snoopy in DOSOne of the first and most popular programming languages, “BASIC,” turned 50 this month. The acronym stands for “Beginner’s All-Purpose Symbolic Instruction Code,” it started as a student math project at Dartmouth College and from this small town in New Hampshire it conquered the world. Even Bill Gates used it.

BASIC is easy to learn and fun to use. What’s more it’s still useful; programs written in BASIC used to be extremely slow to run on early computers but today’s fast processors handle BASIC at high speed.

When Joy bought her first computer in 1983, the salesman expected she wanted to write BASIC programs, but she mainly used it for word processing. For those who learned some BASIC, however, it was a thrill to print out a picture of Snoopy made from letters and punctuation marks. With just two lines you could create a program that would add any numbers you typed. It was a thrill for us and would still be a wonderful teaching tool for children. It’s fun.

Go to to download a free version for Windows, Mac or Linux. You can open a sample project and change it slightly to personalize it, or create something new. We tried the Hangman game and “Spirals,” which drew intricate drawings on the screen in three colors. There were also a few projects that didn’t work, but then it’s up to you to find and fix the flaw. (Remember the movie “TRON?” That’s a BASIC command ordering the computer to find the flaw.)

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