15 Facts About Atari BASIC


Atari BASIC is an interpreter for the BASIC programming language that shipped with the Atari 8-bit family of 6502-based home computers.

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Unlike most American BASICs of the home computer era, Atari BASIC is not a derivative of Microsoft BASIC and differs in significant ways.

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Ray Kassar, the new president of Atari BASIC, decided to challenge Apple Computer by building a home computer instead.

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In early 1978, Atari licensed the source code to the MOS 6502 version of Microsoft BASIC.

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Developers Kathleen O'Brien and Paul Laughton used Data General Business Basic, an integer-only implementation, as the inspiration for their Atari BASIC, given Laughton's experience with Data General on a time-sharing system.

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Cromemco Atari BASIC included an extended floating point implementation using a 14-digit binary coded decimal format made possible using all 16 registers of the Zilog Z80 processor.

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Atari BASIC accepted the proposal, and when the specifications were finalized in October 1978, Laughton and O'Brien began work on the new language.

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Atari BASIC took an 8K cartridge version to CES instead of Microsoft's.

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Atari BASIC'spardson referred to this complete-tokenizing concept as a "pre-compiling interpreter".

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Atari BASIC includes three trigonometric functions: sine, cosine, and arc tangent.

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Atari BASIC copied the string-handling system of Hewlett-Packard BASIC, where the basic data type is a single character, and strings are arrays of characters.

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Atari BASIC allows numeric variables and expressions to be used to supply line numbers to GOTO and GOSUB commands.

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Atari BASIC can call machine code subroutines stored in strings or POKEed into memory.

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In spite of these theoretical advantages, in practice, Atari BASIC is slower than most other home computer BASICs, often by a large amount.

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On two widely used benchmarks of the era, Byte magazine's Sieve of Eratosthenes and the Creative Computing benchmark test written by David H Ahl, the Atari finished near the end of the list in terms of performance, and was much slower than the contemporary Apple II or Commodore PET, in spite of having the same CPU but running it at roughly twice the speed of either.

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