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Fortran Histories

About Geezers

from Loren P Meissner < > June 17, 2018

Fortran Language Standards

When did Fortran begin?
Before 1950, computers were “one of a kind”. UNIVAC was an early exception. A total of 46 UNIVAC computer were sold. A complete system cost more than a million dollars. The first UNIVAC was delivered to the Census Bureau in 1952, and in November of that year it predicted Eisenhower’s defeat of Adlai Stevenson in the presidential election. Use of any of these early computers required tedious programming in “machine language.”
    The IBM 704, first sold in 1955, was the first “scientific” computer (with built-in floating point arithmetic) that sold more than 100 machines.

Fortran (originally “FORmula TRANslation”)
In 1954 a project was begun at IBM under the leadership of John Backus to develop an “automatic programming” system that would convert programs written in a mathematical notation to machine instructions for the new IBM 704 computer. This project produced the first Fortran compiler, which was delivered to a customer in 1957. It was a great success by any reasonable criterion. The efficiency of the code generated by the compiler surprised even some of its authors.

“Standardizing” Fortran
By 1962 IBM was selling 709’s with a second version of Fortran. Other computer manufacturers and users were developing similar software – one list includes Honeywell, Philco, Westinghouse, UNIVAC, and Sandia. They all included special features to meet needs and requests of their users, and the profusion of Fortran “dialects” prevented programs written for one computer from being transported to a different computer system. A committee was formed to develop a standard for Fortran, and the first official version was published in 1966.
    The committee still meets several times a year, to keep Fortran up to date with the increasing power of modern computers. There are now committee members from other countries including Great Britain, Japan, Netherlands, and Austria.

A few former members of the Fortran Standardization Committee have retired but are still interested in Fortran language developments. They occasionally meet for a day or two just prior to a meeting of the official Committee. These “old timers” like to be considered “Geezers”. (The dictionary says the word means “eccentric and usually old”.)

The Meeting on June 10, 2018
The official Fortran Standards Committee scheduled a meeting at Berkeley for the week of June 11-15 2018, and it was decided to hold a Geezers’ meeting at the Berkeley Marina on the preceding weekend – an informal get-together for early arrivals on Saturday, a rather formal meeting on Sunday morning, and a “field trip” on Sunday afternoon.
    After some e-mail discussion among the Geezers, it was decided that an excellent destination for the field trip would be the Computer History Museum in Mountain View. Paul McJones, a museum volunteer who has helped with collection of software for the Museum, led a museum tour, and one of the Geezers who had visited the Museum previously arranged for Geezers to view a live exhibit of the IBM 1401 at the Museum.