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

Roger Stringer Roger Stringer
October 29, 2018
2 min read

Harry McCracken, writing for Time:

It was huge news among the small number of people who could be called computer nerds at the time — people like Paul Allen, who was working as a programmer for Honeywell in Boston.

When he bought a copy of the January 1975 issue of Popular Electronics at the Out of Town newsstand in Harvard Square, with the Altair on the cover, he and an old friend — a Harvard sophomore named Bill Gates — got excited. Immediately, they knew they wanted to try to make the Altair run BASIC, a language they’d both learned in its original timeshared-via-Teletype form at the Lakeside School in Seattle.

Actually, Allen had been ruminating about the possibility of building his own BASIC even before he knew about the Altair. “There hadn’t been attempts to write a full-blown programming language for a microprocessor,” he explains. “But when the chips leading up to the 8080 processor became available, I realized we could write a program for it that would be powerful enough to run BASIC.”

I learned to program with BASIC, on my old color computer 3 I got for Christmas in the first grade, i used it for many years and have some fond memories of it, even if it was a pain in the ass.

Programming languages have come a long ways from those days, not so basic anymore.

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