Wednesday, April 30, 2014

BASIC at 50


At 4 a.m. on May 1, 1964, in the basement of College Hall, Professor John Kemeny and a student programmer simultaneously typed RUN on neighboring terminals. When they both got back correct answers to their simple programs, time-sharing and BASIC were born.

Kemeny, who later became Dartmouth’s 13th president, Professor Tom Kurtz, and a number of undergraduate students worked together to revolutionize computing with the introduction of time-sharing and the BASIC programming language. Their innovations made computing accessible to all Dartmouth students and faculty, and soon after, to people across the nation and the world.

Harry McCracken (via Jim Matthews):

The thinking that led to the creation of BASIC sprung from “a general belief on Kemeny’s part that liberal arts education was important, and should include some serious and significant mathematics–but math not disconnected from the general goals of liberal arts education,” says Dan Rockmore, the current chairman of Dartmouth’s math department and one of the producers of a new documentary on BASIC’s birth. (It’s premiering at Dartmouth’s celebration of BASIC’s 50th anniversary this Wednesday.)


By letting non-computer scientists use BASIC running on the DTSS, Kemeny, Kurtz and their collaborators had invented something that was arguably the first real form of personal computing.

I’m not sure when the documentary will be publicly available, but I highly recommend it.

Update (2014-05-05): Steve Wozniak:

I first experienced BASIC in high school that same year. We didn’t have a computer in the school but GE, I think, brought in a terminal with modem to promote their time-sharing business. A very few of we bright math students were given some pages of instruction and we wrote some very simple programs in BASIC. I saw that this was a very simple and easy-to learn language to start with, but that terminal was only in our school for a few days.

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