Should we miss BASIC?

Over in my post accepting my victory as the biggest geek on ScienceBlogs, an interesting discussion about beginners learning to program got started in the comments. It was triggered by someone mentioning David Brin’s article in Salon about how terrible it is that computers no longer come with basic. The discussion was interesting; I think it’s interesting enough to justify a top-level post.
A few days ago in Salon, David Brin published an article (no link, because Salon is a pay-site), lamenting the fact that computers no longer come with BASIC interpreters, and how that was going to wreck the next generation of up-and-coming programmers:
>Only, quietly and without fanfare, or even any comment or notice by software
>pundits, we have drifted into a situation where almost none of the millions of
>personal computers in America offers a line-programming language simple enough
>for kids to pick up fast. Not even the one that was a software lingua franca on
>nearly all machines, only a decade or so ago. And that is not only a problem
>for Ben and me; it is a problem for our nation and civilization.
Yes indeedy, the lack of built-in BASIC interpreters is a problem for our very civilization!
There are two contradictory threads running through the article. One is the idea that “back in the good old days”, everyone had the same programming language, a “lingua franca” which everyone spoke. The other is that the “line-oriented” BASIC was a better tool for beginners learning to program than anything that we have now.
I think both of these are utter nonsense.

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