For those who cut their teeth on computers in the 1980s, mentioning the BASIC programming language may well bring back fond memories. This was for many the first exposure to programming languages since Beginner’s All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code underpinned an entire generation of microcomputers. Because it served as the machine’s interface, users of computers like Sinclair’s ZX Spectrum had no choice other than to learn rudimentary BASIC instructions – even if that extended no further than Load and Print.
The BASIC programming language was created at Dartmouth College, New Hampshire, in the mid-1960s, and was originally intended as a teaching language for beginners in computer programming. Because of its plain English terminology, BASIC was easier to comprehend than the machine code its instructions were translated into. It was one of the first languages to enable people with little knowledge of computers to customize existing software – or even create their own…
In the 1980s, when BASIC was the OS powering many home computers, magazines were published full of program listings. Provided that every line was entered correctly, these instructions would build and launch a simple program. Editing these programs was as simple as tweaking their code, introducing many of today’s software experts to the joys of program editing.
In some ways, those magazine listings were early examples of open source software, like Linux and MySQL. They taught an entire generation about the importance of subroutines, inspiring those who would go on to develop internet browsers, software packages, and even rival programming languages. And here in 2018, BASIC lives on in new interfaces like QB64 and specialist languages such as Small Basic.
Keeping it in the family
Over the decades, BASIC has inspired dozens of separate implementations, many associated with specific OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers). Some of these inevitably became obsolete, like Commodore BASIC, while others were absorbed into the mainstream, such as Visual Basic. BASIC is used to create software for Casio calculators and the Nintendo 3DS, while Microsoft’s love of the language means VBScript (a descendant of Visual Basic) is still supported across Windows and IIS.
Its durability and ongoing development explain why learning to program in BASIC remains a useful background skill for any IT professional. This language is still ubiquitous, so a working knowledge is beneficial for anyone involved in teaching or training. It also provides a stepping stone to more complex languages like C++, which is helpful for people looking to expand their skill sets into programming; understanding one language makes learning others much easier. The Android and iOS app stores feature BASIC compilers and programming interfaces, enabling experimentation in a stable environment away from servers and databases.
Today, anyone wanting to learn the BASIC programming language has plenty of options. Some of the Android and iOS apps mentioned above have online reference directories and example programs, helping newcomers get to grips with BASIC’s idiosyncrasies. YouTube has a ton of videos on everything from coding techniques to writing BASIC code inside Minecraft, and Reddit is a source of useful information about new variants such as QB64.
QB64 is a self-hosting BASIC compiler, whose most recent stable release was launched last Christmas for Windows, Mac OS X and Linux. While its syntax is backwards compatible with QuickBASIC, QB64 is intended for app development and executables across all three compatible platforms without requiring platform-specific code. Unlike older versions of BASIC, it supports networked applications, contemporary image formats including PNG and TrueType fonts. Alongside compatibility with 3D graphics and3D audio, it’s even capable of generating RAW sounds. As a thoroughly modern version of BASIC, QB64 is the latest reincarnation of a language that has survived over 50 years – and the newest reason why knowledge of BASIC remains a vital skill in any IT professional’s armory.