Reply to post: Re: it was a joy to work in and ahead of it's time for creating structured code @Mage

Roughly 30 years after its birth at UK's Acorn Computers, RISC OS 5 is going open source

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Re: it was a joy to work in and ahead of it's time for creating structured code @Mage

I have often thought about what it was that made the micro revolution happen in the 1980s.

My thoughts are that one of the reasons was the immediacy of getting something done that hooked the youth of the '80s. Rocking up to a machine, typing a four or five line program followed by RUN, and having colours splatted all over the screen, or random beeps coming from the speaker says to a newbie "look, you can do magical things", and they're hooked, almost in no time flat.

BASIC was the best tool at the time for this first step. Quick to learn, easy to remember, and immediate.

I look at what is necessary to learn Pascal, Modula and the other compiled languages. First you have to learn the editor. Then you have to write the code. Then you work out how to compile, and only then (assuming that you don't get any cryptic errors from the compiler), you get to see the results. Even using IDEs puts too much complexity in the first step before you achieve anything.

Most of the youth of today will turn off after exhausting their limited attention span at the point that you have to invoke the compiler. And this IMHO is the problem with most modern languages used for teaching.

Add to this the need to learn quite complex language constructs before being able to write syntactically correct code in things like Python, currently the poster boy of teaching languages, and you will turn off more kids than you attract, even if they are quite able.

I saw this in the early '80s. I worked in a UK Polytechnic, and had several intake years on HMC and HMD computing courses coming in having learned BASIC on Spectrum VIC20 and C64 systems (amongst others) who sat down at a terminal, learned how to log in and use an editor like EDT, and start writing Pascal, complaining bitterly that this was not what they thought computing was all about, and why was it so complicated! Once they got over the hump, they were fine, but some did not get that far.

Similarly, my father learned to program on Spectrum and BBC micros, and as a retirement present in about 1992 was given an 8086 MS/DOS PC, and one of the first things he asked me was "How do I write a program that draws pictures and plays sounds" (things he had been doing for years to aid the teaching he was doing), and I had to say that it was not built in to MS/DOS, and even GW Basic by itself without extra software packages.

I don't believe that he ever wrote another program ever again.

Your comment about Forth is interesting. I learned Forth as an additional language (PL/1, APL, C and Pascal were my primary languages then) back in the 1980's (ironically on a BBC Micro with the HCCS Micro Forth ROM, not Acornsoft Forth), and I would say that it is an extremely poor language to for a newbie to learn programming in. The stack based arithmetic system is completely non-intuitive to someone who has not studied computing already (good grief, most people have difficulty understanding and using named variables in a computer program), and although you can define meaningful words in the dictionary, most of the primitives are terse, and impossible to guess the meaning of without reading the manual. And even getting to the point where you could define a word would tax most kids I have known.

At least most Fortran/Algol/BASIC/COBOL based languages have their keywords closely matching English and sometimes mathematical languages. And BASIC scores well in not having strict typing, something that becomes more important as you get more proficient, but a real barrier to someone just learning.

So in my view, as a first stepping stone, BASIC is a good start to gain the concepts of programming, followed on by a move to a more comprehensive language. And BBC BASIC was one of the fastest and best.

Could it be bettered? Yes, I'm sure it could, but Javascript and Python are not it!

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