Turbo Pascal celebrates 40 years of innovation and legacy in the programming world

Alfonso Maruccia

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The big picture: Pascal is an imperative, procedural programming language developed by Swiss computer scientist Niklaus Wirth. He designed it as a small and efficient language aimed at encouraging good programming practices. Pascal made its initial appearance in 1970, gaining prominence on IBM PC systems a couple of decades later, primarily due to the popularity of Borland's Turbo Pascal.

Turbo Pascal was initially released in 1983 for DOS and CP/M-based systems, injecting a breath of fresh air into the home computer programming market. While competing products (and languages) were essentially clunky patchworks of different programming tools, the Pascal dialect conceived by Anders Hejlsberg at Borland offered an all-in-one environment focused on performance and an optimized workflow.

Turbo Pascal stands out as one of the first instances of an integrated development environment (IDE), providing a text-based interface through which developers could write their code, compile it, and finally link it with runtime libraries. The early IDE, written in Assembly, eschewed the use of floppies, instead building the code directly in RAM for an unprecedented performance boost.

The language demonstrated superior speed, greater convenience, and a more affordable price compared to its competition. Philippe Kahn, Borland's CEO who initially conceptualized turning the new language into an all-in-one product, decided to sell the software via mail orders for just $49.95, establishing a market presence for the then-newly founded company.

The first version of Turbo Pascal had significant limitations, as the software could only produce .COM binary files for DOS and CP/M. Several new iterations followed, and in 1987, Turbo Pascal 4 brought numerous improvements, making it a much more mature development platform. It discontinued support for CP/M and CP/M-86, and the integrated compiler gained the ability to compile .EXE binary files under DOS.

Turbo Pascal 4 also introduced the now-familiar full-screen text GUI with pull-down menus, while version 5, released in 1988, delivered the default blue background. One year later, Turbo Pascal 5.5 added support for object-oriented programming features, including classes and inheritance, along with a new step-by-step debugger.

Turbo Pascal 6 and 7 marked the final two DOS versions of the IDE, introducing support for inline assembly and enabling the creation of Windows (3.x) executables and DLL libraries. Eventually, Borland phased out Turbo Pascal to concentrate on Delphi (Object Pascal). However, Turbo Pascal somewhat survived the great DOS prompt extinction.

Borland released four different versions of Turbo Pascal for DOS (1, 3.02, 5.5, 7.01) as freeware due to their historical significance. Additionally, Free Pascal is a modern, open-source compiler that supports Turbo Pascal and various dialects of the Pascal language family. Seasoned programmers experiencing nostalgia can even download a DOSBox-based version of Turbo Pascal to continue coding as they did in the old days of DOS.

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Neat flashback! In my high school, we had a bunch of Apple IIe’s and Apple IIgs’s that our comp sci class learned BASIC on. But we also had a single IBM PC XT that “independent study” students used for Turbo Pascal. By the time I was a senior, my CS teacher had MS QuickC and I took independent study C instead of BASIC or Pascal.
 
Before Turbo Pascal there was CompasPascal and then Poly Pascal, both creations of Anders Hejlsberg and work he did before Borland.
When Borland bought/hired AH, then Turbo Pascal came to life and at the time it was a great programming tool. However when it moved from DOS to Windows it was very much in the early days of OOP, that part was clearly something glued on top and not really great to work with. Later one we got Delphi and things was great again, only by that time Microsoft had won many programmers over to their side (including AH).
Delphi is btw. still around and the IDE is a real pleasure to work with and not only for Pascal(Delphi). Worth checking out.
 
This was the first object-oriented language I learned in high school. We used to have fun in the computer labs with it making fake DOS prompts and the like mess with our classmates.
 
Pascal for DOS is 99.99% dead . Delphi was interesting but I noticed the compiler messed up variables with same name dspite them being of different scope . Very bad ! Visual C++ was more difficult but never such issues .
 
This was the first object-oriented language I learned in high school. We used to have fun in the computer labs with it making fake DOS prompts and the like mess with our classmates.

Yeah, Pascal and it's offshoots remain great tools to teach beginners the ins and outs of programming without getting to deep into fully Object Oriented languages (Java/C#) or going straight into the C/C++ family. BASIC/Pascal the first two languages beginners should learn; if they can understand those, then the rest is just picking up the syntax and learning some of the advanced things you can do in more modern languages.
 
Turbo Pascal 7 had a big impact on my life and career: I loved programming since the first computer I ever got back in '91 (a PC compatible 80286), started with Basic and Logo, then Turbo Pascal 7. I was so happy I could finally compile my code into an EXE file, and having my friends run my "apps" without opening Basic.

Now I work as a software and website developer.
 
It's strange how the use of computers has changed over the decades. In the early days you bought computers to program them and try new ideas out. As a late teen I remember saving up every penny in order to buy an Acorn Atom micro computer which came with BASIC and an assembler installed! This was miles better than programming in machine code which I was used to. You'd think with the passage of time that programming would be easy these days but modern IDE's seem to delight in their complexity. Maybe that explains why 99% of users have never written a line of code on their computers. It seems a shame to me.
 
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