(j3.2006) (SC22WG5.3437) John Backus 1924-2007

Dick Hendrickson dick.hendrickson
Mon Mar 19 22:35:05 EDT 2007

I saw this on comp.lang.fortran today

Dick Hendrickson


'John W. Backus, who assembled and led the I.B.M. team that created
Fortran, the first widely used programming language, which helped open
the door to modern computing, died on Saturday at his home in Ashland,
Ore. He was 82.'


'Fortran changed the terms of communication between humans and
computers, moving up a level to a language that was more
comprehensible by humans. So Fortran, in computing vernacular, is
considered the first successful higher-level language.

Mr. Backus and his youthful team, then all in their 20s and 30s,
devised a programming language that resembled a combination of English
shorthand and algebra. Fortran, short for Formula Translator, was very
similar to the algebraic formulas that scientists and engineers used
in their daily work. With some training, they were no longer dependent
on a programming priesthood to translate their science and engineering
problems into a language a computer would understand.

In an interview several years ago, Ken Thompson, who developed the
Unix operating system at Bell Labs in 1969, observed that "95 percent
of the people who programmed in the early years would never have done
it without Fortran."

He added: "It was a massive step."

Fortran was also extremely efficient, running as fast as programs
painstakingly hand-coded by the programming elite, who worked in
arcane machine languages. This was a feat considered impossible before
Fortran. It was achieved by the masterful design of the Fortran
compiler, a program that captures the human intent of a program and
recasts it in a way that a computer can process.'

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