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Celebrating 50 years of Fortran


June 20, 2007

June 21, 2007 The programming language Fortran celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, having touched the lives of millions of programmers and billions of people in the half century since. A proposal from IBM employee John Backus to develop an efficient alternative to assembly language for programming the company’s IBM 704 mainframe computer in 1953 resulted in the first specification for the IBM Mathematical FORmula TRANslating System in 1956. The first FORTRAN compiler appeared in April 1957 and the rest is history. To mark the occasion, a special issue of Scientific Programming on the role of Fortran in the scientific programming discipline is being published by IOS Press this month. The issue is dedicated to Fortran creator John Backus and Ken Kennedy, pioneer of Fortran compiler optimization and parallelization. Both highly esteemed scientists died earlier this year.

The first issue of the 15th volume of Scientific Programming is entitled ‘Fortran programming language and Scientific Programming: 50 years of mutual growth.’ Editor-in-Chief Boleslaw Szymanski: “Over half of the century of its existence, the evolving Fortran has been the traditional and major language for scientific programming and it has played a significant role in the research on programming languages and compilers for scientific computing.”

The language was designed by John Backus and his colleagues at IBM with the goal to reduce the cost of programming scientific applications by providing an ‘automatic programming system’ to replace assembly language with a notation closer to the scientific programming domain. Although the first specification of the Fortran language was released in 1956, IBM delivered its first compiler in 1957, hence this year marks the 50th anniversary of the introduction of Fortran to users.

FORTRAN is a general-purpose, procedural, imperative computer programming language that is especially suited to. Originally developed by IBM in the 1950s for scientific and engineering applications,

Fortran came to dominate the area of numeric computation and scientific programming early on and has been in continual use for over half a century in computationally intensive areas such as climate modeling, computational fluid dynamics (CFD), computational physics, and computational chemistry.

Fortran encompasses a lineage of versions, each of which evolved to add extensions to the language while retaining compatibility with previous versions.

About the Author
Mike Hanlon Mike grew up thinking he would become a mathematician, accidentally started motorcycle racing, got a job writing road tests for a motorcycle magazine while at university, and became a writer. As a travelling photojournalist during his early career, his work was published in a dozen languages across 20+ countries. He went on to edit or manage over 50 print publications, with target audiences ranging from pensioners to plumbers, many different sports, many car and motorcycle magazines, with many more in the fields of communication - narrow subject magazines on topics such as advertising, marketing, visual communications, design, presentation and direct marketing. Then came the internet and Mike managed internet projects for Australia's largest multimedia company, Telstra.com.au (Australia's largest Telco), Seek.com.au (Australia's largest employment site), top100.com.au, hitwise.com, and a dozen other internet start-ups before founding Gizmag in 2002. Now he writes and thinks. All articles by Mike Hanlon
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