Typesafety versus Worse is Better - was Re: Fwd: is there any word processing software for the pdp11?

Toby Thain toby at telegraphics.com.au
Tue Dec 2 19:09:42 CST 2014

On 02/12/14 12:08 PM, Jon Elson wrote:
> On 12/02/2014 07:20 AM, Mark Wickens wrote:
>> Is there any general agreement on what the 'best' programming language is
>> for PDP-11 for this kind of application, if I'm getting what you're after
>> it's something like wordstar or WPS-PLUS? A text editor with some word
>> processing features. Good system integration and the ability to easily
>> control a terminal?
>> I know VAX Pascal is highly respected and can do most things - certainly
>> Theo De Klerk's book is very comprehensive.
>> I don't know *anything* about programming PDP-11's. Would be
>> interested if
>> there is one language or it's a case of pick and choose like VAXen.
> Our shop at the time (1975-1981 or so, for the PDP-11) used FORTRAN.  I
> had a passion
> for Pascal, also got a Modula 2 compiler but never really moved to it.
> We then got a
> VAX 11/780, and I used them until the migration to the Alpha systems,
> and used
> those until the end of DEC.  We continued to run one Alpha here until it
> became so
> obsolete that nobody would use it anymore.  We were STILL mostly a FORTRAN
> shop.  I created a few personal apps in Pascal.
> Now that I use Linux pretty exclusively, I have grudgingly accepted C.

You can give it up any time. There are dozens of far better languages 
that have cropped up in the 40 years since C was invented for a 
particular environment (that doesn't resemble anything much we do today).

> Recently,
> the Free Pascal Compiler (fpc) became available on Linux, and it is quite
> amazing.  I ported over a Turbo Pascal for Windows app that ran on Windows
> 95/Win 2K to run on Linux in a couple days.  It required some serious
> hacking
> to remove external hardware-specific parts that were no longer applicable,
> but the main thrust of FPC was to handle DEC and Borland Pascal extensions
> to the language well.  They really did a good job!  So, after a long
> time away
> from Pascal, it is again a viable language.  I doubt I'd ever write a major
> app in Pascal again, but I could if I wanted.
> Well, none of the above really applies to the PDP-11!  I will say that a
> major
> advantage with Pascal is that when I got a program to pass the compiler's
> syntax checking, it very often ran correctly the first time!

Yes, this is true of most statically checked environments, 
*particularly* the modern ones that derive from ML. The ML family exists 
because nothing else at the time could offer the necessary correctness 
for writing proof checkers.

 >  It forces you
> to think logically, structure well, and doesn't have all the insane hidden
> syntactic screwups that C does.

Amen. I'm the generation that foolishly got sucked into the dangerous 
superficialities of C after using Pascal. Today I know better.


 >  I still get called in at work to advise
> when C programs don't work right.  I'm still discovering new ways that
> C code that looks perfectly correct can screw up horribly. ...
> Jon

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