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A History of the Computer Programming Language BASIC Told Using Animated GIFs

Writer Henry McCracken has created a short history of the computer programming language BASICover at TIME Technologizer using animated GIFs of various versions of the language running code. McCracken also wrote a longer feature celebrating 50 years of the programming language.

I did so using a bevy of emulators on my MacBook Air. And I used a neat program called Camtasia and some post-processing in Photoshop to create animated GIFs capturing what I saw as I loaded some significant BASIC programs, listed the code and then ran it.

  • An early Dartmouth BASIC program, performing a simple math exercise, as run on a simulator of the college’s time-sharing system. The DTSS’s Teletypes used yellow paper–and printed far more slowly than this recreation.

  • This very early Apple II clone of Atari’s Breakout–later known as Brick Out and Little Brick Out–was written by Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak himself, in Integer BASIC, which he also wrote.

  • This one-line Commodore 64 program, which prints a never-ending, maze-like pattern, inspired an entire book of essays in 2012.

  • David Plotkin’s Munchkin Attack, an Atari game published as a type-in in SoftSidemagazine in 1982, may remind you of a more famous arcade game. Being written in interpreted BASIC, it can just barely manage to move two on-screen characters at once.

  • Leo Christopherson’s TRS-80 masterwork Android Nim (1978). Trust me: These graphics were amazing for the time.

  • DONKEY.BAS shipped with the original IBM PC in 1981. The most notable thing about it is its co-author, a fellow by the name of Bill Gates.

  • Microsoft’s modern BASIC for beginners, Small Basic, proving that it can run an admirable version of Tetris.

This isn’t a complete history of BASIC: For instance, I didn’t create an animated screen shot for Altair BASIC, one of the most important BASICs of them all. (Hey, it was both the first one for microcomputers and the first Microsoft product.) But the next time a major anniversary in the world of software happens, maybe I’ll try to tell its story in GIFs, and only GIFs.
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