Software

Nostalgic for VB? BASIC is anything but dead

Microsoft's attention has moved on, but flame still alive


If you miss the simplicity of putting an app together with drag-and-drop in VB, there are some alternatives that might tickle your tastebuds.

Good old VB has been visited with some affection recently, as Reg sister site DevClass has discussed. Way back in 2014, Microsoft said it would go open source, but all that emerged is the rather less interesting Roslyn. For a long time, Microsoft has been focusing on .NET instead.

The direct ancestory of VB, Tripod, was originally built by Alan Cooper, author of The Inmates are Running the Asylum. In this interview he explains that Tripod was originally intended as a construction kit to build a new shell for Windows 2. The Microsoft deal paid for a team of five to rewrite it as Ruby, then Microsoft combined it with its Embedded BASIC interpreter to turn it into Thunder, launched as Visual Basic 1.0 in 1991 – half way between Windows 3.0 and 3.1.

Keeping it GUI

Perhaps because VB started off as a one-man project, multiple people and small teams have sought to recreate it, or something like it. The Reg has covered one of these, RAD Basic, a couple of times: first when it attempted to crowdfund its development, and later when it released its third alpha version.

Closely comparable is twinBASIC, which publishes weekly updates so you can track its progress. That's good, as there's as little to see on twinBASIC's Github as there is on the RAD Basic one. We reckon that the two projects should talk: they might benefit from teaming up.

There have been many such projects over the years, but sadly, many seem to have gone dormant. In alphabetical order, some we found include GLBasic, HBasic, KBasic and its descendant Basic for Qt, sdlBasic, and Janus Software's Phoenix. While Basic4GL has gone quiet, a port of it to the JVM, Basic4GLj is in active development.

Other projects just aim to create something with a similar feel, rather than a perfectly accurate and compatible replacement. Gambas – short for Gambas Almost Means Basic, although it also means shrimps in Spanish, runs on Linux and has got rather further: version 3.18.1 was released last month.

Anywhere Software's Java-based B4J is proprietary but free, with a BASIC-like language and an IDE. It grew out of a PocketPC development tool called Basic4ppc, so its mobile support is strong. Sibling products are B4A for Android and B4R for Arduino, and the paid-for B4i for iOS.

RealBasic started off as a shareware tool for classic MacOS. It added Mac OS X support way back in 2001, went Windows native in 2002, then a couple of years later added support for Linux as well. Former vulture Tony Smith rather liked it, giving it a positive verdict in 2005.

It's still around, only these days, it goes by the name of Xojo. The company put out a new version at the end of last year, and now supports Linux on Arm64. It's a free download for personal and educational use, but compiling or distributing apps costs.

PureBASIC is more of a traditional, non-object-oriented BASIC, but it does have a graphical form designer. PureBasic started out in 1998 as an Amiga app, but that version is historical now and developer Frédéric Laboureur released the source to version 4.0.

Brilor Sotware's FutureBasic runs on the Mac and hooks into XCode. It's descended from Zedcor's classic ZBASIC, it's in active development and it's freeware, but not open source.

The FOSS XBasic project is still in around, with an active community, various flavours on Github as well as an actively-developed Windows version called XBLite.

Less OO, more OG

There are also tools for those who preferred the classic, less GUI-oriented forms of BASIC, such as VB's forerunner QuickBASIC. The standalone FreeBASIC compiler is in active development and aims to be compatible with QuickBasic. So does QB64, although the dust has yet to completely settle over a split among its developers. A community called QB64 Phoenix is actively developing a new Phoenix Edition.

Even more old-school, TrueBASIC, originally created by BASIC's original developers John Kemeny and Thomas Kurtz, is still on sale. Remarkably, the free community edition of Atari ST classic GFA-BASIC for Windows is still getting occasional updates. Also Windows only is the commercial Liberty BASIC.

The Reg FOSS desk's personal favourite, the original BBC BASIC, is still around and in active maintenance. There are now multiple editions, several of which are free to use. There's also a largely compatible multi-platform open source interpreter, Brandy BASIC, which has been forked and updated as Matrix Brandy BASIC. There are a number of much more limited FOSS BASICs indented for educational use, many of which are in the repositories of common Linux distros, such as BASIC-256, Bywater BASIC, and Yabasic. There are also two separate FOSS languages with very similar names: Microsoft Small Basic, and the separate, independent SmallBASIC.

Not so Basic after all

If you liked the style of VB development – draw the form, then fill in code for the controls – but you're not wedded to BASIC itself, then there are other contenders that we feel we must mention.

One of the factors in the decline of the original Visual Basic was of course Borland's Delphi, the visual descendant of the company's Turbo Pascal. While Delphi itself is still around, there's a very complete open source implementation of the language, Free Pascal, complete with multiplatform graphical IDE Lazarus. The Ada language is also more lively than you might expect, possibly thanks to AdaCore and its SPARK project. The GNU Ada compiler GNAT has a visual development environment in active development, GNAVI ®.

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