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
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 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
with GFA BASIC.
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
Marko, Suomen Atari-sivut / ArkiSTo 2003