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The Future of BASIC

by Lloyd Borrett
Australian Personal Computer, June 1991

When was the last time you considered BASIC as a programming language? For many of you the answer might be never. For others, like myself, it may have been the first programming language you learnt at school.

In the 1970's BASIC was popular as the first programming language to teach students. After all, that is what the language was developed for. However, early BASIC interpreters with their slow execution speed and limited power caused educators to look for other programming languages.

In the 1980's structured programming languages such as Pascal and C became popular. Most educators switched to these languages, and those of us that had learnt BASIC in school often had no choice but to program in older languages like COBOL and FORTRAN once we moved into the workforce.

BASIC Evolves

However, BASIC continued to be developed and it has become much more powerful over the years. The difference between the original BASIC programming language and the Microsoft BASIC interpreter that came with the first IBM PCs in 1981 is amazing.

Then we saw BASIC compilers from Microsoft and others which overcame the speed limitations of earlier interpreters. These early compilers simply allowed you to compile those applications written with the BASIC interpreter, but they were successful because of the amazing difference in execution speeds between the interpreted and compiled BASIC programs.

Later we saw the introduction of BASIC compilers that began to add to the programming constructs and data types available to the programmer. The Microsoft QuickBASIC compiler series was perhaps the most influential of these, being very cheap yet extending the BASIC language and producing reliable fast compiled programs.


The current BASIC compilers fully support structured programming constructs and data types. BASIC run time programs are no longer big and bulky thanks to the "granularity" of the library code included. The libraries are made up of many individually accessible pieces or granules which reduce the size of the final stand-alone BASIC program.

Microsoft recently released BASIC version 7.1 which includes the Programmers WorkBench (an integrated development environment first included with Microsoft C version 6.0). This new BASIC has faster Indexed Sequential Access Method (ISAM) file handling, and fully supports OS/2. BASIC 7.1 can create real mode executable files that run in both DOS and OS/2, or protected mode executable files that run in OS/2.

With the release of DOS 5.0, Microsoft has thrown out the old BASIC interpreter and included a new one developed from their QuickBASIC product line. Now all users of DOS 5.0 have access to an up-to-date, powerful and comprehensive BASIC interpreter.

BASIC and Applications

Odd as it may sound, Microsoft does not place BASIC in the languages category but within the applications group. This is hard to understand until you realise that they are starting to include macro languages in their application products which use the syntax and constructs of BASIC.

Soon we can expect the users of Microsoft's spreadsheet and word processing applications to have started to learn some of the fundamental concepts of BASIC programming. The power users who build and maintain complex macros for others will essentially be BASIC programmers with an understanding of a given application!

In turn we're starting to see parts of these application incorporated into BASIC. For example, all of Excel's numeric formatting and financial functions are now included as BASIC keywords.

The Future of BASIC

Microsoft hasn't brought BASIC this far only to let it fall by the wayside. They have plans to give it full compatibility with OS/2 Presentation Manager, SQL Server and Windows. This will thrust BASIC into a whole new arena once only occupied by other high level languages such as C and Pascal. BASIC is as structured as either of these languages and deserves serious consideration as the teaching and development tool of the 1990's.

Last modified: Saturday, 15 October 2011


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