A Brief History of Fourth Generation Languages
Nick Rawlings

In 1969, a product called RAMIS from a group of people at Mathematica Products Group in Princeton, New Jersey was among the first of the languages dubbed a 4th Generation Language, or 4GL. It was available commercially, exclusively, on the time-sharing service provided by National CSS, Inc. of Stamford, CT, on a version of IBM's CP-67/CMS known as VP/CSS. The authors included Dick Cobb and Gerry Cohen, with help from some NCSS folks, including Harold Feinlieb and Nick Rawlings. It had its own database structure, which was essentially a single path hierarchy, a powerful REVISE command for importing data, and a powerful reporting verb PRINT.

One could say PRINT ACROSS MONTH SUM SALES BY DIVISION and receive a report that would have taken many hundreds of lines of Cobol to produce. The product grew in capability and in revenue, both to NCSS and to Mathematica, who enjoyed increasing royalty payments from the sizable customer base.

In 1973, NCSS decided to fund the development of an alternative product, which in October of 1975 was released under the name NOMAD. That same month, Gerry Cohen left Mathematica and released a product called FOCUS, which he made available on Tymshare Inc's competing time-sharing system, with the promise to RAMIS users that their applications could run un-modified, and at a significant discount over NCSS' charges for RAMIS applications.

NOMAD from NCSS, later D&B Computing Services, became quite successful under the VP/CSS operating system, generating some $100M per year by the mid '80's. As NOMAD2, it became available under IBM's VM in '83 and MVS in '84. When the NOMAD software business was sold to Thomson, CSF in 1987, the customer base included over 800 of the Fortune 5000.  In addition to providing its own relational database, NOMAD by '84 had interfaces to IBM's SQL/DS and DB2, as well as VSAM and IMS, and Teradata's database computer. Software sales approached $30M annually. The importance of the 4GL language replaced the importance of its native database.

FOCUS from Information Builders, Inc (IBI), did even better, with revenue approaching a reported $150M per year. RAMIS moved among several owners, ending at Computer Associates in 1990, and has had little limelight since. NOMAD's owners, Thomson, continue to market the language from Aonix, Inc. While the three continue to deliver 10-to-1 coding improvements over the 3GL alternatives of Fortran, Cobol, or PL/1, the movements to object orientation and outsourcing have stagnated acceptance.

The owners of the three now count on maintenance and support revenues to remain profitable. Few new sales are made, as prospects look to People-Soft, SAP, Oracle, and others, to provide the turn-key solutions to their data warehousing and reporting requirements.

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