Programming Languages

I remember the first time I had the opportunity to program a computer. As you might imagine it was nothing too complicated, after all it was the first time I did anything like that. It was a simple programme of the “Hello World!” type. Written in BASIC (aka Basic All-Purpose Symbolic Instruction Code) it was a programme that printed the sequence of numbers from 1 to 10. Pretty neat, but not very useful. Since then I had a go at a number of programming languages, scripts and tools, going from COBOL and Pascal to C++ and Python.

When people ask me about my favourite programming language, I tend to reply with another question: “What for?”. I sincerely believe that there is no such thing as the perfect programming language, and it all the depends on what it is that you need your computer to do. I mean, you would not bang a nail with a spanner, you would rather use a hammer for that. Of course, there is no question about the possibility of using the spanner for that particular task, but you would find that doing so has advantages (it’s the tool you already know) and disadvantages (the tool is not designed with that particular purpose in mind).

There is a plethora of programming tools and some of them have been around for years, either because they are indeed very well designed for their purpose, or because the amount to underlying programmes and functions written with them is so overwhelming that it is easier to maintain them alive. Some other languages are more recent and I am sure that some of them will stand the test of time… but not all of them.

Very recenlty, TIOBE Software released their April index ranking the most popular programming languages. They show that the reliable C language is back to number 1. I was not totally surprised by this, I always thought that the popularity of the language would place it among the first 5 top places, along with C++ and Java. What I did not expect to see what to find MATLAB in number 18.

The index is updated once a month. The ratings are based on the number of skilled engineers world-wide, courses and third party vendors. The definition of the TIOBE index can be found here, and the first 20 places are listed below:

Apr 2010
Apr 2009
Delta in Position Programming Language Ratings
Apr 2010
Apr 2009
1 2 C 18.058% +2.59% A
2 1 Java 18.051% -1.29% A
3 3 C++ 9.707% -1.03% A
4 4 PHP 9.662% -0.23% A
5 5 (Visual) Basic 6.392% -2.70% A
6 7 C# 4.435% +0.38% A
7 6 Python 4.205% -1.88% A
8 9 Perl 3.553% +0.09% A
9 11 Delphi 2.715% +0.44% A
10 8 JavaScript 2.469% -1.21% A
11 42 Objective-C 2.288% +2.15% A
12 10 Ruby 2.221% -0.35% A
13 14 SAS 0.717% -0.07% A
14 12 PL/SQL 0.710% -0.38% A
15 Go 0.710% +0.71% A
16 15 Pascal 0.648% -0.07% B
17 17 ABAP 0.625% -0.03% B
18 20 MATLAB 0.616% +0.13% B
19 22 ActionScript 0.545% +0.09% B
20 19 Lua 0.521% +0.03% B

Other programming languages

Well, where does this index place some of the languages that I have used at some point?; here we go: C, C++, VB, Python, Java, Pascal, MATLAB and Perl are all in the first 20 places.

Bourne Shell (26), COBOL (29), Fortran (34 – although they do not mention what flavour: 77,95, etc), Prolog (43 – is anyone using that for anything? seriously?), VBSpcript (50) are all in the first 50 places. They also list (in no particular order) numbers 51 to 100, including: LabView, Maple, Mathematica, R and SPSS.

Curiosities (or are they?)

Some of you, dear readers, might say that a lot of the languages are not really programming languages. A friend of mine rejected, for example, the idea of MATLAB as a programming language.

“Surely all scripting languages are programming languages, but not all programming languages are scripting languages” I hear you say. Well, as it was pointed out by another friend of mine: “If you really want to hurt yourself look at ‘Root‘” – a framework developed in 1994 by CERN, which has a scriptable command-line C++ interpreter! Really!

For the hardcore programmer in you, there are some interesting languages out there to have a look at and definitely play with. For example there is Whitespace (it seems that the original link is dead now, please check a Wayback page here) which, unlike any other programming tool, ignores any non-whitespace characters. Only spaces, tabs and linefeeds have meaning. You can see an example here. In a similar fashion, Brainfuck considers only eight commands in the language, namely: > < + – . , [ ] You can see an example here.

Now, if you really want to see how the text messaging culture has made it into the “Hello World!” of computer programming, look no further than LOLCODE, whose commands are expressed in lolcat and as you can imagine, the language is not clearly defined in terms of operator priorities and correct syntax (LOL!). Here is an example:

Other commands include “I HAS A variable”, “variable R value” and “BTW” to denote comments!

Honestly, what next?…

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