Saturday, 18 June 2016

Remembering… MS QBasic

Remembering… MS QBasic

This week we go back to basics

Despite having dreams of wanting to program my own games, with an aim to one day become a developer, I never really progressed much past BASIC.

While BASIC is fun, it’s not exactly something that many software houses look for when considering a CV. I eventually found tinkering with the hardware and playing around with batch files more fun, but there’s still a little part of me that wanted to reach the heady heights of z80 assembly or even C programming.

One of the last BASIC environments I toyed with was Microsoft’s QBasic, as run within DOS – specifically DOS 5.0. QBasic felt quite natural, even when coming from a Spectrum BASIC background, and if you had the hang of it, you could come up with some pretty good programs and games.

I’m going to assume that most, if not all, reading this will have fond(ish) memories of Nibbles, Money Manager and the ever wonderful Gorillas.bas? Although fairly  simplistic, the aforementioned programs taught us how to better structure our own versions, and they led to the inevitable hacking of the supplied games to give your gorilla a nuclear powered banana.

QBasic was easy to use, it was accessible and since it used the same front end ( being the editor-only mode for QBasic), you could use it for other tasks and batch file programming.

Its History

QBasic was the third generation of PC/IBM low level languages. The first example was, of course, BASICA, created by the Dartmouth College team of John Kemeny and Thomas Kurtz. After that came the Microsoft developed GW-BASIC, which was available from DOS 2.0.

After GW-BASIC, Microsoft developed QuickBASIC, a more capable version that introduced the compilation of the source code into the command line – an EXE file. QuickBASIC lasted until version 4.5, when it was finally replaced by QBasic in 1991 with the release of DOS 5.0.

QBasic (Quick Beginners All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code). It introduced a structured environment, with support for subroutines, While loops and even line numbering – although line numbering was considered to be bad form.

It stayed with DOS well into Windows ME, rising to version 1.1 throughout that time but without

Sadly, as with most of the really good DOS-based stuff, QBasic was eventually laid to rest, with the far more capable Visual BASIC and .NET languages taking over from Windows XP and onward (incidentally, Visual BASIC came out the same time as QBasic).

The Good

It was an easy, nicely laid out language to get to grips with. Gorillas.bas and Nibbles!

The Bad

There were times, especially if you were using it on an older PC, that it ran phenomenally slowly.


Although I never advanced to the lofty status of a high-level programming language, I loved the layout and environment of QBasic. And since you can still get hold of it, in some form or another, even for Windows 10 machines, I still have an occasional try at creating a BASIC adventure game.

Did You Know?
• By pressing left Ctrl, left Shift, left Alt, right Ctrl, right Shift and right Alt just after pressing Enter from typing in qbasic in DOS, you get a list of the programming team.
• You can use QBasic online via the Internet Archive at
• You can enter the Editor mode by typing: qbasic /EDITOR.
• You can play Gorillas.bas online at