Ted's Computer World A Testimonial to
BASIC Programming

The Master had assigned a programming project to his three students.  Each program would perform the same task, but the students would utilize different programming languages.  One was to use C, one Pascal, and the other would code in BASIC.

After a period of time, the Master assembled his protégés for an accounting.  "How is your program coming along?", he asked of the first student.

"Oh, my C code is so powerful that you won't believe how fast it will run!", the student responded.

The Master made the same inquiry of the second pupil, who answered, "Oh, my Pascal code is so elegant and beautifully structured, it will make you proud!"

Then the Master turned to the BASIC programmer, who shrugged his shoulders and said, "I'm finished.  What's the next assignment?"

When Bill Gates created GW (Gee-Whiz) BASIC — a substantial upgrade of BASICA and other offerings of the time, relatively unsophisticated programmers finally had access to a powerful tool that was ridiculously easy to learn compared to the foremost languages of the time — Fortran, Pascal, and COBOL.  Gates thought highly enough of his brain-child to found the Microsoft Corporation in order to market GW-BASIC (although he doubtless had other ideas as well).

Detractors cited BASIC's inherent non-requirement of a rigid structure as a deterrent to good programming habits; they also complained that, since BASIC was "interpreted," it didn't run as fast as compiled languages.  Of course, both of these arguments were flawed.  Although BASIC did support the writing of unstructured and undecipherable code, such behavior was determined by the user's individual taste, competence, and class.  The fact that bad programmers were able to make something work despite their bad habits actually was a tribute to the versatility of the language, not a detriment.

Moreover, the BASIC interpreter itself was a plus, not a minus.  Its facility enabled code to be tested without the necessity of pre-compilation, which saved time, and it provides the user a more interactive role, such as with insertion of STOP commands which would cause a compiler to choke.  Among all existing programming languages, only interpreted BASIC offered this highly useful feature.  In any case, GW-BASIC could be compiled as fast-running, stand-alone modules.  The IBM BASCOM 2.0 compiler did work, but the QuickBASIC 4.0 compiler created executables that were 5-10 times faster.

Of course, GW-BASIC had its limitations — 16-bit integer math, EGA (640×350) graphics, and restrictions on program size.  Those specifications do not indicate a poor program — merely an old one.  Nevertheless, until recent times I continued to use GW-BASIC for small utilitarian functions.  (In true diehard fashion, I also continued to use WordPerfect 5.1 — the best piece of software ever written, for the same reasons: it got the job done quickly, and it never crashed.)  Unfortunately, my newer 64-bit operating system (Windows 7) cannot natively run those old applications; so I have been compelled finally to move on.

This retrospective is not intended as an attempt to convert anyone to an archaic programming language.  However, if you are interested in looking at the incredibly influential program that gave the world's richest man his big start and introduced coding to the masses, GW-BASIC 3.23 (the final version) and user manuals are available for free download on the Internet.  QuickBASIC is similarly available, although some dreamers might still be trying to sell it.  These programs will run on 32-bit Windows systems such as XP or earlier versions.

Of course, if you want state-of-the-art programming capabilities, purchase PowerBASIC (unsolicited testimonial).  Visual BASIC, Visual C++, and especially VB.NET (ugh) have become increasingly dependent upon code-bloat and massive amounts of memory.  PB is the standout choice for smaller, faster, industrial-strength executables.  The Microsoft offerings have other limitations as well, such as that VB lacks a macro language (you do not want to be without one of those), and VB.NET programs are unusable outside a .NET framework.  PowerBASIC offers both a full-blown Windows version and a Console Compiler (text-based screens), which is what I use.  Additionally, a number of useful third-party utilities have been designed solely to augment these compilers.

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