Monday, April 28, 2014

Happy Birthday 50 year’s BASIC

Happy Birthday 50 year’s BASIC, programming for the masses

In the early days of computer science, only a small elite could program

Back in 1982 I own my first computer which was a Casio pocket computer, a Casio FX-702P. The FX-702P features a single line dot matrix liquid crystal display with 20 characters. A 10-digit mantissa is displayed (including minus sign) however internal calculations use a 12-digit mantissa.

Dieter Hovorka first computer Casio FX-702P

The programming model employed is a special BASIC dialect. Ten programming areas are supported, P0 through P9. BASIC lines can be numbered from 1 through to 9999. Subroutines are supported, but passing parameters to subroutines is not supported. The subroutine call stack can be up to 10 deep. Both GOTO lines and subroutines can be addressed indirectly via line number calculation. FOR/NEXT structures can be nested up to eight times with a memory of 1,680 bytes.

Owning this pocket computer introduced me to the digital world of programming. It was in May 1982 when my father bought the pocket computer and brought it home. Nearly 20 years later after John G. Kemeny und Thomas E. Kurtz, two professors from the College in U.S. state New Hampshire, started the first BASIC program on a GE-255 from General Electric on the 1.May 1964, I started my digital carrier. Their program had only three command lines, the first line presented "10 Let X = (7+8)/3", in the second "20 PRINT X" and the third line ended with "30 END" The result was to display “5” as a result of the calculation.

10 Let X = (7+8)/3
30 END"  

BASIC was born. The name of BASIC ("Beginner's All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code") explains the intention of the two scientists. They wanted to make a "symbolic general-purpose programming for Beginners" available with "basic" fundamental.
At the high school kids who then took advantage of BASIC for their first steps in the computer world, belonged to the young Bill Gates. In the eighth grade the Lakeside School in Seattle, he gained access to a terminal, with which the students were able to take advantage of computing power at General Electric.

It took until the late 70s until the BASIC got attention. The first home computers from manufacturers such as Atari, Sinclair, Tandy or Schneider came with a so-called interpreter so that the BASIC programs were able to run on a sparsely-equipped hardware. For the triumphal procession of the BASIC-boom made from 1982, the Commodore 64, which carries with total sales of over 22 million units until today the title of "best-selling home computer of all time."



The first personal computer by IBM nearly stopped the proliferation of BASIC. Microsoft allowed PCs with the DOS operating system to equip an environment for BASIC but not as part of the starting equipment. Many BASIC dialects, especially the Microsoft product Visual Basic, where still relevant because they are relatively easy to write applications for Windows. When programming for macros for programs such as Excel, the BASIC technology is used till today.

In computer science BASIC was not without controversy. Conceptually and on the efficiency, BASIC could not keep up with other programming languages, critics also made repeatedly about the confusing spaghetti code, which is produced. Others complained that Visual Basic could never really break away from the platform Windows. However, BASIC is still considered one of the most widely used programming languages that is especially easy to learn - even if it only plays a minor role in the world of the Internet.

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