in Software

John Backus, RIP

While we associate the older programming languages — and business models — with the old economy, John Soat writing in InformationWeek reminds us everything old is new again…

John Backus died. Backus, 82, was the originator of the Fortran computer programming language. Generally considered the first high-level language, Fortran was a lot easier to use than the machine code computer programmers had to wrestle with before Fortran came along. “Much of my work has come from being lazy,” Backus was quoted as saying. The logic of that statement is breathtaking, and makes him one of my personal heroes.

Fortran is still being used today, 53 years after its inception. And why did Fortran become such a widespread standard? Because it was free–as in free beer. IBM gave away the Fortran compiler with every IBM 704 mainframe computer, which was how software was distributed in those days. Free.