Computer Programming Languages (part 4) [Archives:2003/660/Education]

August 18 2003

By Akram Yahia Baker
APTECH, Sana'a Center

In the early 1990's, interactive TV was the technology of the future. Sun Microsystems decided that interactive TV needed a special, portable (can run on many types of machines) language. This language eventually came to be know as Java. In 1994, the Java project team changed their focus to the web, which was becoming “the cool thing” after interactive TV failed. The next year, Netscape licensed Java for use in their internet browser, Navigator. At this point, Java became the language of the future and several companies announced applications which would be written in Java, none of which came into use.
Though Java has very lofty goals and is a text-book example of a good language, it may be the “language that wasn't”. It has serious optimization problems, meaning that programs written in it run very slowly. And Sun has hurt Java's acceptance by engaging in political battles over it with Microsoft. But Java may wind up as the instructional language of tomorrow as it is truly object-oriented and implements advanced techniques such as true portability of code and garbage collection.
Visual Basic is often taught as a first programming language today as it is based on the BASIC language developed in 1964 by John Kemeny and Thomas Kurtz. BASIC is a very limited language and was designed for non-computer science people. Statements are chiefly run sequentially, but program control can change based on IF..THEN, and GOSUB statements, which execute a certain, block of code and then return to the original point in the program's flow.
Microsoft has extended BASIC in its Visual Basic (VB) product. The heart of VB is the form, or blank window, on which you drag and drop components such as menus, pictures, and slider bars. These items are known as “Widgets”. Widgets have properties (such as its color) and events (such as clicks and double-clicks) and are central to building any user interface today in any language. VB is most often used today to create quick and simple interface to other Microsoft products such as Excel and Access without needing a lot of code, though it is possible to create full applications with it.
Perl has often been described as the “duct tape of the Internet”, because it is most often used as the engine for a web interface or in scripts that modify configuration files. It has very strong text matching functions, which make it ideal for these tasks. Perl was developed by Larry Wall in 1987 because the Unix sed and awk tools (used for text manipulation) were no longer strong enough to support his needs. Depending on whom you ask, Perl stands for Practical Extraction and Reporting Language or Pathologically Electric Rubbish Lister.
Programming languages have been under development for years and will remain so for many years to come. They got their start with a list of steps to wire a computer to perform a task. These steps eventually found their way into software and began to acquire newer and better features. The first major languages were characterized by the simple fact that they were intended for one and only one purpose, while the languages of today are differentiated by the way they are programmed in, as they can be used for almost nay purpose. And perhaps the languages of tomorrow will be more natural with the invention quantum and biological computers.