This month, BASIC celebrates an anniversary reached by very few languages: 50 years of continuous use. During that long career, whose highlights mostly occurred before the age of 25, it has beckoned millions to the world of programming, most of whom immediately forsook the language for more robust alternatives.
It's difficult to imagine the computing world in 1964. There were no PCs, nor even minicomputers, and networking was for all practical purposes nonexistent. Programming was done on mainframes that could support remote teletype machines over telephone lines. Programs were stored on decks of punched cards, or loops of very carefully handled paper tape. In this rather challenging environment, two Dartmouth professors, John Kemeny and Thomas Kurtz, came up with the idea to create a simple, high-level language to teach programming.
They called the toy language BASIC, which seems fitting -- although the term was an acronym for Beginner's All-Purpose Symbolic Instruction Code. Today, I believe most people would be comfortable only with the B in the acronym. BASIC was certainly not all-purpose. I expect that Kemeny and Kurtz might have been tempted to use the modern term "language," rather than "symbolic instruction code," but BAL was already an acronym in use on mainframes (Basic Assembly Language -- where "basic" retains its natural meaning).
BASIC took off and hit its stride in the '70s and especially the '80s, when it became the de facto language for PC programming. It was the language that Microsoft rode to fame and fortune. (It's hard to recall, but before they focused on MS-DOS, Bill Gates and cohorts developed programming tools, most notably a BASIC interpreter for the Altair 8800.) It was also the language that launched Dr. Dobb's, whose first three issues were dedicated to writing a "Tiny BASIC" interpreter.
The story continues on EE Times' sister site Dr. Dobb's.