Today is Inform’s twentieth birthday: the first releases of the compiler Inform 1 and the game Curses were both made on 28 April 1993, at the end of an Easter vacation in Oxford when I should have been writing my thesis. In computing terms, that now seems a primeval age. Inform was announced by Usenet posts: the first websites outside CERN had appeared only four months earlier, and the notion hadn’t yet caught on. (Usenet posts were briefly having trouble percolating out from the University of Oxford, which is why Wikipedia records a first release date in early May.) Inform was written on an Acorn Archimedes computer with no network access and a 20MB hard disc, smaller than the current Mac OS X download size. Most of Inform’s users had Commodore Amigas, or ran OS/2 on IBM PCs; the Apple IIe Platinum was still being manufactured, but was too small. Linus Torvalds had a two-year head start on me, which is no doubt why his software has become more famous than mine, but even so, the word “Linux” was still hardly known. A typical large work of IF took ten minutes to compile into a 128KB story file, but even so it seemed miraculous to be able to do this on a home computer - we really did use the term “home computer”.
Well, enough of that. Long-time users will know that it’s customary to make major releases on Inform’s birthday. Inform 6 appeared on 28 April 1996, on the third birthday, and Inform 7 exactly ten years later, on the thirteenth. For those wondering if Hari Seldon will be appearing from the vault once again this year, I’m afraid I have to report that the crisis is not yet upon us. However, we are fairly close: that is, there will shortly be a new build of Inform which develops the language in several substantial ways. I intend to fix a number of issues reported to the bug tracker, and to work further on Vorple integration, before we’ll be done. The new build is otherwise feature-complete, as they say, and includes adaptive text (with flexible person and tense), a new system of responses making it easy to change what we used to call “library messages”, the unification of “indexed text” and “text” into a single kind just called “text”, full floating-point arithmetic, better linguistics, a redesigned Index, in-app documentation incorporating Zarf’s indexes, and so on. More than thirty suggestions from the Uservoice forum have been acted on, so there are also a few small things to like. The changes under the hood are quite substantial, with many internals having been rewritten to facilitate translation into non-English natural languages.
So Inform enters its third decade still alive and kicking, even if April 28th will be a little late this year. I would like to thank all in the community who have helped it along, from its earliest days to the present.
28 April 2013