It comes free with almost every machine ever sold. It is 
often ignored by computer users. Professional programmers scorn 
it. And yet it is the most widely used language in the world. 
There are literally hundreds of different versions. So what is it?
                       FIRST STEPS IN BASIC
     Beginners All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code, or BASIC to 
its friends (and numerous enemies) was originally developed to be 
a simple language that would make computer programming available 
to a wider section of people, not just men in white coats who 
chanted binary in their sleep. 
                     COMPILED OR INTERPRETED
     There are two very different ways of getting BASIC to run a 
program when its been written. 
     An interpreted BASIC needs the program present in memory in 
order to run. The code is taken by the interpreter one line at a 
time and converted to machine code and passed to the CPU for 
action. When that line has been run, the next line is converted 
and run, and so on. 
     This means that the program execution speed tends to be 
rather slow, and there is a large memory overhead needed to keep 
the BASIC program in memory. The advantage is that this makes 
programs easy to write and debug, as the code remains in a form 
that is readable.
     A compiled BASIC translates all the BASIC code into machine 
code before its run, and turns the code into a stand alone .PRG 
file that can be run from the Desktop.
     This method has the advantage of creating runnable programs 
and also of a much faster execution speed, whilst there is no 
overhead of keeping the BASIC program in memory. However, if 
something is wrong with the code it can be difficult to debug.
     There is a third option, and one that is becoming 
increasingly popular. Rather than restricting themselves to one 
method of running a BASIC program, many companies have come to the 
conclusion that it is possible to have the best of both worlds. 
Both HiSoft and GFA produce BASIC's that can be either interpreted 
or compiled. As an example, GFA BASIC is interpreted but a 
separate compiler is available that can be used to produce a stand 
alone program from GFA BASIC source code.
                         TYPES OF BASIC
     In the PC world, the battle for domination of the BASIC 
language has been fought out by two giant companies. Microsoft 
QuickBASIC has become the de facto standard in the industry, but 
it is still hotly pursued by Borland's Turbo BASIC.
     On the ST, Atari commissioned Bristol-based Metacomo to write 
an version of BASIC that would take advantage of the GEM interface 
of their new machine, and Metacomo went on to produce what became 
known as ST BASIC.
     Other companies rapidly realised that ST BASIC was a less 
than ideal product and set about producing alternatives. In the 
following pages, I shall be looking at all the various BASIC's 
that are available for the ST today.
ST BASIC - Originally bundled with the ST, the only good thing 
that can be said about this program was that it was free. The 
program was chronically bug ridden and incredibly slow, making 
it almost unusable. The editor, although it made use of GEM, used 
it in all the wrong ways and editing a program was cumbersome and 
GFA BASIC - Sourced from GFA in Germany, GFA BASIC has now reached 
version 3.07E, and has extra commands to take advantage of the STE 
machine's new colours and sound.
     The editor is a non-GEM affair that uses the function keys to 
provide easy access to essential features. Although an interpreted 
BASIC, GFA can produce code that runs fast and efficiently, making 
it an excellent alternative to ST BASIC.
     GFA BASIC is now available in two versions, the new version 3 
and the older version 2. The version 3 interpreter and compiler 
are sold separately, while version 2 is sold as a complete package 
with both compiler and interpreter included.
Fast BASIC - Together with GFA BASIC, Fast BASIC from Computer 
Concepts was one of the first alternatives to ST BASIC and came in 
two forms, on a disk or a ROM cartridge. The advantage of the 
cartridge was that Fast BASIC was immediately available and took up 
little of the precious memory and disk space of the early ST's.
     Fast BASIC has a nice GEM based editor and a host of useful 
features, which made it deservingly popular with users. Computer 
Concepts also released a "runtime" version of the program to allow 
Fast BASIC programs to be run without the main program.
Sadly, Computer Concepts no longer support the ST, although you 
may be able to find a copy of Fast BASIC a very reasonable price 
by looking through the mail order adverts in ST User.
     In the past few years, HiSoft have emerged on the ST scene as 
specialists in languages and other high quality programs Harlekin 
and ProFlight. They produce versions of BASIC, C, Forth, and Cobol 
program for the ST, and offer a high level of support to their 
     HiSoft produce a range of BASIC's, from free bundles sold 
with new ST's right up to packages capable of writing complex, 
professional standard programs.
First BASIC - First BASIC was written by HiSoft and is now 
supplied with many new ST's. The 520 Power Pack, 520 STE Turbo 
Pack and 1040 STE Extra packs all include First BASIC as standard.
Power BASIC - A cut down version of HiSoft BASIC, Power BASIC 
provides most of the features of its bigger brother, but with some 
of the more esoteric features removed. Power BASIC cannot produce 
HiSoft BASIC - this is HiSoft's top of the line BASIC package, 
capable of accessing the full power of the ST, including the VDI 
and AES calls to the operating system. Hisoft BASIC can compile 
programs to a stand alone application, or even to a Desk 
                        SPECIALIST BASIC'S
STOS BASIC - STOS BASIC from Mandarin Software is billed as "The 
Games Creator" and is a specialist BASIC that is geared towards 
fast manipulation of graphics and sound. Unique commands allow 
easy access to animation, sampled sounds and sprites with p[re-
defined paths. For aficionado's of STOS, Phil Lawson writes a 
regular column in RunTime that provides hints, tips and short 
routines for STOS programmers.
Dr.T. BASIC -  Dr.T., the MIDI specialist, has recently produced a 
specialist version of BASIC aimed squarely at MIDI programmers. 
Running under the Multi Program Environment or MPE, T BASIC is of 
interest only to MIDI enthusiast who want to write their own MIDI 
                            NEXT MONTH
     Next month ST User starts two separate tutorials on using 
aspects of BASIC. 
     Next month's CoverDisk will contain a special version of 
Hisoft's acclaimed Power BASIC system, and Peter Phillips will be 
using that as a basis for a beginners tutorial to introduce new 
users to BASIC programming.
     For more advanced BASIC programmers, John Peters begins a 
series of article explaining how to access resource files from 
     No matter what your expertese or interests in programming 
with BASIC, don't miss the next installment of RUNTIME, the 
World's only dedicates ST programming magazine.
                        NAMES AND NUMBERS
GFA BASIC 3              49.95    GFA Data Media - 0743 794941
GFA BASIC Compiler       29.95    GFA Data Media - 0743 794941
GFA BASIC System 2       19.95    GFA Data Media - 0743 794941
Fast ST BASIC            44.95    Computer Concepts - 0442 63937
HISOFT BASIC             79.95    HiSoft - 0525 718181
POWER BASIC              59.95    HiSoft - 0525 718181
FIRST BASIC                        Not For Sale. Bundled with some 
                                   new STs.


(C) Marko, Suomen Atari-sivut / ArkiSTo 2003