Thursday, May 1, 2014

50 years BASIC: Programming for the masses – Handelsblatt

John Kemeny (2nd from left), co-developer of BASIC, to students of Dartmouth College. Source: dpa

Berlin Computers today are tiny and ubiquitous. Each phone now has more computing power than the supercomputers 50 years ago. Personal computers did not exist back then. The machines filled in large rooms. “The people at that time had no idea what a computer is,” says Tom Cormen of Dartmouth College. “Then you could not imagine that a person can easily get started and program a computer.”

Two professors at the small college in the U.S. state of New Hampshire wanted to with this status quo but not resign. The two computer scientist John G. Kemeny and Thomas E. Kurtz since 1956 already dealt with programming languages. Kemeny had even in 1943 dealt as part of the development of the first atomic bomb with the operation of computers and later became an assistant to Albert Einstein.

With it all began: The photo shows Konrad Zuse with the replica of his Z1. The mechanical calculator should Zuse remove annoying computing works which he had to deal with for his civil engineering studies. The Z1 is considered the forerunner of the later Z3, the first freely programmable computer in the world. At just 26 years Zuse built in 1936 in a Berlin apartment, the computer together

photo:. Dpa

After the end of World War II, the computer technology developed rapidly. However, access to the mainframes remained very limited at the universities. Early 60s should slowly change: Up to this point, the computers were fed normally with stacks of punched cards or long paper tape, on which the commands were in programming languages ​​such as Algol or Fortran. Because only one batch could be processed at the same time, there was little opportunity for the scientists to get a slot of valuable computer time.

about his contacts with the neighboring Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) was able to follow the latest developments in computer technology virtually live Kemeny Kurtz colleague. Around that computers just could not only process commands from a source in a stack. Now it was possible that more users were working on a computer at a time (“time-sharing”).

supercomputers and computer research

Kemeny and Kurtz quickly recognized the potential, which opened Timeshares. You now want to create with a BASIC programming language that could be as simple as possible to communicate with the computer. The name of BASIC (“Beginner’s All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code”) declares the intention of the two scientists. They wanted to make a “symbolic general-purpose programming for Beginners” available that, so “basic” fundamental.

On May 1, 1964 by four clock in the morning it was time. With a push of a button Kemeny and Kurtz started on a GE-225 computer from General Electric the first BASIC program that consisted of only three lines. In the first line state “10 Let X = (7 +8) / 3″. The second line “20 PRINT X” pointed to the computer, output the result. The third line “30 END” signaled the computer that the program is executed.

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