BASICally still alive: Classic language celebrates 60 years with new code and old quirks

Visual Small BASIC, Chloe System, and QB64 Phoenix all updated

May Day 2024 was the 60th anniversary of the BASIC programming language, and multiple FOSS BASIC-related projects released new versions in celebration.

Three very different flavors of BASIC seem appropriate for a language that spawned more different and subtly incompatible dialects than any other – but at Vulture Towers we choose to interpret that as a sign of its success rather than a failing.

Small Visual Basic – not to be confused with SmallBASIC

Small Visual Basic 3.0 is the latest version of Mohammed Hamdy's enhanced version of Microsoft Small Basic, whose tenth birthday The Reg noted in 2018. Small Visual Basic is an enhanced version of Microsoft's FOSS language and environment, which adds a GUI designer and language extensions to interact with it. It's implemented entirely in Visual Basic .NET, making it exclusive to Windows platforms, and it's available for free on the Visual Studio Marketplace.

(It is entirely in keeping with the way BASIC has diversified over the years to note that Small Basic, and thus Small Visual Basic, are unrelated to the independent SmallBASIC project – note, no space, and the language name in CAPITALS. SmallBASIC started out on PalmOS, and the 2004-vintage SmallBASIC 0.8 still supports PalmOS 5. Version 12.27 just appeared last week and these days SmallBASIC supports x86 Linux, Raspberry Pi, Windows, and a variety of handheld platforms.)

Chloe 280SE System 1 and SE BASIC 4.2

If you install one of the ZX Spectrum emulators included in Debian, you will probably find it comes preconfigured with the OpenSE BASIC firmware package. The image contains an open source replacement ZX Spectrum ROM, based around OpenSE BASIC by Source Solutions.

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Although OpenSE BASIC can run on real ZX Spectrum hardware as well as emulators, it developed into a larger project: an open source Z80-based computer called the Chloe 280SE. This started out as a design for an improved ZX Spectrum called the ZX Spectrum SE, but has since grown into something less compatible – but more ambitious.

The latest release is SE Basic IV 4.2, and it forms part of version 1.0 of the system software for the Chloe 280SE. SE Basic IV is closer to MS-BASIC than its predecessor, which targeted Sinclair BASIC. The Chloe 280SE is supported in several FOSS Sinclair emulators. It's an option in Cesar Hernandez Baño's ZEsarUX, and, with some manual setup, it can run in Retro Virtual Machine as well. To run it closer to the metal, you can load it on the ZX-UNO FPGA machine and its offshoots such as the ZX-TRES. Developer Andrew Owen is funding the project on Patreon.

QB64 Phoenix is freshly reborn

As we covered in last year's BASIC roundup, there are two main FOSS BASIC compilers that offer compatibility with Microsoft's classic QuickBASIC: the FreeBASIC Compiler, and QB64.

As we said last time, disagreements among the QB64 project members led to a fork, the QB64 Phoenix Edition, which is in active development on GitHub and just released version 3.13.0. It looks to be a fairly modest bugfix release with an auspicious date, but since the progenitor project hasn't released anything since 2021, and the QB64Official fork nothing since 2022, it's good to see that at least one offshoot is releasing new versions.

QB64 includes a recreation of the original QuickBASIC IDE, which means it looks like the old DOS package – but it can build code for Windows, Linux, and macOS, and there's an optional GUI builder called InForm, which has its own QB64-PE edition. ®

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