Bob Zale: PowerBASIC Founder 1946-2012

BASIC programmers who have been around a while likely remember Borland International's Turbo Basic. What few may realize though is that Borland did not create Turbo Basic. Bob Zale did. Borland purchased the rights to Bob's compiler, which was derived from his previous compiler, Basic/Z, and named it Turbo Basic. Borland eventually left the compiler market and Turbo Basic was one of the first of their languages to go. Again most people do not realize that Turbo Basic didn't die, but Borland simply sold back the rights to its creator, Bob Zale, and he renamed it PowerBASIC.


Bob Zale had a motto, which he carried on until the day he died: "smaller, faster, smaller, faster". He actually commented that he posted this motto around the offices of PowerBASIC to encourage all of his employees to feel the same way. In each new release, Bob pushed his team to make the compiler faster and better, so it could produce smaller and faster programs.


Interestingly, Bob Zale (and his team) all wrote code in assembler. It's an uncommon approach but the speed of his compilers and the speed of the resulting programs showed the benefits. Bob appreciated assembler so much that he made sure his BASIC compilers supported inline assembler.


PC Magazine's recognition of Bob's contributions simply makes it official how all of us thought about Bob and his products:





Here are some highlights of Bob's life, as provided by Vivian, Bob's wife of 27 years, and now owner of PowerBASIC Inc.
  • Robert S. Zale was born 4/24/46 in Illinois near Chicago.
  • Bob always was an entrepreneur. In high school he had a rock and roll band. He also taught kids music lessons.
  • Then he had three music stores where he sold musical instruments.
  • Next he had an insurance agency.
  • Then he became interested in computers so he sold the insurance agency and taught himself assembly language.
  • He first started in the compiler business in the early 80s. He was self-taught in creating basic compilers in assembly language.
  • His first business was System/Z. His first compiler was Basic/Z.
  • He had a dealer in Australia who marketed Basic/Z for him. He met with Philippe Kahn of Borland International, located in Scotts Valley, California. He gave a copy of Basic/Z to him.
  • Philippe contacted Bob and commissioned him to create Turbo Basic. He moved to Scotts Valley to work for Borland International in 1985.
  • When he left Borland he negotiated to take Turbo Basic and rights to his code with him.
  • He changed the name of the product from Turbo Basic to PowerBASIC and Spectra Publishing in Sunnyvale, CA marketed it for him.
  • One day he decided to market PowerBASIC himself if I [Vivian] would help him. Of course, I said yes so we became a team.
  • So PowerBASIC, Inc began in northern California. We moved the business to Carmel Valley, CA and worked there for a few years.
  • We moved the business to Florida in 1999 and lived and worked there until his death 11/6/2012.


Some Pictures ... Bob and wife Vivian


In Remembrance ...

Bob Zale passed away on 6 November, 2012.


Bob Zale was one of the pioneers of modern computing.

- Les Bothwell


Bob Zale was something of a hero to me, and I expect to others too, because he, at least at first, singlehandedly created the compilers we use to do our work. And creating compilers is no small feat.

- Fred Harris


I am truly shocked and at a loss for words as I read this topic today. Bob has touched all of our lives and his contributions will be remembered forever. His products have inspired creativity in me and a sense of personal achievement and growth. I have learned a lot about myself and who I am as a person because of Bob and PowerBASIC.

- Paul Squires


I'm shocked. Never believed that legendary man, can left this world so quickly. He brought light into the world Basic, changed the way of thinking for large Basic community. Big loss...

- Aslan Babakhanov


Bob was not only my boss, but he was more like a member of the family. He was always there to give you a ride if your car was having trouble. Give advice on a legal contract. Whatever the problem was you could go to Bob and he listen and try to help. He could be hard to deal with sometimes. But he was so much more. Bob was friendly, kind, and helpful and never boring. He was also one of the smartest people I have ever met. I will miss him greatly.

- Steve Rossell


I am saddened, but also very feel happy and lucky to have had his life affect mine. How that is, because of his commitment to create worthy tools that helped to make my life easier and also in that he had an eye on what was being said here on the forums. I would see his post made in the wee hours of the morning and it might had been to just to help somebody. I noticed that.

- Paul Purvis


Every time I start a new application in PB I am always pleasantly surprised by the thought and technical expertise that went into the development of the compiler. I know that Bob's legacy will live on in his family, co-workers and products for a long time to come.

- Dave Chisholm


Bob and I had our ups and downs. He was a very stubborn man, and so am I. We fought on occasion. But, he was also like a father to me, a kind soul, and I respect the hard core of what he was. He was unwavering in the search for purity in what he did, which was BASIC compilers, and God help you if you got in the way of that. He was a builder, an engineer, and that's all he did. Every day, all of his life. It's what he wanted to do, and it's what he did.

- Tom Hanlin