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On This Date in 1964, the First BASIC Program 258

Posted by timothy
from the if-$date->=-2008-then-goto-past dept. notes that on this day in 1964, the first BASIC program was run. From the Wired article:"Mathematicians John G. Kemeny and Thomas E. Kurtz had been trying to make computing more accessible to their undergraduate students. One problem was that available computing languages like Fortran and Algol were so complex that you really had to be a professional to use them. BASIC is still alive and well these days, from Microsoft's to cross-platform variants like REALbasic. For the old-school among us, there's always Joshua Bell's Apple II BASIC emulator implemented in Javascript."
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On This Date in 1964, the First BASIC Program

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  • HELLO WORLD (Score:5, Funny)

    by QuantumPion (805098) on Thursday May 01, 2008 @12:42PM (#23264864)
    The program was:

    20 GOTO 10

    And it is still running to this day.
  • Programming a VIC-20 in BASIC...and removing all the spaces to save a few bytes. Oh yeah, those were the days! Now we have terabyte drives. The mind boggles.
    • by Cheapy (809643)
      The mind boggles! It does nothing!
  • BBC Basic! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by QJimbo (779370)

    I learned BBC Basic on old Acorn Archimedies computers, I always found it very intuitive and consistant in it's structure. A great language.

    BBC Basic for Windows is still going too, pretty good product though not really good for anything "serious" in my opinion. But then again, thats Basic for you.

    • by steevc (54110)

      I learned BBC Basic on old Acorn Archimedies computers

      I used it on my BBC Model A with 16KB. I had a lot of fun with it and wrote loads of programs, including my first Mandelbrot set. It was a big step up from the simpler Basics I started with on the local college mini via a Teletype. I remember the editor being quite good for the time.

      There is something to be said for simple languages where you just type in a few commands with no worries about loading libraries. Mind you, I would have killed for something like Python.

      I ended up working on some fairly big app

  • Or any variation of so called structured BASIC? Seems like a completely different (set of) language(s) to me, in all but name.
    • Indeed, they were pretty different.

      I remember in high school using qbasic (I think that's what it was) which was structured with procedures, at least. One of my partners wrote the core code, and I had to refactor it to take advantage of the structured part of the language. Of course, we didn't call it "refactoring" back then, we called it "cleaning up this goddam spaghetti."
  • by rsclient (112577) on Thursday May 01, 2008 @01:13PM (#23265262) Homepage
    You can get one of the (original?) manuals from a Bitsaver mirror site: []

    And, their original 'hello world' program does linear algebra (page "9")
  • What BASIC means (Score:4, Informative)

    by thermian (1267986) on Thursday May 01, 2008 @01:14PM (#23265274)
    Beginners All purpose Symbolic Instruction Code.

    There, consider yourselves enlightened.
    I found that out from an article in PC format, back in the long ago.

    Also, for the 'it's not a language' crowd, it *was* for those of us who were learning how to program back then. Ok, I wouldn't use it now, but I really enjoyed it in the eighties.
    • Actually, I used Power Basic fairly recently to measure transistor base current as part of a project. It worked nicely with the simple architecture of a 6502 microprocessor where really all you needed was to accept input via a serial port and sampling into a graph (don't ask - there are some really dated pieces of equipment in use in some establishments in the UK, especially where electronics are being taught - I've had instructors who thought Kirchoff's ideas were radical).

      Mind you I had to wire the circu

    • by BRSQUIRRL (69271)

      Ok, I wouldn't use it now, but I really enjoyed it in the eighties.

      LSD? :)
    • Beginners All purpose Symbolic Instruction Code.

      There, consider yourselves enlightened.

      I thought it stood for:

  • BASIC is still alive and well these days, from Microsoft's to cross-platform variants like REALbasic.

    ...Or, for those interested in FOSS versions (and more cross-platform to boot), you could try SmallBasic [].

    I first used it because I couldn't find any other decent interpreters for an ancient Palm, then discovered it supported just about every platform I regularly use (oddly enough, however, no official Mac build exists, though I'd imagine you could get the Linux version to build on OS X).

    And now
    • Basic excels at one task - Near-instant testing of small blocks of code, up to "toy" one-off programs. And for that, it works perfectly.
      For this purpose, is Basic any better than Python in IDLE?
  • Dartmouth BASIC (Score:4, Informative)

    by theoddball (665938) <theoddball@g[ ] ['mai' in gap]> on Thursday May 01, 2008 @01:29PM (#23265472)
    ...the oldtimers are still keeping the dream alive at ( []. Tom Kurtz and others have coded up emulators for the original system software (DTSS, the Dartmouth Time Sharing System), and the site has a repository of old docs, including the Dartmouth BASIC [] compiler source [] (warning, PDF). There's a trove of historical info [] there on the birth of BASIC, too.

    Kemeny [] himself was largely responsible for the revolution in computing, at least at Dartmouth, and his influence went way beyond developing BASIC. The man went from being a brilliant mathematician and computer scientist to being a brilliant mathematician/CS prof/president of the college. He saw that computing would be ubiquitous -- someday -- and issued every student a network ID. In the mid-70s. There were teletypes all over campus (in the performing arts center, even!) where everyone was invited to log on.

    Sidenote, as related to me by a Dartmouth math/philosophy prof: Kemeny led the school into the era of coeducation, and expanded student enrollment by about a third when women came. Problem was, this put the college way over its housing capacity. So, being who he was, he ran a series of simulations on the mainframe to figure out how to cram 1.3n where there had previously been n students -- staggering schedules, stretching semesters, you name it. The result was the strange/unique Dartmouth program where all sophomores attend for the summer quarter, and are forced off campus/abroad during the "regular" school year. I can't help but admire the guy's approach to the knapsack problem in a different context...
  • Program something in spaghetti code today, and his noodliness will be proud!

    Do your part to help fight global warming!
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by hey! (33014)
      Well, consider this was 1964, it might have been a computed goto ...

      In any case, this was not a language intended for software developers (like Algol). Nor was it a language intended for scientists (like Fortran). It was intended for CS students. Goto is desirable for demonstrating simple models of computation.

      Dartmouth Basic had if/then, gosub, and for/next loops, which were much less gawdawful than Fortran's Do loops. It had fewer than a dozen functions, but they were well chosen to give students th
  • When I was a wee lad, going to Kiewit during the summer and messing around with DTSS and Basic. They tore the building down a long time ago, which makes me feel even older.

    They had DECwriter LA36's (like was used to print the Lions' book), old-fashioned 110 baud teletypes with paper tape readers and punches, and if you were lucky you could get some time on one of the Tektronix vector terminals. They also had some very odd GE printing terminals whose printing looked a lot better than the DECwriters. I was
  • The real hallmark of early BASICs was relying on line numbers.

    It was a real revelation to see some Amiga BASIC code in a magazine without!

    Then some recent stuff like Batari BASIC which is basically a pre-processor into 6502 ASM showed how closely it maps to ASM - in fact, given that Im surprised compiled BASICs weren't more popular especially on slow home computers back in the day!

    And of course Batari BASIC showed me line #s still weren't important, just fancy labels really.
  • Oh my god... it's full of GEEZERS!
  • "Mathematicians John G. Kemeny and Thomas E. Kurtz", was your names.

    I shall incite a mob to hang ye, destroyers of beauty.
  • I remember interviewing at Shared Medical Systems, which was the Microsoft of healthcare software at the time back in 1988, and being a bit surprised that their software was written in VAX Basic. It wasn't until I got into the code that I realized just what could be accomplished using Basic and system calls. You could generate reasonably efficient, commercial grade software running on VAX VMS.
    • by VAXcat (674775)
      Yah, VAX Basic (and DEC's Basic-Plus 2 for the PDP-11 before it) were damn fine languages. They didn't require line numbers (well, actually, the first line in a program had to have one, but no others were required). It supported statement labels, and had lots of modern programming constructs, like real function calls, If-then-else, and the like. Two places where it really shone was in its rich set of string handling features, and its close integration with the features of RMS, the file system/record mana
  • I cut my teeth on BASIC, too, but why the celebration? Specifically, why *now*? I don't know too many people or organizations who are overly eager to celebrate the 44th anniversary above any others. Doesn't really match any nice clean milestone-like numbers (not even in binary!).

    [... and cue the /. numerologists to find the hidden meaning of 44, like it's the first power of two plus the ultimate answer to life the universe and everything, or something like that.]
  • without this reference. []

    I wish I could find the original document.
  • I learned BASIC because that's what HP computers spoke in 1976, when my dad started bring computers home. Since I could barely read, but liked the blinking lights, I started playing around with them and he taught me how to do data entry. Outsourcing labor even then... anyway, the old HP's from the early '70's, their first actual desktop computers, had a BASIC dialect called Rocky Mountain BASIC, because it was written largely at HP's Fort Collins and Loveland, Colorado, locations. It looked much like lat
  • Did anyone else learn BASIC on mark-sense cards ? I "discovered" computers when I was in 7th grade in 1973 in West Vancouver, BC. The compile-edit cycle was one week long. On Friday afternoons we'd take our decks up to the High School and feed them into an HP of unknown model. We'd be rewarded with a length of yellow teletype paper, and if there was a syntax error, or an incorrectly filled in bubble, you had to wait a week to run your program again.

  • I have learned programming with Basic, on an old Green-screen computer. I clearly remember my first program, which was something like this:

    10 GOTO 60
    20 PRINT "L"
    30 GOTO 100
    40 PRINT "E"
    50 GOTO 80
    60 PRINT "H"
    70 GOTO 40
    80 PRINT "L"
    90 GOTO 20
    100 PRINT "O"

    I was overjoyed and amazed that it was possible to create something that is completely incomprehensible by humans, yet does something useful. Fortunately, my programming style has changed a bit over the years :-)

  • I learned Algol in the 8th grade -- it was my second language, after BASIC. I had an account on a PDP-10 timesharing system.

    I don't remember it being conceptually difficult. It just had the block structure syntax. Which is actually a lot easier for non-trivial programs than BASIC's spaghetti code.

  • by dpbsmith (263124) on Thursday May 01, 2008 @06:57PM (#23269234) Homepage
    In the seventies, all the undergraduates whose computer science courses used PASCAL thought themselves to be very superior beings and looked down their noses at any hobbyist hacking away in BASIC. They would usually parrot a distorted echo of Dijkstra's famous rant, which had perhaps been conveyed to them, accurately or inaccurately, by a teaching assistant, and tell you that it was a scientific fact that BASIC rotted your brain.

    So for the record it's worth noting that Dijkstra wasn't ranting against BASIC, specifically. He was ranting against anything that wasn't ALGOL or a derivative thereof, and he was equally harsh about the other major languages of the day:

    "The use of COBOL cripples the mind; its teaching should, therefore, be regarded as a criminal offense.

    APL is a mistake, carried through to perfection. It is the language of the future for the programming techniques of the past: it creates a new generation of coding bums.

    FORTRAN, 'the infantile disorder', by now nearly 20 years old, is hopelessly inadequate for whatever computer application you have in mind today: it is now too clumsy, too risky, and too expensive to use.

    In the good old days physicists repeated each other's experiments, just to be sure. Today they stick to FORTRAN, so that they can share each other's programs, bugs included.

    It is practically impossible to teach good programming to students that have had a prior exposure to BASIC: as potential programmers they are mentally mutilated beyond hope of regeneration."

It is the quality rather than the quantity that matters. - Lucius Annaeus Seneca (4 B.C. - A.D. 65)