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

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

"They were both part of the same ROM, and the system wouldn't have made sense without both," Hejlsberg said. "This 12K Pascal subset implementation grew into a more complete implementation for CP/M-80, and then further evolved into the product called Turbo Pascal in a collaboration with the original Borland founders."

The other product that was at least as revolutionary as Turbo Pascal was Visual Basic, Sax said. Cooper Software, headed by Alan Cooper—known as the "Father of Visual Basic"—had developed a replacement for the first Windows shell that he called "Tripod" and later renamed "Ruby." You could draw controls like text-boxes and buttons onto a window or form, Sax said. Fellow developer Mike Geary also was part of the team.

In his post on his involvement with Visual Basic, Cooper said he began to show his prototype around the industry. "In March of 1988, I showed this prototype to Bill Gates, and he immediately saw its potential," Cooper wrote. "He declared that it was 'cool' and that it would have significant impact across their entire product line. Bill said he wanted to buy it, and over the next few months we hammered out a deal. Because the name Tripod had had so much exposure, we promptly changed it to 'Ruby.' Meanwhile, I put together a team of skilled programmers to build a release-quality program."

Sax says Geary developed some more controls like the directory and file folder boxes that are now part of every File Open dialog box. "I believe it was Bill Gates who decided that Ruby should be extensible with controls that weren't originally part of the product," he said.

"Microsoft bought Ruby from Cooper Software, and then the Windows Shell didn't get replaced after all. However, the QuickBasic people decided to combine their p-code compiler with Ruby and created Visual Basic," Sax said.

"When Visual Basic came out, it revolutionized Windows programming by making it cost-effective (in terms of development time) and doable (in terms of the learning curve) for people to write business applications for Windows," said Sax. "This also spawned a whole new development tools industry, championed by Tom Button at Microsoft."

And it all started with BASIC. Microsoft BASIC was Microsoft's foundation product. It first appeared in 1975 as Altair BASIC, which was the first BASIC by Microsoft and the first high-level programming language available for the Altair 8800 microcomputer. The Altair BASIC interpreter was developed by Microsoft founders Paul Allen and Bill Gates with help from Monte Davidoff, using a self-made Intel 8080 software simulator running on a Digital Equipment Corp. PDP-10 minicomputer.

The early software development tools industry was incredibly incestuous. Cooper early on worked with Gordon Eubanks to develop, debug, document and publish his business programming language, CBASIC, an early competitor to Gates and Allen's Microsoft BASIC.

Eubanks later became CEO of Symantec. At one time, Symantec was also known for its development tools, particularly THINK Pascal, THINK C, Symantec C++ and Visual Cafe packages, which were popular on the Macintosh and IBM PC-compatible platforms. These product lines resulted from acquisitions made by the company in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Symantec exited this business in the late-1990s as competitors such as Metrowerks, Microsoft and Borland gained significant market share.

In 1992, Borland sued former Borland-turned-Symantec executive Gene Wang, Symantec CEO Eubanks and the Symantec corporation for misappropriation of Borland trade secrets and unfair competition.


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