TIME Technologizer

A Short History of BASIC, as Told in Animated GIFs

Seven moments in the life of a great programming language

On Tuesday, we published my piece celebrating the 50th anniversary of BASIC, the programming language — created by John Kemeny and Tom Kurtz at Dartmouth College — that played an enormous role in creating the whole concept of personal computing. Today is the actual anniversary, commemorating the day when BASIC programs first successfully ran on a GE computer system at Dartmouth College.

One of the reasons I had fun working on the article was that it provided an excuse to use a bunch of versions of BASIC — both ones I once loved, such as TRS-80 Level II, and some I’d spent little or no time in, like the one for the Commodore 64.

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.

Here are the seven GIFs I whipped up.

Dartmouth BASIC
Harry McCracken / TIME
Harry McCracken / TIME
Commodore 64
Harry McCracken / TIME
Munchkin Attack
Harry McCracken / TIME
Harry McCracken / TIME
Small Basic

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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