Dave Horsfall <dave@horsfall.org> wrote:

We lost computer pioneer John Backus on this day in 2007; amongst other 
things he gave us FORTRAN (yuck!) and BNF, which is ironic, really, 
because FORTRAN has no syntax to speak of.

I think of FORTRAN as having established the very idea of high-level programming languages. For example, John McCarthy’s first idea for what became LISP was to extend FORTRAN with function subroutines written in assembly language for list-manipulation. (He had to give up on this idea when he realized a conditional expression operator wouldn’t work correctly since both the then-expression and the else-expression would be evaluated before the condition was tested.) The original FORTRAN compiler pioneered code optimization, generating code good enough for the users at the physics labs and aerospace companies. For more on this compiler, see:


Disclosure: I worked with John in the 1970s (on functional programming) — see:

http://www.mcjones.org/dustydecks/archives/2007/04/01/60/ .

Paul McJones