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August 08, 2006

Borland Brings Back Turbo

Today I read at PC Magazine that Borland (formerly Inprise, formerly Borland) is bringing back the Turbo line of compilers. In anticipation of the September 5 release date, the turboexplorer.com website has gone live and begun the countdown.

Wow. The Turbo line was one of the most unfortunate casualties of the 90s. Back in the 1980s when the personal computer was on the rise, very few programming tools were available for home hobbyists. PCs typically came with the MS BASIC interpreter and there were a few shareware/freeware tools available, but real compilers for real languages (Pascal, C, etc) were only available for hundreds of bucks each--a lot more than the budget of many experimenters.

Then Philippe Kahn created Borland International, packaged up his Pascal compiler and started selling it for $49.95. It was smaller, faster and cheaper than anything else, and it sold like crazy. While other packages provided a command line compiler, Turbo languages gave you an IDE, a command line compiler, programming tools, examples and great documentation. Borland grew and created more Turbo compilers such as Turbo C, Turbo Prolog, Turbo Basic and Turbo Assembler. Suddenly average Joes could afford real production-quality programming tools for the PC, and it created a flood of new software and small software companies. Hobbyists and kids could try their hand at writing real programs in real languages.

I was a Turbo C fan. Late in 1997 I picked a C book at random and bought the second edition of Prata's C Primer Plus. It was a great book, but I didn't have a C compiler (all C compilers cost $300-500+) and couldn't run any of the examples or do any of the exercises. The next spring Borland released Turbo C 1.0 and I plunked down my hard-earned $99.95 for it. It was a great little compiler, and I upgraded it to 1.5, then Turbo C Professional (with Turbo Assembler and Turbo Debugger). Although I never sold any software I wrote with it, I spent many hours during my college years with Turbo C and Assembler, and got a lot of enjoyment out of the package. In 1991 I made my final upgrade to Borland C++ 1.0. After that I had no time to program until I finally reached the Linux world.

Now Borland is planning to resurrect the Turbo brand with the release of 4 new compilers: Turbo C++, Turbo C#, Turbo Delphi and Turbo Delphi for .NET. They'll be giving away an "Explorer" edition for free (but you can only have one language installed per computer); those who need more capabilities can purchase the "Professional" edition for "less than $500". Looking at the feature list, the Explorer editions already look pretty capable.

Although I'm happy to see the return of Turbo and wish Borland the best, I have to ask the question: does it matter?

Once upon a time, if you wanted to get into programming on the PC you had to use BASIC or cough up money for a real development system. Borland made real development systems at affordable prices (and Microsoft soon followed with its own line of "Quick" compilers) and opened up programming to "the rest of us".

Nowadays, though, it's a different world. Young 'uns who are technically-oriented and interested in programming have a whole universe-on-a-disc in Linux, with all the tools and compilers they could possibly want.

Borland is aiming to attract Windows programmers: kids who want to learn to program "visually" on Windows, programmers who want to try out a new programming environment, programmers who are tired of Microsoft's tools and are looking for an alternative. Alternatives are good.

Will Borland's alternatives be good enough to lead programmers away from Microsoft? Personally, I can't say (my only experience with Microsoft was that copy of Visual C++ I bought and barely used). Borland knows the challenge. We'll see if it can live up to that challenge. Go, Borland!

Permalink | Posted by Joe at August 8, 2006 02:16 PM


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