Letters to the Editor: Dead as a Doornail? Not on Your Life

May 9, 2001

To the Editor:

After reading the interesting book review by Philip Davis on "language death" (SIAM News, March 2001), I feel compelled to comment on his question and answer, "Where are PL/1, Algol 60, Algol 68, Pascal, Snobol, and APL? All moribund or dead as a doornail."

I believe that little new development is being done in PL/I, but there is still quite a bit of legacy code around. In fact, IBM still sells PL/I compilers (www-4.ibm.com/software/ad/pli). They even offer one for PCs.

I used PL/I quite a bit back in the mid-80s. In some ways it was a language ahead of its time---its array handling, for example, was quite good. However, I think that many of its fundamental design decisions were (in retrospect) clearly mistakes. In particular, it had defaults for everything, including many type conversions that you almost certainly didn't actually mean to do. It also had some bizarre scoping rules, so that if you referred to a variable that wasn't declared, but another variable was a structure that happened to have a field of the same name, PL/I would assume you really meant the field. This was part of the same philosophy of defaults for everything (i.e., the compiler almost always assumed that you really meant what you wrote, no matter how bizarre it was).

Pascal, on the other hand, is very much alive and kicking. Object Pascal has become a proprietary language: It is the core of Borland's flagship Delphi and just released Kylix products (www.borland.com). Delphi is a modern RAD (Rapid Application Development) tool for building Windows applications. Delphi is component-based and features two-way visual development. In other words, you build forms visually, using drag and drop and setting properties, and Delphi generates the code; you can then modify the code, and Delphi changes the forms to match your code changes.

Kylix is Delphi for Linux---the first RAD tool for Linux. Borland's C++Builder product makes heavy use of Pascal since it shares Delphi's VCL (Visual Component Library), which is written in Object Pascal.

Delphi is the direct descendent of Turbo Pascal. The Delphi 5 compiler reports its version number as 13. If Borland hadn't changed the name from "Turbo Pascal" to "Delphi," we'd be up to Turbo Pascal 13.

Pascal is far from dead and its future looks bright.

David Marcus, TASC, Inc., Reading, Massachusetts.

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