The Little Big Box @ 30

The BBC Micro weenies are getting together to celebrate the machine’s 30th anniversary this weekend as per this Register report. It is happening at ARM’s Cambridge HQ and sadly there is no way that I can be at the event. This is one of the influential microcomputers of the 1980s helping to mold many young minds into computer professionals in the subsequent years.

I cannot write enough about this amazing box that literally defined the foundation of my career and passion. The computing revolution caught on a bit late in India and this box found it’s way onto Indian shores by around 1989. I learned the magic of bits and bytes on this device starting 1990 and from that time I was hooked. The box had amazing capabilities that IMHO put it ahead of other similar devices like the Commodore64, Atari or TRS80 etc. The BBC BASIC language was quite advanced with structured programming constructs like functions and procedures, advanced control flow, recursion, variable scoping, optional strong typing and even typed pointers via indirection operators as opposed to the cumbersome PEEK and POKE of other BASIC dialects. The BASIC interpreter would even pre-parse the program into a semi-bytecode format for performance. Inline assembly support for the 6502 was also available. Around 2 years down the line when I started playing with an IBM PC-AT I’d just curse the GW BASIC with it’s primitive design.

I learned a lot on this box on my own effort which includes Data Structures and Algorithms, 3D Computer Graphics, OS fundamentals and basic Computer Architecture. The power of BBC BASIC even allowed me to implement a simple demand paging facility to overlay and load procedure blocks from floppy disk and adjusting the code segment pointers (the HIMEM and LOMEM stuff). This allowed one to write programs larger than available free memory. Today I still play around sometimes with an Emulator called BeebEm.


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