Notes from a 1984 Tech Talk About Programming Languages

February 12, 2019 Posted by Programming 0 thoughts on “Notes from a 1984 Tech Talk About Programming Languages”


Sometimes we’re so wrapped up in the present and future and don’t take time to remember the past. Today’s popular programming languages will become tomorrow’s ancient languages, collecting dust. For some who still use Fortran or Cobol, to think that these languages were “hip” back in 1984 must feel like going back a thousand years ago. Well, I went back in the past and took some notes.

1. The Compupro System 8/16 was something to behold back in the day, floppy disks and all.

2. Languages were specialized into contexts.

  • Fortran: science/ math software
  • Cobol: business software.
  • Logo: education software

80’s UI was not too shabby

3. Personal Cobol was a concept that aimed to allow those who weren’t tech savvy to create UI without code–like the 80’s version of Wix and Squarespace. The user could even generate Cobol code from the template.

A UI designer somewhere is probably cringing looking at this form.

4. Pascal, as a general purpose language was used, in the classroom setting just as C++ and Python are used today.

5. Have you ever heard of Forth? This was supposed to be a high level language that could be used to build software applications that run smoothly. Yet, during the presentation, the woman admitted, after being questioned by the brilliant Gary Kildall, that quite a bit of Assembly Language was used to optimize the speed of the animation in her presentation. So much for a super fast high level language.

As good as graphics gets in the 80’s

6. The presenter of the show finally says to Dave Eisenberg, a senior software engineer at Apple, “Dave, are there always going to be all these different languages or are they going to merge into a smaller number?”

My answer as a person from the future: “No, never.”

7. One of the best points made in the video was by Eisenberg who said,

“When you discuss languages it almost becomes like a religious argument. But really a language is just a tool. It’s like arguing, well, which one is better: a hammer or a screwdriver? You tell me what you want to do with it and I’ll tell you which one is better.”

8. Basic used to be the defacto language for casual programmers. It was inherited from Fortran and was only designed for basic purposes. Pun intended.

9. Logo was a language for kids before Swift Playground.

This game was built by a 13 year old using Logo.

10. Darn, they don’t make shows like this anymore.

Watch The Talk


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