How was the ANSI Standard for the Programming Language PL/B Developed?

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Organization of Standards Setting Committees

J Technical Committees

J15 Committee

Companies That Participated

Spirit of PL/B

Involvement of the PL/B Community

Information About J15 Activities or Membership

Introduction WB01530_1.GIF (347 bytes)

The programming language PL/B is now the most modern business language having an ANSI standard (X3.238:1994). The Standard benefits the users of over 200,000 workstations on which PL/B is the primary programming language. The need for The Standard became apparent when there were at least nine different implementations of PL/B, running in over sixty hardware and operating system environments, all similar but incompatible.

The J15 Standards Committee targeted the following benefits:

The standards committee set goals that the final approved standard should allow all language vendors to upgrade existing products to conform with the standard there should be no drastic changes that invalidate existing products. Further, there should be minimal conversion effort, if any, for current users to change over to using a new ANSI standard PL/B language compiler or interpreter.

Organization of Standards Setting Committees WB01530_1.GIF (347 bytes)

The International Organization for Standardization the ISO has many members in many countries around the world. One such member is ANSI, the American National Standards Institute. ANSI, in turn, is supported by many other organizations, and is involved in most USA standards activities. Participating in helping to set ANSI standards are such organizations as the IEEE (the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers), Underwriters Laboratories (which tests and certifies many products for safety), and ITI - The Information Technology Industry Council.

INCITS, International Committee for Information Technology Standardization (formerly Accredited Standards Committee X3, Information Technology), manages and funds several committees formed to develop ANSI standards in the fields of computer business systems and data processing. NCITS is funded and operates under the procedures of the American National Standards Institute.. This committee controls the process by which standards are written, reviews and approves the work of its technical groups and language committees. INCITS can be contacted at:

1250 Eye Street N.W., Suite 200
Washington, D.C. 20005
phone: 202-737-8888
fax: 202-638-4922

The INCITS committee is organized into several areas of standards development:

Languages C Database and Graphic
Languages C Programming
Data representation
Data communication
Systems technology
Office and publishing systems

The J technical committees are responsible for developing programming language standards. Currently there are 15 of these committees active:

C Language
US TAG to ISO/IEC JTC1 Java Study Group SC22

The standard for each of these languages is written and, over time, revised by its committee, which generally consists of volunteers from companies which either use the language (consumers), provide compilers or interpreters for the language (producers/vendors), or are academically interested in the language (general interest). Note that ISO, ANSI, and ITI write no standards C all the work is done at the technical committee level. The only function of the upperlevel organizations is to ensure quality and proper procedures are used in the process.

J15 Committee WB01530_1.GIF (347 bytes)

The J15 Committee came about because of the significant investments in and loyalty to the PL/B programming language. These investments are in literally millions of lines of existing PL/B code. PL/B is a mature, robust, and full featured business applications programming language used by many organizations, large and small.

Datapoint Corporation was the original developer of the PL/B language (in the early 1970s) and is a charter member of the J15 Committee. In the past ten years, several software developers have made PL/B compilers available for many different hardware/operating system environments, thus freeing PL/B from its proprietary roots.

From its first meeting in Washington, D.C. in May 1988, the J15 committee has been reasonably well organized and has provided an open and respectful forum for discussions about the PL/B language and development of an ANSI standard. Meetings have been conducted in a semiformal manner, with many adhoc discussions, voice voting, no time limits to discussion, and general consensus. During the few times in which debate becomes heated, the chair conducts business in a more formal manner with recognition of committee members to speak in rotation, roll call voting, objections noted in minutes, and restricting technical proposals to those received by members at least two weeks prior to a meeting date. To aid in meeting progress, all members have been encouraged to submit proposals in advance of meetings on forms developed by the J15 committee.

In the past seven years of meetings and intensive work between meetings, the members of J15 drafted a proposal for the PL/B ANSI standard. In November, 1992, this draft was accepted by NCITS for public review and comment and went to public review January through May, 1993. In June, the committee responded to the various comments received, most of which were quite favorable. A second two-month public review was completed successfully in December 1993. In December 1994, the draft was accepted as ANSI Standard X3.238:1994 for PL/B. This standard specifies:

The work of this committee has involved researching:

The work of this committee has involved developing an ANSI standard for the programming language

PL/B which is:

Companies that participated............... WB01530_1.GIF (347 bytes)

ARXSYS Data Systems
Bluebird Systems
Bristol Information Systems
Chrysler Systems Leasing
CMS Solutions
Computer Know-le'-Edge
InfoVision (Norway)
Maxsystems (Canada)
Netsoft (Sweden)
Prince George's County
project: Artie
Savant Technologies
Siosistemi (Italy)
Subject, Wills & Company
Sunbelt Computer Systems
Synchron Data
Synertech Systems (Canada)
Thrifty Car Rental

Spirit of PL/B Retained by J15 WB01530_1.GIF (347 bytes)

[from the this section is excerpted Rationale for the Proposed J15 Standard]

The spirit of PL/B today is not easy to define. PL/B verbs and constructs are reasonably intuitive, making it a language which is relatively easy to read, easy to learn, and easy to maintain. Yet PL/B is by no means a simple or weak language. While PL/B makes it easy to perform simple tasks, it is fully capable of performing extremely complex chores. PL/B inherently provides many powerful features, some of which are not available in other languages or, when they are available, are not inherent features.

The J15 committee has attempted to retain this spirit of the language: keeping it easy to use, yet powerful. When the committee deliberated additions to the language, it often asked the question, "If we add this, will it still look like PL/B?". Sometimes the answer was "no" and the addition was not made C even when the feature looked fairly attractive. The committee did, however, make some significant additions to the language. A few deletions were also made.

The creation of the Standard at times became a juggling act " with concern for existing practice on one hand and, on the other hand, a vision for a language which will comfortably carry all current (and future) PL/B programs and programmers into the next century. Overall, the committee tended to lean more toward its vision of providing a language for the future. The committee believes that the attraction of new users to PL/B is potentially the best way to ensure the future of an already excellent language. The committee also retained a number of current practices as Aobsolescent C included for prior compatibility. In so doing, it is hoped that the investment which has been (and will be) made by the current user base is best served.

Involvement of the PL/B Community WB01530_1.GIF (347 bytes)

The J15 committee has actively pursued the involvement of all known PL/B Language vendors, most of whom are now voting members of J15. In addition to these companies, the committee also benefits through the participation of companies who use the PL/B Language in writing software for internal business use or for resale in the software market. In addition to US domiciled companies, the committee has included voting members from Canada, Italy, Sweden, and Norway.

Each committee member has made efforts to contact as many PL/B Language users as possible in order to widen sources of input regarding committee work. The work of J15 has been publicized through various means reaching out to the PL/B community:

International PL/B User Group BBS (computer bulletin board), WB01530_1.GIF (347 bytes)

Information about J15 Activities or Membership WB01530_1.GIF (347 bytes)

Any materially affected and interested parties are eligible to become observers or members of the J15 committee. Information related to J15 participation should be requested from:

Gary D. Raymond
Chairman, J15
c/o Infopro, Inc.
2920 Norwalk Court
Aurora, IL 60502-1310
phone: 630-978-9231
fax: 734-638-6139

Meetings are held once per year via tele-conference to discuss various standards maintenance issues. Prior to becoming a voting member, it is first necessary to attend one meeting of J15 as a nonvoting observer. There is no annual fee for membership since this committee is in maintenance mode. To retain membership an organization must attend at least two out of every three meetings.

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