Altair BASIC

Definition of Altair BASIC

Altair BASIC is an early programming language developed in 1975 for the MITS Altair 8800 microcomputer by Bill Gates, Paul Allen, and Monte Davidoff. It was the first product created by their company, later known as Microsoft. The language is based on the BASIC programming language and enabled users to write simple programs for their Altair 8800 systems.


The phonetic pronunciation for “Altair BASIC” would be:æl-teɪr ˈbeɪsɪk

Key Takeaways

  1. Altair BASIC was an early programming language created in 1975 by Microsoft co-founders Bill Gates and Paul Allen for the MITS Altair 8800 computer, marking the start of the microcomputer revolution.
  2. The language, based on the BASIC (Beginner’s All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code) syntax, provided users with a simple and accessible method to interact with and write programs for their new microcomputers.
  3. Altair BASIC played a significant role in the development of the software industry, as it showcased Microsoft’s abilities in creating practical and user-friendly programming languages, leading to the subsequent development of more sophisticated programming languages and software applications.

Importance of Altair BASIC

Altair BASIC is a highly significant term in technology history, as it marks the beginning of the microcomputer revolution and the foundation of Microsoft, one of the world’s largest tech companies.

Developed in 1975 by Bill Gates and Paul Allen, Altair BASIC was the first programming language and user-friendly software created for the Altair 8800, an early microcomputer designed by MITS.

The software allowed users to write and run programs on the Altair using the BASIC (Beginner’s All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code) language, which made programming accessible to a broader audience.

Altair BASIC’s success ignited the personal computer industry and led to the development of more user-friendly programming languages and software for personal computers.


Altair BASIC served as a pivotal development in the early days of personal computing, with its primary purpose being to provide computer hobbyists and enthusiasts a convenient and accessible tool for programming. Its inception can be traced back to 1975 when Altair 8800, the first successful personal computer, demanded a user-friendly language to consolidate its user base.

Responding to this demand, Microsoft founders Bill Gates and Paul Allen, along with Monte Davidoff, developed Altair BASIC as an interpreter for the Altair computer. By providing a high-level language that enabled the users to write programs without mastering assembly language or machine code on their Altair 8800s, Altair BASIC dramatically simplified software development and empowered a new era of programmers.

Beyond facilitating personal computing, Altair BASIC substantially contributed to the democratization of computer programming. Using this language, users were able to create an array of applications, which spanned across different domains such as mathematical calculations, education, and simple video games.

Ultimately, Altair BASIC laid a strong foundation for the future evolution of BASIC and inspired subsequent variations like AppleSoft BASIC and Commodore BASIC. Consequently, software like word processors, spreadsheets, and more sophisticated programming tools started to emerge, ultimately propelling the personal computer revolution and fostering widespread adoption of computing technology.

Examples of Altair BASIC

Home-built Personal Computers: During the late 1970s, hobbyists and enthusiasts built personal computers such as the Altair 8800, which used the Altair BASIC programming language. These home-built PCs served as the foundation for the emerging personal computer industry and enabled programmers to experiment with their own hardware and learn BASIC programming for various applications.

Education Institutions: In the late 1970s and early 1980s, many schools and educational institutions adopted BASIC programming languages, including Altair BASIC, as part of their computer science curriculum. Students learned programming principles and logic with programming languages like Altair BASIC on microcomputer platforms, providing them with the necessary knowledge for future careers in the field.

Early Commercial Software Development: Altair BASIC served as a catalyst for the growth of the software industry. It inspired Bill Gates and Paul Allen to co-found Microsoft (then known as Micro-Soft) in 1975, which first success came from providing Altair BASIC as a software product for the Altair 8800 computer. The availability of Altair BASIC and other versions of the language spurred the development of numerous applications and software programs for the emerging personal computer market, ranging from business applications to games.


What is Altair BASIC?

Altair BASIC is an interpreter for the BASIC programming language that was designed to run on the Altair 8800, an early microcomputer released in 1975. It was the first product sold by Microsoft, which was founded by Bill Gates and Paul Allen.

Why is Altair BASIC significant in the history of computing?

Altair BASIC represents a milestone in the development of personal computing, as it made it possible for individuals with limited programming knowledge to write their own software. Furthermore, it marked the beginning of Microsoft’s role in shaping the future of computing and establishing the PC industry.

What features does Altair BASIC offer?

Altair BASIC provided a range of features, including support for conditional statements (IF-THEN-ELSE), loops (FOR and WHILE), and the ability to work with floating-point numbers. It also included mathematical functions, string manipulation functions, and rudimentary input/output capabilities.

How was Altair BASIC distributed?

Altair BASIC was initially distributed on paper tape, which users could load into their Altair 8800 computers using a teletype machine. Later, it became available on cassette tapes and floppy disks for easier distribution and installation.

Can Altair BASIC still be used today?

While Altair BASIC is an antiquated language and not suitable for modern programming tasks, enthusiasts and historians can still explore and use it through emulation. Many programs and websites emulate the Altair 8800 and the Altair BASIC language, allowing users to experience the early days of personal computing.

Related Technology Terms

  • Microsoft Founders
  • Microprocessor
  • MITS Altair 8800
  • Programming Language
  • Early Personal Computing

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