It’s Not A Compile… #JusJoJan

Linda got today’s word from Jenny over at Coffee In The Rain, which I’m certain everyone here follows. Right? RIGHT? If you don’t, you ought to. Anyway, the word for today is "prepare."

This is a computer-related post, but no technical stuff, I promise. I’ll either explain the terminology or point you to where you can get an explanation, but it’s not necessary to understand anything more than I’ll tell you.

The company I worked for from 1984 to 2004 created a fourth-generation language (4GL), which was a lot easier to work with than third-generation languages such as COBOL. One of the reasons that 4GL’s are so easy to work with is that you don’t have to know anything about where your data are kept or how to access it. You simply tell the computer to get it for you, and it does. The commands were easy to work with and required little understanding of programming to produce a report for yourself. It was a distinct selling point of our software that we had this miraculous tool to allow end users to write and run their own reports, thus freeing up the IT staff for things like playing solitaire.

In truth, the language was not exactly a 4GL. In order for it to be a real 4GL. we wouldn’t need a step that translates what the user writes into machine language before execution, and we needed one. This is a process called compiling, and if you have to compile your program before running it, your language isn’t a 4GL.

Our solution for this problem was to simply call the compile step something other than compiling. We called it "preparing." Then, when they asked us during the sales cycle "Do you have a 4GL?" we could tell them "yes." We knew, and the customers also figured out, that what we were calling "preparing" was actually "compiling," By that time, they were so used to using it that they didn’t really care.

4 thoughts on “It’s Not A Compile… #JusJoJan

  1. This is tantalizingly opaque to those of us who actually are conversant in software engineering. Is there a description of this language somewhere? If COBOL (standardized 1960) is a “third generation language” ….


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