Which 'ancient' programming language do you use the most?

447 readers like this
447 readers like this
A bunch of question marks


Programming languages never die, they just fade into obscurity. But some don't even do that. Some languages seem to stand the test of time, or at the very least, are still in broad enough use to require new developers to learn them just to keep existing software maintained and functional. And some are still really thriving even many years later!

The definition of an "older" language is a little fuzzy. For many developers, the languages they are working with were created before they were born. For the purposes of this poll, we selected a few popular languages from Wikipedia's History of programming languages article and selected the somewhat arbitrary cutoff of needing to have been created prior to 1980.

Some of these languages have evolved, and other have even spawned new related languages. But the common thread that holds them together is that each is now over a third of a century in age, and for better or for worse, someone out there is still using them in some way.

So we ask you, the open source developers amongst us, which older language are you still using the most? And if you're using an older language not included here, please let us know what it is in the comments, and why you love it (or, perhaps, why you don't but are still stuck with it).

Jason was an Opensource.com staff member and Red Hatter from 2013 to 2022. This profile contains his work-related articles from that time. Other contributions can be found on his personal account.


smalltalk (i am surprised that's missing in the list. it is one of the greater developments of the period that is still in active use and development today)

i also use lisp, with two programs i have written in common lisp in active use, while i am still learning smalltalk.

for both lisp and smalltalk i love their minimalistic syntax. despite (or because?) of its minimalism, smalltalk is easy to read. while lisp took a bit more to get used to.

smalltalk is also interesting for its image based approach. that is code, application state and development environment are all merged in one application-image.

greetings, eMBee.

We still use Paradox 4.5 for DOS at work for Aircraft Maintenance Tracking. We started development in 1985 and still use it. While we've tinkered with converting to Delphi (or Lazarus), the performance of the DOS based system is seen as an advantage. The Paradox database engine is pretty robust and hasn't caused any major hiccups in 30 years of use. Yes, it is clunky and very dated, but it works. Obviously converting to SQL database is going to be required, but we're happy with the performance and results we get.

yabbut what about mumps?

I use a Forth derivative called '8th' for many projects. I also use C a lot, though Forth predates C by a few years...

APL is still fine and evolving.
And nothing can beat it in numerical science/exploration areas so far.
See Dyalog APL for instance. Super quick development cycle and right abstractions right from ground up.

The problem with the cartoon is that it's quite a bit wrong. When C came along it was way past the punch card era. The font had nothing to do with fitting characters on the punch cards, since the columns were defined.
So if you have a comic that might be funny to somebody that doesn't realize how wrong its assumptions are, it's not really funny at all, since it has no context.

Except maybe as funny as: "Yeah, back then with computing you had to mix your own oil paints, starting from basic pigments, sometimes chop some wood, and then start a fire by rubbing two Twinkies together -- talk about hard!"

In reply to by Jason B

Since you ask for it: C was not that much past the punch card era. In fact, the part on the C language was the least incorrect one. As far as I know, punch-cards had no characters at all. it was 1-s and 0-s (a hole or not a hole or the other way around).

The only correct one to my knowledge is the first one, the need to compile for different processors. In assembly you need to (re-) write for every different processor. On the other hand, assembly did not need to be compiled, it just needed to be assembled.

In reply to by Greg Pittman

Fortran 90 is still the best for mathematics

Some of the later additions to Fortran look pretty useful too.
Fortran works for a lot of maths and the code is out there and working and there is no need to replace it.
I am experimenting with a lot of python (simply because its easier to teach kids in something they know already) and amazed by how much of the later more complicated stuff is merely C++ with a wrapper.

In reply to by Alberto Fasso (not verified)

I was actually only ever trained in this language, however COBOL keeps reminding me that behind every well written program is a development process, when Jackson talks about routing, output streams, the domain model, roles, etc., we are not all that far from the present day. JSP is still as sound as ever. COBOL's approach to OOP has one or two good points that are worth learning from (as robust as the rest of the language). Billions of lines of business code still being maintained.

In tech support discussion groups, there's an attitude which I refer to as, "When I was starting out, we had to walk 10 miles to get tech support. IN THE SNOW!!!!!" This attitude is most apparent when someone asks a question like, "I've been trying to get my Obsucria J53-6 card to work under Linux. Does anybody know how to do this?" and people write back, "Look it up on Google!"

I learned the emacs Lisp variant years ago in order to create and quite successfully use custom command macros. My main current programming language is Perl 5, edited using emacs with help of my personal emacs Lisp mcros. Every time I install or start using a personally new Linux variant I revisit perl using emacs to update my perl session startup "epoch history system" tweaking it for details that may have changed or differ from my other linices. (I currently [11/08/2016] use Fedora 24 with Libre Office on my desktops, and the Apple BSD variant in my Airbook travel computer for the identical Libre Office user interface. )

I use AWK on Linux and CYGWIN a lot. Very easy for processing text and tab-delimited Excel files.

Is perl not considered ancient?

Great article, Jason!

I've noticed that one of my all-time favourite languages, Algol68, is in my distro's repositories. This would be the answer to a slightly different survey question: "which 'ancient' programming language do you wish you used the most".

Assembly is not a single language, but rather a type of programming language. Most of the assembly languages that are used today did not exist in that same form in 1980.


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