Applesoft BASIC, Letting Anyone Program a Computer
By Valliappan Chidambaram
April 30, 2020
Many people think that computer programming is cryptic and difficult. While this may have been true for some of the oldest programming languages, BASIC was invented in 1964 out of a desire to allow anyone to program a computer1. When creating the Apple II, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak had a similar goal: they wanted the computer to be easy for anyone to use. One of the ways they accomplished this was by allowing the computer to be programmed with Applesoft BASIC, a dialect of BASIC licensed from Microsoft with many added features. Their original attempt at BASIC for the Apple I and II was called Integer BASIC, but it wasn’t very popular because it only allowed whole numbers. Applesoft allowed the use of decimals, which made it more useful2. Applesoft also allowed users to create graphics, unlike the versions of BASIC for the other major minicomputers of the time, the TRS-80 and the Commodore PET. While it was still possible to create graphics using BASIC on the TRS-80 and Commodore PET, programmers needed to store values to cryptic addresses in the computer to change pixels on the screen. In Applesoft, programmers could simply use different commands to set pixels or draw lines and shapes on the screen3. Applesoft was designed to be both simple and versatile, and its sheer ease of use helped the Apple II become one of the most influential computers in history.
Joy Lisi Rankin, A Peoples History of Computing in the United States (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2018), 67. ↩
Steve Wozniak, “How Steve Wozniak Wrote BASIC for the Original Apple From Scratch,” Gizmodo, May 1, 2014, https://gizmodo.com/how-steve-wozniak-wrote-basic-for-the-original-apple-fr-1570573636. ↩
Applesoft II: Basic Programming Reference Manual (Cupertino, CA: Apple Computer, 1978), 84-89, https://archive.org/details/Applesoft_BASIC_Programming_Reference_Manual_Apple_Computer/mode/2up. ↩