Microsoft open sources GWBASIC

Liam Proven lproven at
Mon May 25 11:44:35 CDT 2020

On Sun, 24 May 2020 at 05:14, Jim Brain via cctalk
<cctalk at> wrote:

> The serial interface would have been fast enough, if the MOS folks had
> talked to the design team about the bug and squashed it early. But, they
> did not, and on the VIC-20, which did not expect to move many drives, no
> one cared.  When the VIC-40 (c64) came out, by then the drive was more
> important, but no one was going to redo the drive again (they tried to
> put a new trace on the IEC bus to enable fast mode later, but it got
> optimized out in final layout in Japan).

I defer. I never owned one. I had a ZX Spectrum and longed for a BBC Micro.

> You say that like CBM was known for not "cheaping" out and this was an
> anomaly.  Bil Herd noted that they designed the 64 to last just as long
> as the warrantee.

I think this is part of what irks me.

Sinclair tried hard to make the best possible computers it could for a
limited budget. The ZX80 and ZX81 were pretty good for their time. The
Acorn Atom, for instance, was far superior, but too expensive and only
sold in small numbers.

I personally never saw the appeal in the VIC-20: it was quite
expensive, and 22 columns of text? Come on, you're making fun of me.
What use is that?

The ZX Spectrum was not an optimal solution -- I read recently that
although it sold in the millions and inspired a hundred clones and
copies, it never made a profit for Sinclair, whereas the ZX81 was very

But it had passable graphics, passable sound, a just about passable
keyboard, a passable BASIC. It was very expandable; mine ended up with
dual 5.24" 780 KB disk drives on a disk interface that also gave me a
joystick port, a proprietary network port (!), a Centronics printer
port, an NMI button for taking and dumping snapshots of copy-protected
games and screenshots thereof and more.

And when I bought a newer 128KB Spectrum, all that worked with it as before.

In a machine that was £175 at launch, or about half to a third of the
price of an add-on floppy drive for a Commodore or Atari.

I think that's a pretty good attempt to hit multiple targets in one
go. It was weak in all areas, sure, but it was broadly equally weak
whereas it hit a price point other companies hadn't even considered
aimed for.

Whereas the C64... well, I will quote you out of sequence:

> I think you just don't agree with what they were doing.  Jack was
> selling game machines that had enough computing power to satisfy Mom and
> Dad's edict that the kids not just have a game console.  If you wanted
> good use of video or audio, you bought from CBM or the third party.
> BASIC was minimal, because you had to have something to load the game :-)

That is my _point_ here.

Good graphics, for 1982. Great sound, for the early '80s at all.
Decent keyboard. Some expansion potential.

But not balanced, because of a deeply crappy BASIC.

Remember, it was US$595 when it was new; as Wikipedia notes, that's
equivalent to $1,576 in 2019.

I do not expect a shitty half-assed effort at a BASIC for one and a
half thousand bucks!

If I spent $1500 on a computer these days, no, I most definitely would
not accept that it had, say, 16GB of RAM, a kick-ass 3D card, a ~4GHz
octo-core processor... and the OS was installed on a 400GB EIDE drive.

You say:

> Oh, I think that's a stretch.  Because of the system's ubiquity, there
> are plenty of BASIC upgrades available to add the requisite audio and
> video options.  BASIC had other issues, Commodore can't take credit for
> giving it a bad name.
> As a home user of the machine back int he day, I highly disagree. We all
> had fixed the BAD BASIC and slow drive issues a few years after intro.
> By 1984, everyone had fastload or JiffyDOS or SpeeDOS or similar, and
> BASIC 4.0 or even better BASICs were always available.  It was a games
> machine, with a rightly limited BASIC (you want more feature, buy the
> add-in.  It was like the in app purchases of today's games)

I really don't think that counts.

3rd party upgrades or replacements don't signify, because they just
lead to market fragmentation. Book publishers wouldn't do books of
programming tips for some niche BASIC extension that only 1% of the
market has. Magazines wouldn't print tutorials and listings for it.

No. It's what's in the box that counts.

It was a massive, egregious, outstanding corner that was cut on a
fifteen hundred dollar machine, not just a detail to be swept under
the rug.

And yes, I think it really _did_ set the expectations of millions as
to what BASIC was.

Certainly when I was a spotty 13YO schoolboy, with friends learning
programming, and the Commodore owners were surprised to learn that
those of us with Sinclair or Oric machines, or a bit later Amstrads --
you may well have never  seen or heard of any of those; look 'em up,
they're interesting -- could do stuff like draw shapes and play tunes
right in BASIC.

> Oh come on.  The Osborne had the same size screen and sold well. Dipping
> their toe in that market to sell hardware doesn't seem such a stretch to me.

It was, as you yourself say, a relatively cheap home/games computer,
not a business one.

> I can't argue that, but the machines weren't supposed to exist. Jack
> wanted a Sinclair killer to mop up the low end of the market.  The C116
> was that machine (complete with crappy chicklet KB and wedge form
> factor, priced at $USD49.00.  It was Jack and Gould's falling out that
> caused Jack to quit caring about the machine (which less competent
> minions decided to promote up into a business machine (+4) and a
> slightly larger form factor without the hideous chicklet KB (C16). They
> even toyed with a supersized +4 for a time (CV364), but I will agree
> with your angst on this line of machines.

I got that.

What I was trying to convey was that, ISTM, it's evidence that
Commodore didn't really know to whom it was selling, what those
customers wanted, or how to exploit its massive market share.

Cluelessness was quite common in the micro industry. Lots of companies
promised the Earth, couldn't deliver and died, or delivered late and
died, or underdelivered and died, because they didn't understand the
market or how to win a place in it.

And yet, despite that, there was a profusion of machines. Z80 and 6502
and 6809. MS BASIC and MSX. The big American makes: Atari and Tandy
and Apple. The big European makes: Sinclair, Oric, Amstrad. The niche
ones: Sord, Spectravideo, Mattel, VTech/Laser, Dick Smith. The little
British companies: Dragon, Memotech, Camputers, Jupiter, Elan.

So much diversity.

But so few of them put the effort into a decent programming language.
Not "let us help educate the children because they are our future".
No, instead, "screw 'em, they're kids, we just have to bullshit their

The long-term result was tarnishing the name of one of the greatest
educational languages ever written, and certainly by far the  most
successful compared to Logo or Smalltalk or anything else.

> Jack knew.  Sell low cost machines with good value to mop up market
> share and make money.  Put only the bare minimum in them. Folks after
> him did not agree, which I do think fits in with your statement.

I am not so sure. I don't think a 64KB micro in 1982 was "bare
minumum" of anything, TBH. It was a relatively high-end machine for
its time.

The Sinclairs were bare-minimum low-cost kit. Not Commodore.

> Again, misleading.  The Z80 was not a design goal.  a 2MHz C64
> compatible with 80 columns was the design goal.  THank the Z80 on some
> Marketing shmuck that promised CP/M compatibility on the unit (thinking
> the C64 CP/M cart would work, which it can't, because the cart is badly
> designed, I am told it was a bit f plagiarism from an Apple II CP/M
> card, but failed to take into account the strange C64 bus cycle).  Bil
> is around and can happily tell you the story of simply designing the Z80
> cart into the main motherboard to checkoff the requirement and quit
> having to fight to get the cart to work.

I had heard that but forgotten about it.

I still think it was a bad idea, TBH.

But hey, it sold in the millions, so... *shrug*

> CBM really wasn't interested as soon as the Amiga purchase happened.  I
> think the C128 only got greenlit because CBM needed some cash flow and
> the Amiga was taking too long to ramp up sales.   In my opinion, the C65
> was an early retro machine, trying to bring back some of that 80's home
> computer vibe.

That's an interesting take. I think I have to give you that one. :-D

Liam Proven – Profile:
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