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January 23, 2007updated 19 Aug 2016 10:08am

On 4GLs and why ‘Web 2.0’ is a step back in time

You may or may not have seen a little piece I did for our news desk on Progress Software’s SVP for corporate development and strategy, who told me that he believes that fourth generation languages (4GLs) -- or something very like them -- may be due

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You may or may not have seen a little piece I did for our news desk on Progress Software’s SVP for corporate development and strategy, who told me that he believes that fourth generation languages (4GLs) — or something very like them — may be due for a comeback.

“If you look at what salesforce.com has been doing recently with a high productivity development environment and database that you don’t need to know much about, that’s a lot like a 4GL,” Progress’ Jeff Stamen told me. “Likewise, plenty of companies are saying that they do not want to do all their programming in such low-level languages as Java.”

Stamen knows his stuff. He began his career as a database developer, leading a joint MIT Harvard project where he developed an entity-relationship database for query and analysis. After that he joined Mitrol, where he headed the development of the MIMS 4GL, an antecedent of the Progress 4GL….

… “When you are doing business process management and you want a new service, what you want is a nice higher-level language, not Java,” Stamen told me. “Not just little add-ons, but something with 2,000 applications partners, something that we know you can build an entire ERP system in if you want, because we know Epicor and QAD have done exactly that.”

Stamen pointed to the company’s own 4GL, OpenEdge. He said that while it is true that higher revenue comes from other areas of the Progress business, like its Sonic ESB enterprise service bus, he believes there is still opportunity for growth from its older application development environment OpenEdge.

OpenEdge may be on version 10.1B, but the company insists that it still provides the capability to “implement reliable, high performance business applications quickly and with confidence.”

Stamen’s views may not be as off the wall as they might at first sound. It’s long been noted that enterprise IT has a curious habit of coming full circle. One of the best examples of that was the move from mainframes with their dumb terminals to distributed computing, only for everyone to realise that a new kind of fairly dumb terminal called a thin client attached to a powerful server was actually not such a bad architecture after all.

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Anyway, my ComputerWire colleague Tony Baer has also just blogged some interesting thoughts on the venerable 4GL, in his case looking at how the latest iteration of Ajax development tools – about as ‘Web 2.0’ as one can get – bear an uncanny resemblance to 4GLs. If he is right as he surely is, then just as many of us suspected, Web 2.0 is indeed another case of IT history repeating itself.

My original news piece covering Stamen’s views on 4GLs is here. Tony’s piece on Ajax and 4GLs is here. More on Progress’ 4GL here.

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