(Joint Post with David Marcus who was a classmate of mine at SUNY Stony Brook [now called Stony Brook University]. I was class of 1980, he was class of 1979. We were both math majors.)
David has been reading Problems with a POINT (I'm glad someone is reading it) and emailed me a comment on the following passage which was essentially this post. I paraphrase what I wrote:
PASSAGE IN BOOK:
I dusted off my book shelves and found a book on Fortran. On the back it said:
FORTRAN is one of the oldest high-level languages and remains the premier language for writing code for science and engineering applications. (NOTE- The back of the book uses Fortran but the spell checker I am using insists on FORTRAN. As a fan of capital letters, I don't mind going along.)
When was the book written?
The answer was surprising in that it was 2012 (the Chapter title was Trick Question or Stupid Question. This was a Trick Question.) I would have thought that FORTRAN was no longer the premier language by then. I also need to dust my bookshelves more often.
END OF PASSAGE IN BOOK
David Marcus emailed me the following:
Page 201. Fortran. One clue is that it said "Fortran" rather than"FORTRAN". Fortran 90 changed the name from all upper case. Whether it is the "premier language" depends on what you mean by "premier". It is probably the best language for scientific computing. I used it pretty much exclusively (by choice) in my previous job that I left in 2006. The handling of arrays is better than any other language I've used. Maybe there are some better languages that I'm not familiar with, but the huge number of high-quality scientific libraries available for Fortran makes it hard to beat. On the other hand, I never wrote a GUI app with it (Delphi is best for that).
END OF DAVID'S EMAIL
In later emails we agreed that Fortran is not used that much (there are lists of most-used languages and neither Fortran nor FORTRAN is ever in the top 10). But what intrigued me was the following contrast:
1) David says that its the BEST language for Scientific Computing. I will assume he is right.
2) I doubt much NEW code is being written in it. I will assume I am right.
So---what's up with that? Some options
OPTION 1) People SHOULD use Fortran but DON'T. If so, why is that? Fortran is not taught in schools. People are used to what they already know. Perhaps people who do pick up new things easily and want to use new things would rather use NEW things rather than NEW-TO-THEM-BUT-NOT-TO-THEIR-GRANDMOTHER things. Could be a coolness factor. Do the advantages of Fortran outweight the disadvantages? Is what they are using good enough?
OPTION 2) The amount of Scientific computing software being written is small since we already have these great Fortran packages. So it may be a victim of its own success.
CAVEAT: When I emailed David a first draft of the post he pointed out the following which has to do with the lists of most-used programming languages:
The problem with the lists you were looking at is that most people in the world are not scientists, so most software being written is not for scientists. Scientists and technical people are writing lots of new code. If you look at a list of scientific languages, you will see Fortran, e.g., here and here.
There are several Fortran compilers available. One of the best was bought by Intel some time back and they still sell it. I doubt they would do that if no one was using it. Actually, I think Intel had a compiler, but bought the Compaq compiler (which used to be the Digital Equipment compiler) and merged the Compaq team with their team. Something like that. I was using the Compaq compiler around that time.
END OF DAVID's EMAIL
One quote from the second pointer I find intriguing. (Second use of the word intriguing. It was my word-of-the-day on my word-calendar).
... facilities for inter-operation with C were added to Fortran 2003 and enhanced by ISO/ICE technical specification 29113, which will be incorporated into Fortran 2018.
I (Bill) don't know what some of that means; however, it does mean that Fortran is still active.
One fear: with its not being taught that much, will knowledge of it die out. We be like Star Trek aliens:
The old ones built these machines, but then died and we can't fix them!