Microsoft open sources GWBASIC

Liam Proven lproven at
Thu May 28 13:24:10 CDT 2020

On Tue, 26 May 2020 at 21:52, Jim Brain via cctalk
<cctalk at> wrote:
> Well, *I've* heard of them, but I enjoy knowing about such things.  Most
> in the US do not.

*Nod* Shame but it's fair enough.

I think there is at the least an article (and possibly an entire
university course module) comparing European and United States
hardware and software design schools in the early, pre-standardisation
days before the general-purpose computing market collapsed down to,
essentially, x86 versus ARM and Windows NT versus *nix, which is where
we are today.

One could usefully compare this to the Japanese market, for a long
time _entirely_ separate and almost unknown anywhere else... and the
relatively tiny but important and totally different Japanese _export_

In extremely broad, hand-wavey strokes:

In the early *microcomputer* days (1970s and early 1980s)

US: CP/M in business, meaning Z80. Home computers mainly 6502.
Converged by putting Z80s into 6502 machines, eventually built-in.

EU: lots of totally dissimilar, incompatible makes and models, with
Z80 having a slight edge. No real convergence, CP/M much rarer due to
cost, and only ever becomes noticeably significant due to the Amstrad
PCW range from 1985-1990, by which point it was dead in its home

After the IBM PC became dominant:
US focusses on increasingly large/complex OSes to run on x86, and to a
lesser extent, 680x0 and later RISC.

Windows 3 finally brings grown-up font handling in the 1990s, allowing
vanilla PCs to finally conquer the Japanese domestic market.

EU: custom hardware continues, running custom OSes. Psion does EPOC
for its tiny power-efficient PDAs, then rewrites it totally in C++ for
ARM, creating EPOC32. EPOC32 becomes Symbian and makes smartphones
quite mainstream, aided by a unified world cellphone market for GSM

US/Canada: no GSM, so no unified cellphone market, so pagers continue,
leading to increasingly elaborate devices with QWERTY keyboards,
fostering the development of multiple proprietary devices: RIM
Blackberry, Danger Hiptop, PalmPilot/Handspring. MS WinCE  makes some
headway with very complex, fiddly little pocket computers with poor
performance and disastrous battery life, which also sell well in
gadget-obsessed Japan.

Finally in 2007 Apple sweeps all this away with the iPhone: very
complex desktop-derived software requiring an extremely powerful
device, but giving a very simple user interface. Google hastily pivots
its Android aquisition from being a Blackberry-killer to being an

This finally makes US smartphones competive in the European/Japanese
markets, previously dominated by Symbian on Nokia, Sony/Ericsson and
other hardware with one tenth or less of the resources of the iPhone.
Moore's law makes these affordable, bringing tech originating in the
PC/Mac desktop market --  iOS, derived from Mac OS X, derived from
NeXTstep, originating from the Apple cofounder -- into the pocket
computer market and eliminating all other players.

Rare exceptions, such as Apple and Be, who did European-style designs
(relatively small/simple proprietary OSs and apps on proprietary
machines with non-industry-standard CPUs) surrender and die or join
the mainstream, first by moving to an xNix base, then to x86.

>  But, to be fair, most in the US don't even remember
> all of the US-based systems.  Altair gets a nod as it shows up in
> articles concerning computer firsts, but none of the proto or early
> S-100 based systems are remembered (Cromemco, Northstar, etc.) nor the
> other Z80 machines like the Kaypro and Osborne.

True, but I mean, I'm heading for my mid-50s and all that was before my time.

>   FOlks know about IBM,
> but most don't know they still make mainframes and midrange (OS400 or
> whatever it is called now) machines, and Burroughs, Wang, Amdahl,
> Hitachi are missed. , Super computer is forever linked with Cray, but
> Control Data, Thinking Machines, Silicon Graphics, and even Sun are no
> more remembered.

True. :-(

>  On the micro front, Atari still carries some name
> recognition, mainly because of the coin ops and consoles, but everyone
> has forgotten about Commodore or that HP and TI made computers and that
> Tandy Radio Shack made a computer themselves and didn't just resell PC
> clones. THat doesn't even include the semi-pro machines or hobbyist
> options. So, while we didn't know about all the non US machines, we
> didn't even know about all the US ones, and folks have forgotten about
> the ones we did know about. People remember IBM because of the PC, and
> Apple because of the Mac (and that they did a "proto" mac machine back
> in the late 1970s (Hey, not saying it is true, it's just how people
> choose to position the Apple II).


> It is a shame we didn't see the BBC machines here, and the
> Timex/Sinclair joint venture to bring out the TS1000 made a mockery of
> the entire line, apologize for that.  I agree the unit was plucky and I
> have one here


>.  Evidently, there exists a lower bound of functionality
> of computing capability in the US, and the little wedge just didn't make
> it.

No no. It wasn't that. It was _money_.

On average, talking about food and clothing and vehicles and fuel and
the general cost of goods, everything is cheaper in the US than in the
rest of the developed world. USAnians do not generally realise this.

US gasoline:  just under $2/gallon, right? Google says $1.96. Call it $2.

UK petrol (same stuff): £1.06/litre. £4 per US gallon. That's $5.

I live in the Czech Republic, a much cheaper country than anywhere
English-speaking, but fuel costs the same as in the rest of the EU.

Fuel is 2.5 times more expensive for Brits than Americans. That's why
our cars and motorbikes have smaller engines. It's partly why every
other developed nation has more public transport: because for us, it's
competitive, whereas for you, it's not -- your fuel is subsidised to
the tune of being about a third of what it should cost on the open
market. That's both why and because the US military/industrial machine
is so strong.

I have never owned an automobile in my adult life. I got a drivers'
licence when I was 36. But if I left my home _now_ I could be at my
old place, in Brno, in 3h 30min and it would cost me $12. Tram from
here to Prague main station: $1. Ticket to Brno on the 9PM train
(2h20min, 120 mileS): $10. Tram from the main station in Brno to my
old place: $1. I'd be there before midnight. That's _why_ I have never
owned a car. I don't need one. I have never needed one. If I do, I
rent one. I have done this twice in my life so far.

When US computers came to Europe, they were about 2½-3× more expensive
than local ones, AND vendors converted the pricing by removing the $
and replacing it with £ (or the equivalent in any of the dozen local
currencies in continental Europe.)

In the 1980s that effectively inflated prices by about another 2½ to 3×.

So the ground-breaking first cheap US home computer was the Apple II,
which cost US$1,298 at launch (equivalent to $5,476 in 2019 says

That was the price of a car here.

So instead, a few years later, we got the Sinclair ZX80, which was
£99.95 (£432; $576 at 2020 prices)

It's not that we tolerate lower specifications. It's not that we have
a lower barrier of entry. It's not that we tolerated poorer computers.

It's that we couldn't _afford_ US computers. A cheap US home computer,
such as you would give to a child as a toy, cost as much as an
automobile. A fancy professional computer, such as an adult could use
for their work, cost as much as a house or an apartment.

And that was the case until Amstrad disrupted the market with the
ground-breaking PC1512 in 1986. A PC clone for £499. Before that, a
_nice_ PC from Compaq could cost £5000. (OK, a cheap clone would be
only £1500 or so.)

We had simple cheap low-spec computers because American high-end
computers were impossibly expensive.

In my first job  in 1988, we did sell Compaq and IBM PCs, but I worked
for a fancy high-end value-added reseller. The first ISA-bus 386 I
ever saw was a Compaq Deskpro 386 and it was destined to become a
Netware fileserver, attached to cheaper clone PCs.

But the next dealership I worked for sold Amstrads.

>  By extension, all future machines were branded in the US, as I
> recall.  Japanese MSX machines,

You know that MSX was an American design, right? It just happened that
it only succeeded in Japan. It was broadly a Spectravideo-based design
with a Microsoft ROM. Yes, some design input from ANSI Corp of Japan,
but basically an American thing.

> some of the neat options from Australia,
> lots of cool variety not seen in the US.

I guess I had not realised until this thread how relatively uniform
the US computer scene was...

> I can't really think of any.  Some might say the Coleco ADAM, but it was
> ill-fated.


Interesting. Fred has one counter-example. Just the one. Very interesting.

> I have to believe (again), it was some Marketing demand.  There's a list
> of reasons it was a bad idea from the start:
>   * 40 column and no soft 80 column option on the 64, where almost all
>     CP/M software expected 80x24
>   * No way to read CP/M disks in the market (all were FM or MFM,
>     Commodore had no FM/MFM drive option)
>   * Power hungry cart overloaded minimal PSU

I guess I am realising that CP/M was a much bigger deal there than here.

Amstrad's 8-bitters, the CPC series, had a DOS that was CP/M derived
and they could optionally run CP/M, but no home user here cared. It
was only the Amstrad PCW that changed that. The PCW was a proprietary
word-processor, which booted its proprietary WP app directly off
floppy -- no OS, no ROM chip. But luckily, someone on the design team
extended the design slightly and made it able to run CP/M and it came
with a CP/M disk in the box, meaning Amstrad could advertise and
promote it as a computer. (Bear in mind this was before Amstrad made
PC clones, and this "business computer" was about quarter of the price
of a very cheap clone PC.)

Amstrad didn't learn from this -- after 3 million-selling PCW models,
the 2 successor models couldn't run CP/M and both flopped.

Liam Proven – Profile:
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