[Israel.pm] Is there a lack of (good) Perl programmers?

Jason Elbaum jason.elbaum at gmail.com
Wed Feb 28 22:06:50 PST 2007

On 2/28/07, Shlomi Fish <shlomif at iglu.org.il> wrote:
> P.S.: according to http://www.paulgraham.com/popular.html :
> <<<<<<<<<<
> Let's start by acknowledging one external factor that does affect the
> popularity of a programming language. To become popular, a programming
> language has to be the scripting language of a popular system. Fortran and
> Cobol were the scripting languages of early IBM mainframes. C was the
> scripting language of Unix, and so, later, was Perl. Tcl is the scripting
> language of Tk. Java and Javascript are intended to be the scripting
> languages of web browsers.
> >>>>>>>>>>
> So C, COBOL and Fortran were once scripting languages.

Paul Graham is using a very different definition of the term
"scripting language". Conventionally, we understand it to mean a
language which facilitates the quick development of utilities to
control an application or a combination of applications.

Fortran and Cobol were never scripting languages. They were
application languages used for developing standalone systems or
libraries. They were rarely used to control other tools or an
operating system. What systems were ever "scripted" in Fortran or
Cobol? When you have to submit a stack of punchcards for batch
processing and wait overnight for the printout, that's not "scripting"
by the conventional understanding of the term. And the operating
systems and system tools were rarely written in Fortran; they were
written in assembly language.

Graham is using "scripting language" to mean "the standard language
used to program a system." But this is somewhat backwards. Fortran and
Cobol *became* standard and widespread because they were good
languages for what they did. That's why they were adopted by many

The mere fact that a language is standard on a system doesn't make it
popular. That's obvious enough. If anything, the scripting language on
IBM mainframes was JCL:

But I've never heard of JCL ever being a popular programming language
or developing a hacker user base.

For that matter, the scripting language on Unix was sh, and later csh,
but aside from system administration scripts neither language ever
became popular. Hated, maybe, but not popular.

Another very popular, but usually forgotten, operating system was VMS.
Its scripting language was DCL:

When's the last time you heard of it? I couldn't even remember what it
was called.

So, in response to Paul Graham:

- C, Cobol and Fortran were never scripting languages.
- They became popular (was Cobol ever popular...?) not because they
were used on major systems, but because they were well designed
languages for their tasks.
- Being a scripting language for a major system does not ensure
language popularity (though I admit it helps).
- Anyone mention Python? Very popular, but what major system does it
script? Mailman?

Similarly, Perl *became* the standard language for Unix scripting
because it was well suited to that role. No one ever said, "Here, stop
writing shell scripts and start using Perl. It's the official
scripting language of Unix." Hackers just realized how much more
powerful it was than sh and csh, and they started installing and using
Perl. Eventually, it became part of the standard system image.

Unfortunately, the fact that modern Perl is a powerful environment for
developing industrial-strength applications doesn't change the
widespread impression that it's "just a scripting language". That
affects both how people teach and learn Perl, and how companies think
of using it.


Jason Elbaum

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