Home > Articles

Other Languages Through the Years

After FORTRAN and COBOL gained ground, there was no turning back the software industry. Languages began appearing all over the place. Companies would develop their own in-house programming languages that, supposedly, supported their environment better than the big two languages, FORTRAN and COBOL.

So many languages began appearing that the programming community started becoming fragmented, wallowing in the sheer number of possibilities, unable to decide which language was the best to use for any given project. At least, that was the scenario that IBM saw when it decided to create "the only programming language anyone would ever need." IBM saw (or tried to create, there is debate today, even among IBMers) a need for a programming language that did it all. The new language would be the best scientific language. It would be the best business language. It would solve any programmer's needs.

Therefore, IBM created the PL/I programming language to solve the problem of too many languages. PL/I stands for Programming Language I. IBM designed PL/I by taking the best of the COBOL language, the best of FORTRAN, and the best of some other programming languages of the time. The end result, at least in terms of sales, was never achieved; IBM never had the success with PL/I it had hoped for. Instead of being the only programming language anyone would ever need, PL/I became just another programming language among many.

The primary problem with PL/I was that it was too good; it was massive. IBM made use of the best of every programming language of the day, but in doing so, IBM created a huge language that required massive computing resources to run. During the 1960s, not enough businesses had enough computer power to devote 100% of the CPU's time to PL/I compiles. Also, PL/I took too long for programmers to learn. The language was so large that programmers rarely mastered it.

Listing 3.3 shows part of a PL/I program that performs the same routine as the FORTRAN and COBOL listings you saw earlier. In this example, the code looks more like its COBOL counterpart than FORTRAN, but much of PL/I differs from COBOL. The differences become more apparent as you begin programming scientific and other nonbusiness applications.

Listing 3.3  A Sample PL/I Program That Performs Payroll Calculation


   OVRTIM = (HOURS - 40) * RATE * 2
   GROSS = 40 * RATE
   OVRTIM = 0


Perhaps another reason for PL/I's decline is that it was never ported to a microcomputer environment. Originally, the microcomputer did not have the memory or disk space for a language as large as PL/I. Although today's PCs would have no trouble running PL/I, other languages such as C and Pascal took hold in the PC arena before PL/I had a chance to.

Another programming language that has been around for many years is Report Program Generator (RPG). RPG exists in newer versions named RPG II and RPG III. As its name implies, RPG began as a report writer only. It was originally intended to be a language that nonprogrammers (shades of COBOL's ideals) could use to generate reports from data in disk files.

RPG is unlike most other programming languages. The languages you have seen so far are procedural languages. That is, they offer individual instructions that the computer follows in a sequential manner until the job is done. RPG does not have typical commands, and its logic is nonprocedural. (Some of the later versions of RPG do offer limited procedural capabilities.) An RPG program is one that is written using codes that follow strict column placements. Nonprogrammers, and even veteran programmers who are inexperienced in RPG, have a difficult time deciphering RPG programs. To make matters worse, there are several nonstandard versions of RPG in widespread use.

Listing 3.4 shows a sample RPG program. The placement of the codes must be exact. If you shift any line of the program to the right or left a few spaces, the program does not work. As you might imagine, an RPG program is difficult to follow and extremely difficult to get right the first time you write one.

Listing 3.4  A Sample RPG Program Shows RPG's Cryptic Nature

FINP   O  F  80      SCREEN
IREPORT AA 01            1  10RATE
I                   8  30HOURS
I                   12  40TAXRATE
C    *PY01    IFGT '40'
C    OVTIM    MULT    RATE*2
C          END
C    *GROSS    IFLE '40'
C          END
OOUTP   H 100 1P

Programmers used RPG primarily on minicomputers. As you might recall from Chapter 2, in just a few short years the minicomputer has mostly gone the way of the dinosaur, and RPG went with it.

Two other programming languages, APL and ADA, have also been used a lot over the years. APL (which stands for A Programming Language) is a highly mathematical programming language developed by IBM. APL is a language as different from COBOL and FORTRAN as is RPG. An APL program consists of many strange symbols (housetops, curved arrows, triangles, and so forth) and requires special hardware to generate its symbols. Because of the hardware restriction and its slow speed compared to other programming languages (APL is almost always run in an interpreted mode and rarely compiled), it quickly lost favor even by those who were fans.

ADA, named after Lady Augusta Ada Byron (daughter of the poet Lord Byron and girlfriend of Charles Babbage, the father of computers), was used almost exclusively by the Department of Defense and other governmental contracts. The government thought it best to standardize on a programming language so that all of its programs would be consistent and governmental programmers would be familiar with the language of all in-house code. Experts viewed ADA as a mediocre programming language that is difficult to learn (keep in mind that the government put its blessing on ADA as the language of choice, and the government has never been known for being extremely efficient or logical). One wonders why the Department of Defense, which designed and wrote the first COBOL compiler years earlier, chose to use something besides COBOL when almost every company at the time had adopted COBOL and was having tremendous success using it.

Because the government standardized on the ADA programming language early (it was the Department of Defense that designed ADA in 1979), you had to know ADA to produce programs for the government. Today, other languages are accepted.

This completes the first discussion of programming languages. In the next chapter, you get a look at some of the newer programming languages (those developed within the last 20 years).

InformIT Promotional Mailings & Special Offers

I would like to receive exclusive offers and hear about products from InformIT and its family of brands. I can unsubscribe at any time.


Pearson Education, Inc., 221 River Street, Hoboken, New Jersey 07030, (Pearson) presents this site to provide information about products and services that can be purchased through this site.

This privacy notice provides an overview of our commitment to privacy and describes how we collect, protect, use and share personal information collected through this site. Please note that other Pearson websites and online products and services have their own separate privacy policies.

Collection and Use of Information

To conduct business and deliver products and services, Pearson collects and uses personal information in several ways in connection with this site, including:

Questions and Inquiries

For inquiries and questions, we collect the inquiry or question, together with name, contact details (email address, phone number and mailing address) and any other additional information voluntarily submitted to us through a Contact Us form or an email. We use this information to address the inquiry and respond to the question.

Online Store

For orders and purchases placed through our online store on this site, we collect order details, name, institution name and address (if applicable), email address, phone number, shipping and billing addresses, credit/debit card information, shipping options and any instructions. We use this information to complete transactions, fulfill orders, communicate with individuals placing orders or visiting the online store, and for related purposes.


Pearson may offer opportunities to provide feedback or participate in surveys, including surveys evaluating Pearson products, services or sites. Participation is voluntary. Pearson collects information requested in the survey questions and uses the information to evaluate, support, maintain and improve products, services or sites, develop new products and services, conduct educational research and for other purposes specified in the survey.

Contests and Drawings

Occasionally, we may sponsor a contest or drawing. Participation is optional. Pearson collects name, contact information and other information specified on the entry form for the contest or drawing to conduct the contest or drawing. Pearson may collect additional personal information from the winners of a contest or drawing in order to award the prize and for tax reporting purposes, as required by law.


If you have elected to receive email newsletters or promotional mailings and special offers but want to unsubscribe, simply email information@informit.com.

Service Announcements

On rare occasions it is necessary to send out a strictly service related announcement. For instance, if our service is temporarily suspended for maintenance we might send users an email. Generally, users may not opt-out of these communications, though they can deactivate their account information. However, these communications are not promotional in nature.

Customer Service

We communicate with users on a regular basis to provide requested services and in regard to issues relating to their account we reply via email or phone in accordance with the users' wishes when a user submits their information through our Contact Us form.

Other Collection and Use of Information

Application and System Logs

Pearson automatically collects log data to help ensure the delivery, availability and security of this site. Log data may include technical information about how a user or visitor connected to this site, such as browser type, type of computer/device, operating system, internet service provider and IP address. We use this information for support purposes and to monitor the health of the site, identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents and appropriately scale computing resources.

Web Analytics

Pearson may use third party web trend analytical services, including Google Analytics, to collect visitor information, such as IP addresses, browser types, referring pages, pages visited and time spent on a particular site. While these analytical services collect and report information on an anonymous basis, they may use cookies to gather web trend information. The information gathered may enable Pearson (but not the third party web trend services) to link information with application and system log data. Pearson uses this information for system administration and to identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents, appropriately scale computing resources and otherwise support and deliver this site and its services.

Cookies and Related Technologies

This site uses cookies and similar technologies to personalize content, measure traffic patterns, control security, track use and access of information on this site, and provide interest-based messages and advertising. Users can manage and block the use of cookies through their browser. Disabling or blocking certain cookies may limit the functionality of this site.

Do Not Track

This site currently does not respond to Do Not Track signals.


Pearson uses appropriate physical, administrative and technical security measures to protect personal information from unauthorized access, use and disclosure.


This site is not directed to children under the age of 13.


Pearson may send or direct marketing communications to users, provided that

  • Pearson will not use personal information collected or processed as a K-12 school service provider for the purpose of directed or targeted advertising.
  • Such marketing is consistent with applicable law and Pearson's legal obligations.
  • Pearson will not knowingly direct or send marketing communications to an individual who has expressed a preference not to receive marketing.
  • Where required by applicable law, express or implied consent to marketing exists and has not been withdrawn.

Pearson may provide personal information to a third party service provider on a restricted basis to provide marketing solely on behalf of Pearson or an affiliate or customer for whom Pearson is a service provider. Marketing preferences may be changed at any time.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user's personally identifiable information changes (such as your postal address or email address), we provide a way to correct or update that user's personal data provided to us. This can be done on the Account page. If a user no longer desires our service and desires to delete his or her account, please contact us at customer-service@informit.com and we will process the deletion of a user's account.


Users can always make an informed choice as to whether they should proceed with certain services offered by InformIT. If you choose to remove yourself from our mailing list(s) simply visit the following page and uncheck any communication you no longer want to receive: www.informit.com/u.aspx.

Sale of Personal Information

Pearson does not rent or sell personal information in exchange for any payment of money.

While Pearson does not sell personal information, as defined in Nevada law, Nevada residents may email a request for no sale of their personal information to NevadaDesignatedRequest@pearson.com.

Supplemental Privacy Statement for California Residents

California residents should read our Supplemental privacy statement for California residents in conjunction with this Privacy Notice. The Supplemental privacy statement for California residents explains Pearson's commitment to comply with California law and applies to personal information of California residents collected in connection with this site and the Services.

Sharing and Disclosure

Pearson may disclose personal information, as follows:

  • As required by law.
  • With the consent of the individual (or their parent, if the individual is a minor)
  • In response to a subpoena, court order or legal process, to the extent permitted or required by law
  • To protect the security and safety of individuals, data, assets and systems, consistent with applicable law
  • In connection the sale, joint venture or other transfer of some or all of its company or assets, subject to the provisions of this Privacy Notice
  • To investigate or address actual or suspected fraud or other illegal activities
  • To exercise its legal rights, including enforcement of the Terms of Use for this site or another contract
  • To affiliated Pearson companies and other companies and organizations who perform work for Pearson and are obligated to protect the privacy of personal information consistent with this Privacy Notice
  • To a school, organization, company or government agency, where Pearson collects or processes the personal information in a school setting or on behalf of such organization, company or government agency.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that we are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of each and every web site that collects Personal Information. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this web site.

Requests and Contact

Please contact us about this Privacy Notice or if you have any requests or questions relating to the privacy of your personal information.

Changes to this Privacy Notice

We may revise this Privacy Notice through an updated posting. We will identify the effective date of the revision in the posting. Often, updates are made to provide greater clarity or to comply with changes in regulatory requirements. If the updates involve material changes to the collection, protection, use or disclosure of Personal Information, Pearson will provide notice of the change through a conspicuous notice on this site or other appropriate way. Continued use of the site after the effective date of a posted revision evidences acceptance. Please contact us if you have questions or concerns about the Privacy Notice or any objection to any revisions.

Last Update: November 17, 2020