[TUHS] History of popularity of C

Tyler Adams coppero1237 at gmail.com
Fri May 22 19:51:43 AEST 2020

Awesome, looks like my theory was completely wrong. Here's what it looks
like to me, please correct me as needed.

C's popularity has 2 distinct phases.

1972-1987 Unix drove C. Writing a functional PCC for a particular
architecture was easy, but not unusually so compared to other languages at
the time.

1987- gcc made C uniquely free to compile, so people chose to write C
because it was free and already popular.

Perl also came out in 1987, and afaik that was always free, but C still
took off because there was so much room for multiple languages.

So, now Im curious about embedded systems. In my limited experience, every
"embedded system" I programmed for from 2002-2011 had C as its primary
language. After 2011, I stopped programming embedded systems, so I don't
know after that. Why was C so dominant in this space? Is it because adding
a backend to gcc was free, C was already well known, and C was sufficiently


On Fri, May 22, 2020, 11:53 Tom Ivar Helbekkmo <tih at hamartun.priv.no> wrote:

> Noel Chiappa <jnc at mercury.lcs.mit.edu> writes:
> > I suspect the real reason for C's sucess was the nature of the language.
> > When I first saw it (ca. 1976), it struck me as a quantum improvement
> over
> > its contemporaries.
> Paul Graham expressed it like this:
> "It seems to me that there have been two really clean, consistent
> models of programming so far: the C model and the Lisp model. These
> two seem points of high ground, with swampy lowlands between them."
> -tih
> --
> Most people who graduate with CS degrees don't understand the significance
> of Lisp.  Lisp is the most important idea in computer science.  --Alan Kay
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