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Small Basic – A Fun Way to Learn Programming

Microsoft launched Small Basic as a way to make "programming accessible and easy for beginners" and I have to agree - it actually is very easy and, if you go through the included "Introducing Small Basic" PDF, you will get a great start on what programming is as well as how basic programming constructs work (such as variables, functions, and even GOTO).

Do you want to learn how to be a .NET programmer but you are confused as to how to begin? Small Basic may be a good intro to programming that might make it easier for you to transition into Visual Basic.

Who Should Learn Small Basic?

Look - Small Basic is for beginners, not for people who have programming experience. If you want to learn .NET yet you already know Java, SmallTalk, or some other full-blown language, this is the wrong option - go learn C#, Visual Basic, or F#. If you don't know how to program then Small Basic is a nice, gentle introduction. Microsoft says they've "had success" with kids 10-16 and I believe it - it's just so easy.


Small Basic is easy in all aspects: learning the language, learning the Small Basic editor, and even the documentation is easy to get through. It has the most meek compiler ever - it's like a gentle little lamb actually when it says, "Sorry, we found some errors..." as though it were actually afraid of breaking decorum when it is forced to mention the "slight issues" your code might have.

So to sum up: anyone who wants to learn programming could learn Small Basic. One word of caution: just because some sufficiently advanced ten year olds can do it doesn't mean that it's so easy that you'll breeze right through it. For example, there's an entire Small Basic API reference to learn that will help you learn to code. 

What Can You Do With Small Basic?

Look - this is a programming language designed to teach you the basics of programming so don't expect too much. I was surprised at just how much you could actually do with Small Basic - the Tetris sample app is example of one of those, "This is debatable whether what a beginner would actually spend the time to write this." With games like Tetris, Bricks, and Turn Em Off, you can see that in just 50-100 lines of code you can have some dynamite mini-apps built. Another fav is paulfo's Flickr app.

What Can You Do After You Learn Small Basic?

Once you've put in your time and learned how to program Small Basic, you can then branch out into more fully-developed languages like Visual Basic or C# (or non-.NET languages like Java).


The bottom line is this: I could expend quite a bit of words and energy explaining Small Basic or you could just go download Small Basic and get started. I think that Small Basic is so easy that it isn't worth waiting any longer to get started - go download it and start coding!


scott whigham
grant moyle
chad weaver
recent comments
  • Scott Whigham: I saw that - I considered a Wikipedia-style "disambiguation" entry read more
  • chris: Hey Scott, nice article. You might also enjoy trying out read more