Larry Wall, the creator of Perl, first posted Perl to the
comp.sources Usenet newsgroup in late 1987. Larry had created
Perl as a text processing language for Unix-like operating systems.
Before Perl, almost all text processing on Unix-like systems was done
with a conglomeration of tools that included AWK,
various shell programming languages, and C programs. Larry wanted to
fill the void between "manipulexity" (the ability of languages like C
to "get into the innards of things") and "whipuptitude" (the
property of programming languages like AWK or
sh that allows
programmers to quickly write useful programs).
Thus, Perl, the Practical Extraction and Report Language 1, was born. Perl filled a niche that no other tool before that date had. For this reason, users flocked to Perl.
Over the next four years or so, Perl began to evolve. By 1992, Perl version 4 had become very stable and was a "standard" Unix programming language. However, Perl was beginning to show its limitations. Various aspects of the language were confusing at best, and problematic at worst. Perl worked well for writing small programs, but writing large software applications in Perl was unwieldy.
The designers of the Perl language, now a group, but still under Larry's guidance, took a look around at the other languages that people were using. They seemed to ask themselves: "Why are people choosing other languages over Perl?" The outcome of this self-inspection was Perl, version 5.
The first release of version 5 came in late 1994. Many believed that version 5 made Perl "complete". Gone were the impediments and much of the confusion that were prevalent in version 4. With version 5, Perl was truly a viable, general purpose programming language and no longer just a convenient tool for system administrators.