Getting back to BASIC (Microsoft Small Basic)

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I’ve written before about my son’s interest in computer programming (well – computers in general, as it seems he provides IT support for his class!). It started with Scratch (at school), we went to an Apple Store for an Hour of Code last year and now, inspired by watching episodes of the BBC’s Making the Most of the Micro series from 1983, he’s moving up to BASIC.

After a short hunt on the ‘net I found a Windows port of BBC BASIC but I wondered if he might be better using something that prepared him for other, more modern, languages (my own path went something like RM BASIC, Turbo Pascal, Modula-2, 68000 assembly, COBOL, SQL, C, C++, VisualBasic, HTML/CSS, C# – although in truth the closest I get to writing code these days is a little bit of PowerShell every now and again). Then I found Microsoft Small Basic. After a late-night on Friday getting back to BASIC myself (with a multiplication tables programme which I’m sure professional coders will baulk at, inspired by Ian McNaught-Davis in episode 2 of Making the Most of the Micro), I felt I’d re-familiarised myself enough with BASIC to get my son started – and he really took to it, moving on to graphical windows on Saturday afternoon.

I started out looking at Beginning Small Basic (there are other Small Basic programming books available online too) but the Small Basic reference documentation in the TechNet Wiki came in useful too (like when looking up the available colours).

If I have one gripe with Small Basic, it’s that it doesn’t seem to understand multi-user Windows computers: I installed it using my account, but it wasn’t visible when my son logged in; I reinstalled and now it’s not there for me. Nevertheless, it’s a great way to get stuck in to programming, before “graduating to Visual Basic” or hopefully he’ll be learning something else, like Python, at school soon.

It’s interesting to see how today’s nearly-11-year-olds view the computers of 1983 (by co-incidence, 1983 was the year when I turned 11 too…). Green screens, cassette tape input, floppy disks (none of those new-fangled 3.5″ disks either), dot matrix printers, character-based interfaces (only a few days previously he had asked me what I was doing in cmd.exe) – will my grandchildren view touch screens and patchy mobile phone networks in a similarly quaint manner in 2047?

Just for reference

My first Small Basic programme is below (although WordPress has stripped out the indentation). I’m hoping my son can do much better!

TextWindow.Title = "Multiplication Tables"
TextWindow.Write("How many tests would you like? ")
Tests = TextWindow.Read()
Loop = 0
Right = 0
Wrong = 0
For Loop = 1 To Tests
TextWindow.BackgroundColor = "Blue"
TextWindow.ForegroundColor = "White"
FirstNumber = Math.GetRandomNumber(12)
SecondNumber = Math.GetRandomNumber(12)
Result = FirstNumber * SecondNumber
Output = "What is " + FirstNumber + " multiplied by " + SecondNumber + "? "
Answer = TextWindow.Read()
If Answer = Result Then
TextWindow.BackgroundColor = "Green"
Right = Right + 1
TextWindow.BackgroundColor = "Red"
TextWindow.WriteLine("Uh, Oh!")
Wrong = Wrong + 1
TextWindow.BackgroundColor = "Purple"
Output = "You got " + Right + " correct answers and " + Wrong + " incorrect answers"
TextWindow.WriteLine("Would you like to try again? ")
Answer = TextWindow.Read()
If Answer = "Yes" Or Answer = "yes" Then
Goto Start
Goto End
TextWindow.BackgroundColor = "Black"