Rocky Mountain BASIC

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Rocky Mountain BASIC (also RMB or RM-BASIC) is a dialect of the BASIC programming language created by Hewlett-Packard. It was especially popular for control of automatic test equipment using GPIB. It has several features which are or were unusual in BASIC dialects, such as event-driven operation, extensive external I/O support, complex number support, and matrix manipulation functions. Today, RMB is mainly used in environments where an existing investment in RMB software, hardware, or expertise already exists. Completely new efforts are more likely to use more "modern" BASIC dialects (such as Visual Basic), or eschew BASIC entirely in favor of some other high-level programming language (such as C++).

History and implementations

The origins of RMB can be traced back to HP's Colorado facilities. Since Colorado is located in the Rocky Mountains, this variation of BASIC was dubbed "Rocky Mountain BASIC", to differentiate it from the many other BASIC dialects. As of this writing, it is unclear if the RMB name was original to HP or came from outside, but HP/Agilent now use the term in their own documentation, as well as the more formal "HP BASIC" product name.

In the late 1970's, HP introduced the 9835 and 9845 desktop computers, amongst the first workstations aimed at scientists and engineers for both technical computing and instrumentation control. These were followed by the 9826 and 9836 computers, which were the leading models of the HP 9000 series of computers. All four of these computers ran versions of Rocky Mountain Basic. These computers were often used as controllers for HP automatic test equipment, connected via the HP Instrument Bus. HP wanted to provide a programming language which would be friendly to the engineers and scientists which used such test equipment. The BASIC programming language, already intended to be easy for novices, was chosen (there was also a version of Pascal (programming language) offered and knowledgeable users could also program them in assembly language).

Early implementations of RMB software on the HP 9000 platform were called HP BASIC/WS. BASIC/WS ran stand-alone. It provided operating system (OS), integrated development environment (editor and debugger), and the language interpreter. Later, HP implemented RMB on top of the HP-UX OS, and called it BASIC/UX. BASIC/UX 300 ran on series 300 hardware and BASIC/UX 700 ran on series 700 hardware. BASIC/WS, BASIC/UX 300 and BASIC/UX 700 were last updated to fix Year 2000 date related issues.

As technology advanced, HP was able to embed RMB implementations directly in the test equipment. The capabilities of these embedded implementations varied. These implementations went by a variety of names, including HP Instrument BASIC and Board Test BASIC (BT-BASIC).

HP produced an RMB implementation for Microsoft Windows called HP Instrument BASIC for Windows; however, it never enjoyed the success of their other RMB products.

Another company, TransEra, created a clone implementation of RMB, which they called High Tech BASIC, or HT BASIC (now HTBasic). HP later licensed HT BASIC from TransEra Corporation of Orem, Utah, re-branded it, and sold it as HP BASIC for Windows (no relation to the HP-produced "HP Instrument BASIC for Windows"). As of 2008, TransEra is still maintaining and updating HTBasic with fixes and new features. Although HTBasic is fundamentally an interpreted language, a compiler is available.

Test & Measurement Systems, Inc., also known as "TAMS", of Loveland, Colorado, acquired HP BASIC/WS and BASIC/UX 300 product responsibility in 1998. As of 2009, TAMS continues to sell and support the legacy versions of BASIC/WS and BASIC/UX. TAMS also licensed BASIC/UX 700 from Agilent Technologies and ported RMB to both HP-UX 11i and Red Hat Enterprise Linux. The HP-UX 11i implementation is known as "BASIC for 11i" or "BASIC/UX 11i". The Red Hat Enterprise Linux version is known as "BASIC for Linux", "BASIC/LX" or "RMBLX".

HP retained BASIC/UX 700 (E2045C) until spinning off their instrument division as Agilent Technologies. The remaining RMB product responsibility went with Agilent Technologies, who eventually dropped support for it. Agilent now refers customers to either TransEra for BASIC for Windows or to TAMS for BASIC/WS, BASIC/UX or BASIC for Linux.


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