Fifty Years of BASIC: the Programming Language That Made Computers Personal #BASIC

Fifty Years of BASIC, the Programming Language That Made Computers Personal

Time magazine features an article on the 50th anniversary of the BASIC programming language.

BASIC was primarily John Kemeny’s idea, and he wrote the first version himself. Starting in September 1963, he and Tom Kurtz began the overarching effort to get the language and the DTSS up and running. They led a team of a dozen undergraduate students–young men who were still in the process of learning about computers themselves. (Dartmouth was a male-only institution at the time: Kemeny himself took it co-ed in 1972 as president of the college).

A goal:

BASIC quote

early Dartmouth BASIC program
An early Dartmouth BASIC program, performing a simple math exercise, as run on a simulator of the university’s time-sharing system Harry McCracken / TIME


Read the article on Time. Do you remember BASIC? Did you program some neat stuff in BASIC (I did) – post in the comments below.

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  1. Ah yes, BASIC — acronym for “Beginner’s All-purpose Symbolic Insruction Code”! Even the earliest implementations usually allowed one enough functionality to solve some fairly complex problems, while removing the headaches often associated with other languages such as FORTRAN. While FORTRAN still had its place in the scientific community, even the “format free” versions still added burden to the programmer from which BASIC usually liberated one. I used BASIC often in my early career to optimize solutions to engineering-type problems — solutions that would have otherwise been too complex to compel one to want to optimize. I found the language very powerful, useful and yet very forgiving — especially “interpreted” versions, as compared to compiled languages such as FORTRAN.

  2. BASIC, or Basic, is still around and useful and fun. Possibly interesting links for the Adafruitati:

    8-Bit Guy:
    Color Maximite SBC with really nice Basic, PS/2 keyboard input, and VGA output

    Geoff Graham:
    Creator of MicroMite and Maximite Basic environment for PIC-based SBCs

    The Back Shed:
    Down Under + international forum for MicroMite questions, applications, and variations

  3. One Friday evening between mid-1979 and early 1982, I got my copy of Creative Computing in the mail. It included a challenge: write a program to inscribe a five-pointed star in a circle.

    I no longer had the access to TRS-80s that I had while in college, but I remembered TRS-80 BASIC, so I sat down, wrote out the appropriate rotation matrices, and wrote in a notebook a program that would prompt you for m and n and then inscribe an (m, n) polygram (the five pointed star is a (5, 2) polygram) in a circle, drawing it so that the segments of the polygram would reach their ends just as the circle plot came along to meet it, and then display “PRESS ANY KEY TO CONTINUE” marquee-style underneath. I mailed it off with a description of how it worked, and forgot about it.

    Some time later–a year or so–Creative Computing arrived in the mail, and the columnist finally wrote about the submissions he’d received. There was a photo of the output of my program, and he mentioned that I sent in a handwritten listing and evidently had never actually run it. I think someone else got the most favorable mention… and at the end the author said that thenceforth, submissions *MUST* be in machine-readable form.

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