Running X11-Basic (almost perfectly) on Raspberry Pi

Update: Markus Hoffmann uploaded a new version of X11Basic-1.20.tar.gz to SourceForge that addresses most of these problems. I’ve edited the article to remove the obsolete bits.

More than 20 years ago, I really liked GFA-Basic. It ran blindingly fast on the Atari ST, and when it didn’t crash on the Amiga, it ran blindingly fast there too. I even wrote a review of it for comp.sys.amiga.programmer, which you can read to this day in all its textual glory. One of the e-mail addresses in that article still works, too.

I still sometimes think in BASIC, and there is much wringing of hands (not by me, really) that there isn’t a good interpreter for Raspbian on the Raspberry Pi. So when I found X11-Basic — a cross-platform GFA-Basic-like system — I had to take a look.

While I have managed to get X11-Basic demos to run, I have to say it’s not running super well. I’ll show you how to install X11-Basic 1.20 and get it (mostly) running, but it’s a bit rough on the ARM. Incidentally, these instructions also work on Ubuntu 12.mumble LTS on x86.

First, you need to install some (okay, a lot of) packages:

sudo apt-get install libreadline-dev tcsh libncurses5-dev xutils-dev libc6-dev libsdl1.2-dev libtool

Now download and extract the package:

tar xvzf X11Basic-1.20.tar.gz
cd X11Basic-1.20

For X11Basic-1.20, you have to issue an extra command before the standard ‘./configure ; make ; make install‘ sequence:

sudo mkdir -p /usr/local/share/man/man1
sudo make install

This is enough to make a working xbasic interpreter. I made some screenshots of some of the graphics demos —

Screen Shot 2013-03-08 at 16.34.51 Screen Shot 2013-03-08 at 14.59.37 Screen Shot 2013-03-08 at 14.57.21 Screen Shot 2013-03-08 at 14.54.08 Screen Shot 2013-03-08 at 14.49.48As you can see, there’s some screen corruption, but most demos just worked. Incidentally, the Mandelbrot one took almost 1¼ hours to run. Took me right back, that did (or it would have, if I hadn’t been outside bombing about in the slush on my bicycle while it churned away).

In order to see just how fast the interpreter is, I ran the formerly fearsome Personal Computer World Benchmark #8 under X11-Basic. PCW#8 used to bring 8-bit home computers to their knees, typically taking more than a minute to run. Here’s the code, indented a bit and with a timing wrapper added:

	LET start=TIMER
	LET K=0
	LET K=K+1
	LET A=K^2
	IF K<1000
		GOTO L30

(yeah, GFA-style BASIC isn’t too pretty …)

It takes about ¼s to run. The old BBC B was supposed to take about 50s. By comparison, X11-Basic on a manky old dual-core Atom took 0.04s.

The native compiler xbc seems to work. To make a standalone binary of the above code, you do:

xbc -o PCWBenchmark PCWBenchmark.xbas

The compiled binary runs roughly twice as fast as the interpreted code. Not blazing fast, but a useful increase.

Unfortunately, the bytecode compiler xbbc doesn’t actually do anything on the Raspberry Pi yet. So here I leave it up to you to play with X11-Basic, and see what it can and can’t do.