By Charlotte Wipp

What is BASIC?

BASIC (Beginners’ All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code) was created in 1963 at Dartmouth College. The computer language was intended to be a user-friendly language, different from the languages available at the time, made for scientific and mathematical purposes.  

BASIC, being a small language to store, worked well with minicomputers. The language could be implemented as an interpreter, opposed to a compiler, within the small main memory drives. Due to the development of minicomputers, other dialects, such as Microsoft BASIC, emerged. As a response to the release of Microsoft BASIC and a mass pirating of the language, Tiny BASIC was released in 1975 as a free language for minicomputers. Tiny BASIC can fit onto 4 or less KBs of memory, providing the users with more valuable RAM.  

BASIC only grew in popularity with the release of the home computer in the mid-1970s. With the advent of the 8-bit microprocessor, Microsoft developed a version of BASIC that would run on the newly popular microcomputers. Personal computers such as the Apple II, Commodore PET, and TRS-80 contained a version of this MS BASIC code, and later included it within ROM in the 1980s. 

Within the 1990s microcomputers continued to develop, often including more advanced languages such as Pascal and C. Pre-written applications eventually became the norm within personal computers and BASIC lost popularity.  

BASIC on Different Platforms


ENTER. Basic Training.


Radio Shack introduced theTRS-80 in 1977 for $599 USD. the TRS-80 Model 1 was equipped with a BASIC language interpreter, 4KB of RAM, and a 12" video monitor. 

BASIC Code to try on the TRS-80

Look through a BASIC interpreter manual to see some common code examples then try them out on this TRS-80 emulator, when the browser loads, press Enter on Cass? and Memory Size? then begin typing!

Click on the Edit Pencil to edit code – you can use a typical mouse, cut and copy to edit, which makes it very convenient. Additionally, the file icon in the top right corner of the emulator provides access to many TRS-80 games. 

Apple ][

The Apple ][ computer was supported by Applesoft BASIC (a dialect of MS BASIC). The first version of the Applesoft interpreter was released in 1977, but updated in the later years to support the Apple II's  high-resolution graphics. 

BASIC on the Apple ][

Look at Applesoft BASIC and code examples within this manual, then try out this Applesoft BASIC emulator.

Go to the "select a sample" dropdown to find games and tutorials within the emulator. 

Commodore 64

The Commodore 64 microcomputer is an 8-bit home computer released in January 1982, getting its name from its 64 KB of RAM. It is also the highest-selling single computer model of all time. The users could program in Commodore 64 with languages such as Pascal, C, Logo, Forth, BASIC, and FORTRAN. The computer also supported Sprite graphics (4 colours maximum), built-in music and sound effects.

BASIC on the C-64


University of Waterloo Computer Museum. C-64 BASIC. 2024.

BASIC Code to try on the C-64

See this manual for information about Commodore 64 BASIC the try a C-64 emulator on your browser!

Play a Computer Museum Quiz game on your browser.

Play a number guessing game on your browser. 


IBM BASIC was first released in 1981 with the IBM PC model 5150. Overall, IBM released four versions of the MS BASIC Interpreter: Cassette BASIC, Disk BASIC, Advanced BASIC, and Cartridge BASIC. Additionally, a version of the MS BASIC compiler was released with PC DOS 1.10 in 1982. 

BASIC on the IBM 5150


University of Waterloo Computer Museum. IBM BASIC. 2024

Cartridge BASIC

University of Waterloo Computer Museum. Cartridge BASIC. 2024.

Try it out!


10 FOR X=1 TO 5










About the author

Charlotte is a Physics and Astronomy student currently in her 2B term at Waterloo. She enjoys tinkering and creating all forms of art in her free time. She works at the Computer Museum as their current Winter 2024 coop student.