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The History of Programming Languages

For 50 years, computer programmers have been writing code. New technologies continue to emerge, develop, and mature at a rapid pace. Now there are more than 2,500 documented programming languages! O'Reilly has produced a poster called History of Programming Languages (PDF: 701K), which plots over 50 programming languages on a multi-layered, color-coded timeline.

How It Started

We first saw the "History of Programming Languages" diagram, created by Éric Lévénez, while visiting our French office. We were so taken with the level of detail and the visual impact of viewing 50 years of programming history that we wanted to come up with a way to share it more widely. We started big. We printed it out full-size, all 18 feet of it, on our plotter and ran it along a wall at our Mac OS X Conference last fall. So many people came by to make notations on the diagram that we knew there would be a lot more interest and discussion if we could only get it in a more manageable format. With Éric's permission, we collected comments from our authors, editors, and friends, and rebuilt the file so we could print it at its current dimensions, 39" x 17". Éric maintains a site with his original diagram, change logs, an explanation of how he creates his charts, and links to additional resources such as Bill Kinnersley's Language List of over 2,500 programming languages. Éric also has Windows and Unix historical diagrams that he makes available for non-commercial purposes, all at www.levenez.com.

About the O'Reilly Poster

"Cool" is generally the first thing we heard from people who reviewed our poster. Then came reams of suggestions for additions to the diagram. We made only a small number of changes--in order to keep the file in a relatively manageable state that enables us to print and share the poster--but there is a high level of historical knowledge and personal experience of the events in this poster among our friends, authors, and editors. We hope to inspire and capture your comments and discussion here in our History of Programming Languages Wiki. Please note, however, that we do not intend to update the poster. Our walls aren't big enough.

Getting Your Copy

The poster is available online in PDF format (701k). You can also find full-size copies, while they last, at O'Reilly conferences (http://conferences.oreillynet.com/).

Special Thanks

Thanks to all who reviewed and commented on this poster along the way, including Éric Lévénez, Mark Brokering, Mark Stone, Daniel Steinberg, David Flanagan, Ian Darwin, Tim O'Reilly, Mike Hendrickson, Laurie Petrycki, Geoff Collyer, and Mark Brader.

History of Programming Languages Wiki
History of Programming Languages Wiki

Copyright © 2009 O'Reilly Media, Inc.