TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Obituary: John Backus, Fortran Developer, Passing

Obituary: John Backus, Fortran Developer, Passing
21 Mar 2007 07:54:56 -0700


John Backus, retired from IBM, passed away. He was the inventor of
the first "high level" computer language, Fortran, that created
computer accessibility to millions of people.

Before Fortran, computer programs had to be written in assembler
language, which was the native internal logic of the computer
hardware. Every task had to be broken down into very structured basic
steps. The programmer had to know specialized arithmetic, such as
binary or octal and an intimate knowledge of the computer's internal

Every computer had its own specific internal logic, so programs
written for one type of computer couldn't be run on another type.
Programmers had to learn a whole new logic structure of every computer
they used.

Fortran allowed programs to be written in an algebraic like language
that was already familiar to engineers and scientists who were using
the computer for research.

Fortran also paved the way for other languages such as BASIC and

Fortran works by translasting the algebraic instructions into the
structured basic basic steps of assembler language. To the
programmer, the language remains mostly the same even on different
computers by different manufacturers.

Those of us who utilize computers in our career owe a great deal to
Mr. Backus (as well as Grace Hopper who developed COBOL and Kemeny and
Kurtz who developed BASIC.)

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