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Modula-2, ML, M4, MUMPS and Miranda

M is for Modula-2, ML, M4, MUMPS and Miranda.

Modula-2 was seen as Pascal‘s successor in sections of the Pascal world; the reasoning was along the lines of Niklaus Wirth designed Pascal, which was a successful language, and then designed Modula-2 as Pascal’s successor, so it is also going to be a success (brand loyalty makes people believe the strangest things). Some Modula-2 believers had been involved with the standardization of Pascal and knew how to work the system and an ISO working group was soon formed to create a language standard. I was not a believer and would ask why people were going to the trouble of creating a standard for a language that hardly anybody used; replies were evenly distributed between “developers are waiting for the standard before switching” (which sounds like somebody had done some market research, but I think not) and “developers will use the language once there is a standard for it” (how do I get some of that medication?)

There seemed to be rather a lot of people writing operating systems using Modula-2, but I cannot recall anybody writing applications (unless you count the compiler and editor). Back in the day it was common for groups to create the complete stack of language/compiler/libraries/OS and sometimes even the hardware(e.g., Lisp, Pascal, Smalltalk) and I had a 68000 based system that could boot around 10 different OSes (of which only 4-5 were Unix based). The delivery of these Modula-2 OSes ran into Microsoft Windows and Linux.

What did grab every-bodies attention was using VDM to write the standard (the goal was to alternate between English prose on one page and the VDM for that prose on the opposite page, giving the best of both worlds; but the effort required to make this happen was not available, only the VDM work had any funding and in practice the two forms intermingle). It was hoped that source checking tools would be derived from the formal specification, but the only working tools produced were the one needed to format the document.

ML is the granddaddy of all functional languages.

M4 is one of those hidden in plain sight languages that nobody ever talks about.

MUMPS has been popping up, every now and again, in my life since university; fragments of overhead conversation, the word jumping out from a job advert in the computer press and the 115 pages of BS ISO/IEC 11759:1999 Information technology — Programming languages — M dropping through my letterbox (yes, there were naming issues). It has been cleverly letting Cobol take all the heat for being used by business people, or perhaps developers don’t want to tempt fate by ridiculing a language whose primary base is in the healthcare industry.

Miranda was THE functional language for a short period; its designer’s use of combinator graph reduction as an implementation technique for functional languages had created a major buzz. However, trying to commercialize the language implementation quickly killed its market position (if you think that selling to commercial developers is hard, try selling to CS academics) and Haskell rose to fame.

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