Those of us who ever had a chance to tinker with personal computers through the 1980s or were taught computer studies through that same time dabbled in a computer programming language called “BASIC”. This language was provided in an “interpreter” form with nearly all of the personal computers that were sold from the late 1970s and is celebrating its 50th anniversary.
It was developed by two Dartmouth professors who wanted a simplified language to program a computer with in the early 1960s because mainframe-type computers had more difficult ways to program them. The language was built around words common to the the English language along with the standard way mathematical formulae was represented. It was initially represented as a compiler for the mainframes, which turned the source code in to object code or an executable image in one pass, but was eventually written as an interpreter which executed each line of source code one at a time.
Bill Gates and Paul Allen worked on a successful BASIC interpreter for the Altair microcomputer in 1975 and used this as the founding stone for Microsoft with it initially being implemented in a variety of microcomputers and some manufacturers implementing slight variations of it in to various personal computers like the Tandy TRS-80. Similarly, Steve “The Woz” Wozniak wrote the BASIC interpreter for the Apple II computers from scratch in 1976, a path followed by other computer manufacturers like Commodore, Acorn (BBC Micro), Sinclair (ZX80, ZX81, ZX Spectrum) and Amstrad.
This language was not just taught in the classrooms, but people taught themselves how to program these computers using the manuals supplied with them and many articles printed in various computing and electronics magazines. There were even books and magazines published through the 1980s replete with “type-through” BASIC source code for various programs where people could transcribe this source code in to their computers to run these programs.
BASIC – the cornerstone of the hobby computing movement of the 1980s – turns 50
How this relates to the networked connected lifestyle is that the BASIC language gave us a taste of home computing and computer programming as a hobby. Even as Microsoft evolved the language towards QuickBASIC and Visual BASIC for the DOS / Windows platform, it exposed us to the idea of an easy-to-understand programming language that was able to get most of us interested in this craft.