick, Peter Sheridan,
Roy Nutt, Robert Nelson, Irving Ziller, Richard Goldberg, Lois Haibt
and David Sayre. By the way, Backus was also system co-designer of the
computer that run the first compiler, the IBM 704.

The new invention caught quickly, no wonder, programs computing nuclear
power reactor parameters took now hours instead of weeks to write, and
required much less programming skill. Another great advantage of the new
invention was that programs now became portable. Fortran won the battle
against Assembly language, the first in a series of battles to come,
and was adopted by the scientific and military communities and used
extensively in the Space Program and military projects.

The phenomenal success of the FORTRAN I team, can be attributed in part
to the friendly non-authoritative group climate. Another factor may be
that IBM management had the sense to shelter and protect the group,
even though the project took much more time than was first anticipated.

Interesting, read the complete article here

And while you are at it, don’t miss reading the FORTRAN SAGA


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