Commercial software includes a great deal of powerful infrastructure software such as development tools, operating systems, database management systems, networking software, user interfaces, and transaction processing programs. It also includes rich and growing sources of software for applications that are similar to some DOD applications, such as management information systems; geographic information systems; and logistics, medical, engineering and scientific, and office-support systems. With the exception of some aerospace, transportation, and safety-critical applications software, little of this commercial software is written in Ada.

In the 1990s, the computing field has been transformed by technological advances, particularly in networking and in low-cost personal computing with associated tools. While these advances have had relatively little impact on traditional real-time embedded systems, they have completely altered the character of commercial information systems and the processes used to develop them. Information systems are now commonly built with a two- or three-level client-server architecture, and with a graphical user interface that is logically separated from computational steps and from a relational database. Specialized tools and fourth-generation programming languages (4GLs; see glossary, Appendix C) have been developed for building this class of applications. Such tools and languages, exemplified by Visual Basic and PowerBuilder, are extremely efficient for building small and medium sized applications, particularly where the demands for reliability and availability are less stringent than those for real-time embedded systems. Similar tools are now becoming available for the deployment of information systems across organizational intranets and the World Wide Web. Because in certain domains these tools and languages operate at a higher-level than does any traditional programming language (including Ada), they are often the most appropriate way to prototype and develop information systems. Finally, growth in Internet-based software has increased the already rapid pace of product development in the commercial software industry.


One goal of the inclusive and extensive process undertaken to develop Ada was to create a language that would be widely adopted by the software community, beyond DOD. Utilizing commercial technology has become more important to DOD in recent years, as a combination of declining financial resources for DOD and great strides in commercial developments across all areas of advanced technology has led to an increasing emphasis on leveraging commercial technology in developing defense systems (DOD, 1994b, 1995b).

Ada has taken its place among the better known and widely used third-generation programming languages (3GLs; see glossary, Appendix C); however, it has not become as popular as its proponents had hoped. One study of programming language use estimated that Ada 83 applications constitute only 2 percent of all computer applications in U.S. inventories, and slightly more than 3 percent of all function points (Jones, 1996b). Ada is used primarily within the DOD community. Beyond that community, it has been adopted by some software developers for the civilian market, especially where there is potential defense market cross-over or where there are similar requirements, such as in commercial aviation, process control, and medical instrumentation.2 However, this commercial use is a small fraction of the total commercial software market.

Another indicator of Ada's limited market penetration is the supply of and demand for Ada-trained programmers. Jones (1996b) estimates that of the 1.92 million professional programmers in the United States, 90,000, or less than 5 percent, are Ada 83 programmers.3 In an informal review of software engineering employment opportunities advertised in two major newspapers, the committee noted that of more than 1,000 references made to individual programming languages and tools,4 fewer

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine
500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001

Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement