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The Weekly Source Code 49 – SmallBasic is Fun, Simple, Powerful Programming for Kids and Adults

February 9, 2010

While the boys are only 2 and 4, I’m always keeping an eye out on new ways to teach them programming. Certainly I hope they’ll be more well-rounded and I and spend more time outside, but a even a basic background in programming and logic, I think, produces a more empowered individual.

Created by Vijaye Raji, Small Basic is a simple (only 15 keywords) but powerful environment for getting started programming. Great for kids and non-technical spouses, but powerful enough even for the professional game developer. In fact, Small Basic is probably the fastest and simplest way I’ve seen yet to produce and publish Silverlight-based games. Read on to see why.

Small Basic is part of MSDN DevLabs and just released version 0.8. It’s the eighth installment, but I suspect they are too modest to call it 8.0. 😉 It’s even internationalized in English, Chinese, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Jorean, Russian, Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese and Turkish…so if you know a computer teacher, you might tell them about this!

Take a look at Small Basic Tetris, for example. You can run it in the browser with Silverlight, right here. The full Small Basic source code for the app is listed right on the page. There’s a bunch of great sample Small Basic apps here also.

It has a nice friendly IDE (Integrated Development Environment) with a clever take on Intellisense as seen below. The IDE goes out of its way to give you as much information and context as possible not only with the intellisense "arc" but also context-sensitive help in the right doc.

The Small Basic IDE

Even more clever, I think, is the "Graduate" button that will convert your Small Basic program into Visual Basic for use directly in Visual Studio.

Here’s what a Small Basic text mode application would look like:

number = 100
While (number > 1)
number = number / 2

Here’s a SmallBasic Windows app:

GraphicsWindow.BackgroundColor = "Black"
GraphicsWindow.Width = 200
GraphicsWindow.Height = 160
GraphicsWindow.PenColor = "Blue"
For i = 1 To 10
GraphicsWindow.PenWidth = i
GraphicsWindow.DrawLine(20, i * 15, 180, i * 15)

For those of us old enough to remember learning to program with LOGO and its ubiquitous Turtle, Small Basic includes a Turtle object built in! Remember this?

sides = 50
length = 400 / sides
angle = 360 / sides
Turtle.Speed = 9
For j = 1 To 20
For i = 1 To sides

Which gives us this image. See the turtle inside?

The LOGO Turtle drawing Circles in SmallBasic

The most amazing part from a learning perspective is the ability to publish your game directly to the Small Basic website and play it or give it to your friends. I hit Publish for this Turtle app and Small Basic – in one click – gave me this link: Now I can send my friends or students to that link.  They can play the game LIVE, see the source listing right there, or even embed it on their own website with included HTML.

I’m really impressed with the amount of though that was put into this app and how easy it was. I hope other folks at Microsoft check it out and appreciate the simplicity.

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© 2009 Scott Hanselman. All rights reserved.


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