Friday, June 05, 2009

The Next 700 Programming Languages

Yesterday I read of the death of Peter Landin in a post on Lambda The Ultimate - The Programming Languages Weblog. I'd come across the name many times - nearly always I suspect in the list of references for a paper on programming language design - but I was not familiar with his work. I know this is a dreadful admission from someone who has worked in computer science for many years, but I'd never bothered to look up any references - until last night that is. There was a link on Lambda The Ultimate to his classic 1966 paper The Next 700 Programming Languages and I followed it....

Amazing. I wish I'd read it 30 years ago. I think 30 years ago would have been about right - I would have had the theoretical background I needed to understand the paper and I would have been working in an environment where the subject matter would have been relevant. What about earlier? Well, it could have happened - I'd bought and read Burstall, Collins and Poplestone's "Programming in POP-2" while at school and it contains several references to Landin's language ISWIM and to his papers. But, I don't think I understood enough computer science at that time to have appreciated the paper.

I do appreciate the paper now. It's very well written, funny in places, and relevant. It's a shame it took Landin's death to make me read it.

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