30 Years Ago: Turbo Pascal, BASIC Turn PCs Into Progamming Engines

By Darryl K. Taft  |  Posted 2013-09-05 Print this article Print

Wang, who had been a Borland vice president, abruptly left to join archrival Symantec. Borland claimed he left incriminating evidence of plans to steal Borland secrets. Borland also pursued criminal charges in the case, and both Wang and Eubanks were indicted. However, the criminal case was quietly dropped with no one going to jail.

In his book "In search of Stupidity: Over 20 Years of High-Tech Marketing Disasters," Merrill R. (Rick) Chapman said, "From its inception, Borland International was the Animal House of high tech, a group of self-proclaimed barbarians who broke all the rules and had all the fun."

Meanwhile, despite the onset of the IDE, many code warriors preferred and still today prefer to simply use a text editor for creating software. "For much of my early career, my mantra was simply give me EMACS and a place to stand and I will move the world," said Grady Booch, co-creator of the Unified Modeling Language (UML) and chief scientist for software engineering at IBM Research.

"EMACS was for the longest time the primary development platform for many because it was so highly customizable and so very useful. But, one must remember that the nature of software development in the '80s was quite different than that of today," Booch observed.

"Back then, we were just making the transition from structured methods and languages to object-oriented ones; we mostly built larger programs, not smaller apps; and the vast majority of the things we built were stand-alone fortresses with little interaction with other such fortresses," he said.

At this time, noted Booch, "the rich primordial soup that became the Web was just beginning to move from its humble origins at CERN."

Booch, who is also a computer historian, said, "There's no doubt that Turbo Pascal was a game changer; the collective functionality it brought, the (for the time) advanced user interface, and certainly its astonishing price point brought modern IDEs to the masses. But remember also at the same time we had the first public release from Xerox PARC of Smalltalk, which was both a language and development environment as well as a new way of thinking about programming," he said.

"Maestro from Softlab Munich was also out in the wild; though little known in the U.S., save for the defense community, it played an important role in the history of development environments," he recalled.

"This, by the way, was also the time in which Rational was developing its Ada Development Environment, which for us was both software as well as hardware—the R1000 ... because there were no machines yet powerful enough to run our IDE."

Every era of computing has its nuances when it comes to development. The '80s and early '90s were no different.

"Writing software back then was really a craft," Hejlsberg said. "To get maximum efficiency, you had to write in assembly code. But not just that. In order to squeeze your program into 64K and still have room for the user's data, you had to hand-optimize the assembly code, reusing common instruction sequences, rearranging code to take advantage of short jump instructions, shortening error messages to gain a few bytes here and there.

"It was a fun puzzle—if you're into that sort of thing. The entire Turbo Pascal 1.0 executable—editor, compiler, runtime library—was only 33K, about a third the size of today's jQuery in minified form," Hejlsberg observed.

Moreover, "Developer productivity is always a key driver," Kahn said. "It will always be. In some ways, the state of the PC in 1983 was similar to the state of wearable computing today in 2013: the next paradigm shift in need of great tools and solutions."


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