Happy 44th Birthday: BASIC

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From Wired Magazine:
May 1, 1964: First Basic Program Runs
In the predawn hours of May Day, two professors at Dartmouth College run the first program in their new language, Basic.

Mathematicians John G. Kemeny and Thomas E. Kurtz had been trying to make computing more accessible to their undergraduate students. One problem was that available computing languages like Fortran and Algol were so complex that you really had to be a professional to use them.

So the two professors started writing easy-to-use programming languages in 1956. First came Dartmouth Simplified Code, or Darsimco. Next was the Dartmouth Oversimplified Programming Experiment, or Dope, which was too simple to be of much use. But Kemeny and Kurtz used what they learned to craft the Beginner's All-Purpose Symbolic Instruction Code, or Basic, starting in 1963.

The college's General Electric GE-225 mainframe started running a Basic compiler at 4 a.m. on May 1, 1964. The new language was simple enough to use, and powerful enough to make it desirable. Students weren't the only ones who liked Basic, Kurtz wrote: "It turned out that easy-to-learn-and-use was also a good idea for faculty members, staff members and everyone else."

And it's not just for mainframes. Paul Allen and Bill Gates adapted it for personal computers in 1975, and it's still widely used today to teach programming and as a, well, basic language. (Reacting to the proliferation of complex Basic variants, Kemeny and Kurtz formed a company in the 1980s to develop True BASIC, a lean version that meets ANSI and ISO standards.)

The other problem Kemeny and Kurtz attacked was batch-processing, which made for long waits between the successive runs of a debugging process. Building on work by Fernando Corbat�, they completed the Dartmouth Time Sharing System, or DTSS, later in 1964. Like Basic, it revolutionized computing.

Ever the innovator, Kemeny served as president of Dartmouth, 1970-81, introducing coeducation to the school in 1972 after more than two centuries of all-male enrollment.
In the late 1970's and early 1980's, my Mom and Dad lived in Hanover where Dartmouth is located. My Dad got his first computer (Apple IIe+) for writing and during one Christmas visit (I was living in Boston at the time), I got him a dial-up account on the DTSS. 300 BAUD -- that was high tech. The modem cost $600 and was a bargain. We certainly have come a long long way from these beginnings...

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