This is something I foresaw when home computers quit being shipped with BASIC: <10 PRINT “HELLO”> seduced a generation. When finding out if programming is interesting costs a couple of hundred dollars up front (and weighs seven pounds), though, not many will try. Not that it has to be BASIC, of course, but there ought to be some ‘easy’ language supplied with home computers to inveigle potential geeks.
Of course, on some of those machines, notably the Commodore 64, if you wanted to do much of anything you had to work in that machine’s flavor of BASIC, and machine-specific commands don’t translate too well across platforms. That said, I used to rewrite Applesoft BASIC stuff to work on the 64, and it wasn’t that difficult; then again, I also had a COBOL (!) compiler for the 64, and I wasn’t worth a hoot at COBOL.
The alternative may lie in MMORPGs:
Other options if your kids are into games are Lua which is is used in World of Warcraft and Linden Scripting Language in Second Life (of course in Second Life you have to watch them constantly so they don’t fall in with furry Gorean slavers. Keep them in the kid friendly areas).
Given the sheer participation levels of WoW and Second Life, it’s hard to imagine we’d ever run out of geeks, unless you buy into the stereotype that they just don’t, um, reproduce.