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50 Years of BASIC, the Language That Made Computers Personal 224

harrymcc (1641347) writes "On May 1, 1964 at 4 a.m. in a computer room at Dartmouth University, the first programs written in BASIC ran on the university's brand-new time-sharing system. With these two innovations, John Kemeny and Thomas Kurtz didn't just make it easier to learn how to program a computer: They offered Dartmouth students a form of interactive, personal computing years before the invention of the PC. Over at, I chronicle BASIC's first 50 years with a feature with thoughts from Kurtz, Microsoft's Paul Allen and many others."
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50 Years of BASIC, the Language That Made Computers Personal

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  • by flyingfsck ( 986395 ) on Tuesday April 29, 2014 @11:57AM (#46868825)
    No, it is more a case that access to any computing resources was very limited. Twenty years later, universities still had old time sharing machines running Fortran and BASIC that first year students trained on and COBOL, while PL1 on Sperry-Univac machines was the new thing for the seniors. A typical university only had two to four computers in total. I also started by learning BASIC with punch cards on a mainframe, since that was the only thing that was available. The small computer population explosion only really happened in the 1980s.
  • by DiscountBorg(TM) ( 1262102 ) on Tuesday April 29, 2014 @12:24PM (#46869093)

    I agree, but this is actually an old tongue in cheek essay, in context it makes more sense perhaps:

    "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.
    PL/I --"the fatal disease"-- belongs more to the problem set than to the solution set.
    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.
    The use of COBOL cripples the mind; its teaching should, therefore, be regarded as a criminal offence.
    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." []

  • by coolmoose25 ( 1057210 ) on Tuesday April 29, 2014 @12:43PM (#46869277)
    I started working on computers in the early 80's... The first one I used was a TI 99 4a. It had tape drives and a TV set as a monitor, and a horrific keypad (note: not keyboard). Then my brother got a PC Jr. and I started hacking with that and then went off to college. As an engineering major, I learned FORTRAN on punched cards. I hated it! Swore I'd never have a job where I used computers.

    Then my brother got the family to chip in and buy me a Tandy 1000a. It came with DOS, Deskmate, and Basic. I started programming in Basic using the concepts I had learned in FORTRAN. By the end, I think I had dumped about $5,000 into that computer. Printers, memory upgrades, floppy upgrades, hard drive, monitor, etc. And still was able to do amazing things with Basic and with BAT files.

    My first job was with Arthur Andersen. COBOL. Batch COBOL. 2.5 years of it. Learned it in 6 weeks, and spent the rest of my career there either coding it or writing tech specs for it.

    Went to work at an insurance company coding SqlWindows, a now obscure 4th gen programming language. But hey, it was Windows programming. Spent 10 years there in a variety of roles.

    After that I set up my own web development shop... Wrote classic ASP which is essentially Basic for the web. And then went to work at another insurance company, writing, you guessed it, Microsoft Granted, was a far cry from the original basic, and probably would have been better off learning C#. But that was Microsoft's strategy with .Net - recycle old VB programmers and old C programmers using the CLR. At the end of the day, not much difference between C# and Now I don't code anymore, I'm a VP at that insurance company. But I owe a lot of my career for having a tool like Basic available to me in my formative years. Sure, it teaches you some bad coding habits. But just like anything else, you learn from that, and others, and classes (and objects for those who like puns). Those who say that you can't be a good programmer after having learned basic are either elitist snobs or idiots. Sometimes you have to do it wrong first to see how doing it right makes all the difference. So Happy Birthday Basic - I love ya' baby.
  • by mwvdlee ( 775178 ) on Tuesday April 29, 2014 @12:58PM (#46869415) Homepage

    I stopped programming COBOL about 5 years ago, after having professionally used COBOL for about 13 years.
    I've never even encountered a COBOL interpreter; it was all compiled.

    IMHO, interpreted COBOL makes no sense at all; you use COBOL because you want raw performance.
    If performance isn't top priority, you'd be better off using Java, C++ or most other languages.
    Perhaps if you need backwards compatibility for obsoleted hardware running legacy code.

Reactor error - core dumped!