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The BASIC - Programming Language is a high-level programming language created in 1964 by John George Kemeny and Thomas Eugene Kurtz at Dartmouth College. It allowed students not in science fields to use computers. At the time all computer use required writing own software, which was something only scientists tended to do. The name is an acronym for Beginner's All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code, not related to C. K. Ogden's series titled "Basic English." The acronym ties to the name of an unpublished paper by Thomas Kurtz.

The main design principles of BASIC are:
  • easy to use
  • general-purpose language
  • advanced features for experts while keeping it simple for beginners
  • interactive
  • clear error messages
  • fast for small programs
  • no need to understand computer hardware
  • no interaction with the operating system
BASIC was once the world's most popular programming language, but in it's orginal form it is much less popular today. However, the Visual Basic programming language and its close relatives, which have diverged greatly from the original BASIC, are probably the most widely distributed languages in the world today. Because of their inclusion in every major Microsoft Office application, BASIC's influence continues to be strong.

Despite the disrespect by computer professionals, BASIC has been the most popular programming language. The disrespect comes from BASIC being a "slow interpretive unstructured language." The first version of BASIC, Dartmouth BASIC, was surprisingly not interpretive, and not particularly slow. All next versions of Dartmouth BASIC and the direct descendants have all been compilers.

Development of the first version of BASIC was on a timesharing mainframe called the GE-265, which was a GE-235 with a GE DataNet-30. The false reputation for BASIC's slow performance tied to the GE FORTRAN compiler. The hardware placed the startup code at the beginning of the runtime tape, and the shutdown code at the end. This resulted in an empty FORTRAN program taking a very long time to run. Dartmouth BASIC did not have this problem.

During the early days of BASIC there were no interpretive versions, however with the arrival of the first personal computers multiple interpretive versions of BASIC proliferated. The designers of the first personal computers with keyboards needed to include software to allow people to write software. Most other programming languages were too large to fit in the small ROM space on the machines. Not even a compiled version of BASIC would fit, so interpretive BASIC was chosen. Microsoft made the most widespread versions.

Since the early days of the BASIC compilers, some of them generating code as fast as the fastest versions of Pascal and C, have made a comeback. Its reputation remains despite the addition of structured programming capability.

BASIC is available for almost every platform made. One free interpretive variant that is compliant with standards and highly cross-platform is ByWater BASIC. Another free version which includes a GUI builder, is similar to Visual Basic and runs on Windows and Linux is Phoenix Object Basic. The most well known compiled versions are Microsoft's Quick BASIC product line and QBASIC, a version which does not generate executables. Some versions of the best-selling Visual BASIC product-line are also compilers. Microsoft has altered Visual BASIC into a language minimally compatible with early versions of Dartmouth BASIC. Other versions include PowerBASIC's PowerBASIC, and True BASIC's True BASIC, a product compliant with the latest official standards for BASIC. The original creators of BASIC founded True BASIC Inc. RealBasic is a variant available for the Macintosh which as well generates executables for MS-Windows.

Sample 1: Unstructured BASIC
10 INPUT "First number"; A
20 INPUT "Second number"; B
30 PRINT "The sum of the numbers is";A + B
40 IF A + B = 10 THEN GOTO 60
50 GOTO 10
60 END

Sample 2: Structured BASIC
   INPUT "First number"; A
   INPUT "Second number"; B
   PRINT "The sum of the numbers is";A + B
   IF A + B = 10 THEN EXIT DO


Documents Defining BASIC:
ANSI Standard for Minimal BASIC (ANSI X3.60-1978 "FOR MINIMAL BASIC")
    NBS Minimal BASIC Test Programs - Version 2,User's Manual Volume 1 - Documentation
    NBS Minimal BASIC Test Programs - Version 2,User's Manual Volume2 - Source Listings and Sample Output

Representation of source programs for program interchange
Standard ECMA-116 Basic



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