Microsoft open sources GWBASIC

Liam Proven lproven at
Tue May 26 13:54:46 CDT 2020

On Tue, 26 May 2020 at 18:50, Jim Brain via cctalk
<cctalk at> wrote:
> TO help save a few bits in everyone's mailbox, I will link to some docs:

Whoah. OK, TMI for this dilettante.

I think the  only CBM kit that went through my home was a C16 I fixed
for a friend. I managed to find a dead one very cheaply and swapped in
a good chip for a visibly fried one.

> I am sure all the home computers have these interesting stories, though
> most of the world only knows about variations on the 5150 design and the
> Mac.

True. :-(

> I may have miscommunicated.  CBM did their design work in PA, but final
> layout and such was done at the Japan office.

Aha! All becomes clear.

> Well, I do think Peddle had a great idea.  Most drives of the day were
> tightly coupled to the machine, which was low cost, but tightly coupled
> the hardware.  He was familiar with the HP Interface Bus (HPIB), which
> is IEEE-488, and the value it created (lots of peripherals, lots of
> interconnectedness, etc.).  I think he championed the PET have that as
> opposed to a direct drive connection.  Though IEEE-488 gave way to IEC,
> it and related peripheral connects (the Atari SIO bus) actually were a
> great design choice, as it makes it that much easier today to interface
> contemporary peripheral options to these old machines.  While some
> systems have to emulate an actual floppy format (80kB or 160kB or
> something) when trying to move from spinning disk to SD cards and such,
> one can hang a huge FAT32 formatted SD card off the CBM serial bus and
> the computer doesn't hardly even know.  Most apps just merrily go along.

OK, ISWYM now.

It did seem like a good thing for the PET, yes. Similarly, the BBC
Micro sold into a lot of universities and other research institutions,
not for its own merits as a computer but because it had such a range
of interfaces that you could relatively easily interface them to lab
equipment and use them to control/monitor/log data.

I believe PETs got some similar roles talking to HPIB lab equipment.

There is a very impressive interface for the BBC Micro now:

[Googles] Oh. OK then. *Was*...

It gives -- gave -- a BBC Micro a meg of RAM, a USB port, an SD card
controller and more, all in  one inexpensive interface.

Something like that is just not really possible on a Spectrum or most
of the other cheaper machines.

> Can't argue that.  Some of us were so desperate for color computing, and
> it quickly fell to a reasonable price.

[Nod] Much the same motivation for me.

> MS wrote it, and CBM modified it as needed. BASIC 4.0 I think was wholly
> modified from v2 by CBM.  Something changed at some point, because none
> of the CBM BASIC up to v7 in the C128 had a MS copyright, but v7 (all
> changes done by CBM internally) did have the copyright.  Not sure if MS
> threatened, it was some concession given in licensing a BASIC for Amiga
> (I forget it AMigaBASIC was MS-based...), etc.

There's probably a story to be told in there...

> Now, this is a good question.  I've seen MS BASIC v2 and VIC and 64
> KERNAL (same except for some fixups to fit the 64) and they take up all
> of that 16kB.  Maybe Z80 code is more compact, or maybe Sinclair was
> just better at stuffing code into ROMs.  Not sure.  But, it is obvious
> the Speccy packed more into 16kB than Commodore.

Good question. Sadly IME the people into one so much to delve into ROM
disassembly etc. tend not to be so into the other.

> I think the Sinclair options just were not marketed well in US.  I
> remember considering the ZX81, but really wanted color.  I don't
> remember seeing the 2068 back in the day.  I also don't remember seeing
> the Micro, and what was the cost of it in 1984, for example?

At launch in 1981, £335 for the  higher-spec Model B. In the ballpark
of $700 I think, and it did not drop much over its run, as it never
achieved the volumes of the C64, although it sold a very respectable
1½ million or so.

> In '82, the
> VIC was 332USD, and in 1984, the 64 was $149.  I doubt the other models
> could hit those prices.  Schools here got the Apple IIs (Apple had some
> education program), but lots of us went the cheap route.

Nothing else came close. Commodore still managed to make a profit with
amazing price cuts, it seemed to me.

> We are exactly alike in that.  I have boxes of games I collected from
> back in the day and I don't think I even loaded some of them up one
> time.  So much youthful effort squandered on such a useless task :-)

:-) Indeed!

> > I do not know what a "sheering section" means.
> Typo: "cheering".  :-)

Aha! I still didn't know, but that, I could Google. Gotcha.

I don't know. There is a huge amount of tradition and culture in
computing now, and as a result, few people seem to have informed,
relatively unbiased opinions. There hasn't been much real diversity in

25 or 30y ago, people discussed the merits of Smalltalk or Prolog or
Forth; now most people have never seen or heard of them, and it's just
which curly-bracket language you favour, or does your preferred
language run in a VM or is it compiled to a native binary.

BASIC has a bad rep, and it's very hard to get anyone to look past that.

A rare example:

Or this already 7YO blog post:

> I will absolutely agree with this.  BASIC was the gateway drug. Perhaps
> I quibble because easy and good may not be equivalent. Maybe there is a
> mutual exclusivity at play.  BASIC was easy to learn (kudos to the
> designers) and powerful, no argument there. But, I think it scaled badly
> and created bad habits (global vars, spaghetti code, etc.) and it put me
> a bit behind when I needed to turn my enjoyment of programming into a
> vocation.  But, if you just wanted to whip up a solution to your
> specific problem, and you were not trying to be a professional
> programmer, BASIC was awesome (I still use it when I test hardware
> designs, since it's so much easier than sitting down to write a machine
> language test app.).  But, when the adult drops by the introduction to
> programming class, you just don't know what category that person is in.
> Still, I will agree that it made programming fun, and none of the bad
> habits it fostered were all that difficult to unlearn.

Interesting that you echo word-for-word the phrase used by a commenter
on my blog. (I try to remember to turn all my longer ClassicCmp
answers into blog posts.)

"A gateway drug".

Yes, indeed.

The thing that saddens me, I guess, is that it was a first step on the
ladder for _so many_ but then most hopped to different ladders.
Whereas there _were_ objectively good BASICs out there -- BBC BASIC,
MS QuickBASIC (especially 4), and so on. But they got overlooked in
the rush to C and things built on or in C.

I think it's often believed that this is because early-home-micro-era
BASICs were bad, and for those who are broad-minded enough to allow
that  good BASICs did exist, seem to think that they only came later
-- like in the 1990s  in the case of Microsoft's advancements. This is
not true: there _were_ good BASICs in the early 1980s.

BBC BASIC remains the hallmark -- the ARM chip was designed and built
by Acorn, and the ARM instruction set was prototyped in BBC BASIC. The
language came not only on the Acorn BBC machines; it was the native
programming language of the later Acorn ARM machines too. It also came
in the ROMs of the Cambridge Computers Z88, the Amstrad NC100, NC 150
and NC200. It ran on Windows 3 and CP/M and lots of other OSes.

The Elan Enterprise had a pretty good BASIC in 1985 and the SAM Coupé in 1989.

But I guess most American readers have never heard of any of these machines. :-(

> Well, to be fair to my 10 year old self, living in a rural community, I
> probably didn't do very good research.  I *wanted* an Atari 2600 (yes,
> it's ironic, since I don't play games and really never did), but
> everyone had one, and peer pressure is strong.  My father, who was a
> farmer and mechanic, put his foot down and vetoed the idea, stating that
> for that kind of money, the device should do more than play games (I
> think the 2600 was $199 or something, maybe was a bit more, memory is
> fuzzy).  But we lived in the country, so we did our shopping via the
> Sears/JC Penny/Montgomery Ward paper catalogs, and all of the units
> offered were just as unapproachable as your comments state about the
> options in your youth, save the VIC-20.  Thus, in comparison, it was
> awesome, even though it had issues.  I don't remember seeing the
> Sinclair or the BBC in those catalogs, and that was probably the extent
> of my research.


> My family didn't really care at the time.  Maybe in Europe folks took
> computers more seriously earlier, but my family saw it as just another
> toy the boy wanted.  And, it was all my savings I had accumulated.  Of
> course, I now know we were (and are) privileged concerning income in the
> US (and I think my family would be considered lower middle class at the
> time), but I didn't know that then.  Unlike with food, there was no
> "Jim, there are less fortunate children in other countries who cannot
> afford this kind of computer, so you better pay a lot of attention to
> selecting a valuable option" discussions.  I had the cash, I bought the
> machine, I enjoyed it.

Perfectly reasonable.

> Well, I didn't know they were at first.  Initially, I played games on
> the VIC, and then tired of it and put it away.  A year later, the school
> had some, so I dug it out and really started coding on it. We were not
> in a large metropolis, and computers were so new around here, no one was
> comparing.  Later, when things become more well known, we were all
> trading games, BASIC was never mentioned, and C64 games used the disk
> drive CPU to enable fast disk access, so the slow drive issue just
> magically disappeared. I read magazine articles about better BASIC
> options and A/V commands in other units, and I think I did lament that,
> but I'd made my investment, and the eco-system around here was Atari and
> Commodore.

Makes sense.

Outside of CP/M were *any* mainstream American home computers Z80
based before the C128?

> I'd ask for more clarity here.  I do think compatibility with 2 obscure
> carts was overblown, and maybe you think that was super important. But
> maybe you mean the choice of putting the Z80 in there.  I can't believe
> CBM let him do it, since that piece was so expensive, compared to MOS
> parts.  But, it happened.  Still, I' m not sure your context here.

I am just surprised that this (to me) rather inelegant design survived
and got to market, given what you've said about the same company's
ruthless drive for cost-cutting removed one PCB trace even though it
killed floppy-disk performance, or wouldn't use an extra ROM chip
because it was too expensive.

It seems inconsistent.

Liam Proven – Profile:
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