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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.
GW-BASIC has a command line-based Integrated Development Environment (IDE) based on Dartmouth BASIC. It also includes function key shortcuts at the bottom of the screen. Like other early microcomputer versions of BASIC, GW-BASIC lacked many of the structures needed for structured programming such as local variables, and GW-BASIC programs executed relatively slowly, due to the fact that it was an interpreted programming language. All program lines must be numbered; all non-numbered lines are considered to be commands in direct mode to be executed immediately. Program source files are normally saved in binary compressed format with tokens replacing commands, with an option to save in ASCII text form.
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
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).