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Academic Programming Languages in Mainstream Use

Thu, 26 Jan 2012 09:03:29 GMT

It is said that once a programming language is born, it never really dies. That may be so, but popularity can still be a fickle thing. I think it is safe to say that most academic programming languages never make it out of the lab in a serious way. There are a few prominent exceptions to this observation:

  • C and C++ were both designed and implemented in Bell Labs, a true blue-sky research lab, which is as close to academia as you can get without being in academia. They caught on pretty quickly. For C, the killer app was certainly Unix. Wherever Unix was adopted, there was C, its native systems programming language.
  • BASIC was developed at Dartmouth.
  • LISP was developed by John McCarthy at MIT. For a while, there was quite a bit of commercial interest and investment in LISP and even LISP machines. That has mostly petered out, but LISP lives on in EMACS and the Guile scripting language in GTK+ apps.
  • Pascal has considerable academic roots. Wirth developed it in ETH Zurich (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology).
  • Lua is a very streamlined dynamically-typed scripting language. It used in gaming and some quantitative finance applications. The compiler and virtual machine are very small and fast (150kb). Recent versions have support for first-class functions, tail call optimization, an incremental garbage collector, coroutines, and a register-based virtual machine.
  • Scala was adopted by Twitter, Foursquare, and a few other notable startups. It was born in ETH Lausanne.

An article on the economics of programming language research

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