GW-BASIC was a dialect of BASIC developed by Microsoft from BASICA, originally for Compaq. It is compatible with Microsoft/IBM BASICA, but was disk based and did not require the ROM BASIC. It was bundled with MS-DOS operating systems on IBM PC compatibles by Microsoft. Microsoft also sold a BASIC compiler, BASCOM, compatible with GW-BASIC, for applications requiring more speed. The language was suitable for simple games, business programs and the like. Since it was included with most versions of MS-DOS, it was also an inexpensive way for many would-be programmers to learn the fundamentals of computer programming. With the release of MS-DOS 5.0, GW-BASIC's place was eventually taken by QBASIC, a cut-down version of the separately available QuickBASIC compiler.
The GW-BASIC command-line environment has commands to GW-BASIC allowed for the joysticks, mice and light pen input devices of its time. GW-BASIC can read from and write to files and COM ports; it can also do event trapping for ports. Since the cassette port interface of the original IBM PC was never implemented on compatibles, cassette operations are not supported. GW-BASIC is able to play simple music using the
RUN,LOAD,SAVE,LIST the current program, or quit to the operating
SYSTEM; these commands can also be used as program statements. There is little support for structured programming in GW-BASIC. All
IF/THEN/ELSE conditional statements must be written on one line, although
WHILE/WEND statements may group multiple lines. Functions can only be defined using the single line
DEF FNLOG(base,number)=LOG(number)/LOG(base)). The data type of Variables can be specified with a character at the end of the variable name:
A$ is a string of characters,
A% is an integer, etc. Groups of variables can also be set to default types based on the initial letter of their name by use of the
DEFINT, DEFSTR, etc., statements. The default type for undeclared variables not identified by such typing statements, is single-precision floating-point.
PLAY statement, requiring a string of notes (e.g.
PLAY "edcdeee2dfedc4"). More low-level control is possible with the
SOUND statement, which takes the arguments of a frequency in hertz and a length in clock ticks for the standard internal PC speaker in IBM machines. Consequently sound is limited to single channel beeps and whistles as befits a 'business' machine. Home based PCs such as the Tandy 1000, allowed up to 3 channels of sound for the
PLAY commands. GW-BASIC also implemented a
NOISE command which had 8 sound effects that could be pitch, speed, and length altered.
There are several theories on what the initials "GW" stand for. Greg Whitten, an early Microsoft employee who developed the standards in the company's BASIC compiler line, says Bill Gates picked the name GW-BASIC. Whitten refers to it as Gee-Whiz BASIC and is unsure if Gates named the program after him. The Microsoft User Manual from Microsoft Press also refers to it by this name. It may have also been nicknamed Gee-Whiz because it had a large number of graphics commands. Other common theories as to the initials' origins include "Graphics and Windows", "Gates, William" (Microsoft's president at the time), or "Gates-Whitten" (the two main designers of the program).
GW-BASIC allowed for the joysticks, mice and light pen input devices of its time. GW-BASIC can read from and write to files and COM ports; it can also do event trapping for ports. Since the cassette port interface of the original IBM PC was never implemented on compatibles, cassette operations are not supported. GW-BASIC is able to play simple music using the