Saturday, December 27, 2008

COMPUTE! Magazine

Computer magazines used to be so much fun. First of all most of them had a very strong focus on programming and they would have articles about how to make electronic hardware to plug into your computer. Very much fun indeed.

Since I was the owner of a Commodore VIC-20 I would buy issues of COMPUTE's Gazette which catered specifically to Commodore 8-bit computers.

I remember one issue which included a machine code monitor listing. The program was in BASIC and it would POKE a machine code monitor (in machine code of course) into memory and then it would start up. I experimented with 6502 assembler using this monitor. I would write the assembly code down and then I would translate it myself to hexadecimal numbers and type them carefully in.

This was one of the great things about the computers of those days. A fifteen year old kid could figure this stuff out by reading magazine articles. There's probably no reason why it can't be made relevant to young people today. Why not make a cool and easy game programming tool for the Nintendo DS for example?

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Flight Simulator in BASIC

I remember years ago that there was an instrument-only flight simulator written in BASIC and ported to different computers. It wasn't much to look at because it was all character based. Tom Nally has just released an open source flight simulator with graphics and sound, all written in Liberty BASIC. This one blows the doors off that old classic. Check it out here.

Monday, October 6, 2008

CP/M and the Z-80 Softcard

When Patrick Alessi and I were working on our original inventory software (called Forecaster-Buy) for the Apple II+, Patrick wanted to expand our marketing reach. He decided to purchase a Z-80 Software for the Apple II and also a copy of CP/M.

This was a completely different environment than the Applesoft BASIC interpreter that comes built into the Apple II+. It reminded me somewhat of the HDOS that ran on my father's Heathkit H-89 computer. You first booted up the CP/M operating system before you could do anything else, like writing software.

You run a copy of MBASIC (Microsoft BASIC-80) to develop in BASIC, and then used a copy of BASCOM to compile this. Then you had to link the software with a library. This was all new to me.

We also purchased an 80 column card for the machine. The Z-80 Softcard, the 80 column card and CP/M didn't get much use because soon after Patrick went out and bought an IBM PC. CP/M would quickly fall out of favor, although in later years I would be reintroduced to it for a time.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Microsoft and compilers

Back in the early 1980's when I was writing inventory management software I would spend most of my time using the Applesoft BASIC interpreter for development. Periodically I would take my BASIC source code and feed it into a compiler. We liked to use Microsoft's Applesoft BASIC Compiler. At that time Microsoft was more of a programming tools vendor than an operating systems vendor (they did sell MS-DOS, but not Windows).

Microsoft really did help launch the microcomputer revolution. They provided BASIC for many computers, and without this people probably wouldn't have written so much software. People say over and over again that Visicalc was the "killer app" that make the computer market grow, but I think that BASIC really deserves that award.