Questions tagged [history]

For questions concerning the history of computers, digital electronics, hardware manufacturers and software developers.

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How well known and how commonly used was Huffman coding in 1979?

Infocom's Z-Machine, designed in 1979, compresses text using a basic 5 bit code which is not very efficient in practice, achieving maybe a 1.5:1 compression ratio. Huffman coding would be far more ...
6
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1answer
1k views

What was the first third-party commercial application for MS-DOS?

What was the first third-party commercial application for MS-DOS intended for IBM PC-compatible computers?
13
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1answer
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What is the oldest commercial MS-DOS program that can run on modern versions of Windows without third-party software?

What is the oldest commercial MS-DOS program that can run on modern versions of Windows (such as Windows 8.1 or Windows 10) without third-party emulators?
8
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3answers
365 views

Why do Early DRAMs (e.g. 4116) have a negative Column Address Set-up Time?

Early DRAMs have a multiplexed address bus. Briefly speaking, to access a word, one needs to... Put the row address on the bus, and latch it using the falling edge of /RAS signal. Put the column ...
2
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1answer
107 views

ISVs in the mainframe and minicomputer eras

In the eighties, there was a vast flowering of small independent software companies. Business and productivity software for the IBM PC, all manner of novelties for the Macintosh, games for the ...
4
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3answers
160 views

How did console flexowriters connect to their computers?

Several early computers (e.g., KDF9, LGP30) used Friden Flexowriters for console functions. What was the nature of the connection between the Flexowriter and the computer? Was this something we ...
2
votes
1answer
228 views

Historical speed of linear programming solvers

A few years ago, I remember seeing a video of Ray Kurzweil discussing how linear programming was an example of how software (algorithms) - independent of hardware - is also getting faster (...
12
votes
1answer
821 views

Why the DOS extender and DPMI were unavailable to DOS programs on 286 standard mode of Windows 3.0

An old article on Windows 3.0 from PC Magazine (June 11, 1991, page 348) said that: Using standard mode, the Windows DOS extender and DOS Protected Mode Interface (DPMI) are available to Windows ...
2
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2answers
452 views

When did various PONG systems overflow/crash due to points?

Edit: Given the many different versions of the game Pong, which version allowed you to accumulate the highest score before the game would crash, reset, or otherwise not just give you one more point? ...
16
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1answer
3k views

When did Linux kernel become libre software? [closed]

In this video, Richard Stallman claimed that Linus Torvalds created Linux kernel as a proprietary software and then liberated it ('liberated' is the term Stallman used). Assuming so, when was the ...
15
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1answer
299 views

In the original Z80 layout, where are the “traps” located? And what are their effects?

According to Zilog Oral History, Zilog only had a tight schedule to design the Z80. Facing the potential competition, Federico Faggin and Masatoshi Shima were worrying about Japanese semiconductor ...
15
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2answers
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Looking for an old image of designing a CPU with plan laid out / being edited on a literal floor

There is an image that I remember seeing, but that I have never been able to find. It shows 2-3 people on their hands and knees, crawling around a blueprint of a chip that had been rolled out over the ...
7
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2answers
271 views

Texas Instruments SN502

My father is an engineer that worked at TI directly under Jack Kilby in the early 60’s. This chip was given to him by Kilby as a “thank you” for all his hard work. We also have the accompanying build ...
8
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4answers
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Compaq Portable vs IBM 5155 Portable PC

In 1983, Compaq introduced its first product, a portable computer weighing 28 pounds; 128-640K RAM, two 5.25" floppy drives, 9" monochrome CRT for $3590. It was extremely successful in the market, and ...
48
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2answers
7k views

How was the blinking terminal cursor invented?

I was just staring at my blinking terminal cursor: And was wondering where it comes from. Does anybody have some piece of history about the blinking cursor? I couldn't find much online. E.g.: when/...
11
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3answers
4k views

When did game consoles begin including FPUs?

Floating-point coprocessors (FPUs) were an expensive, niche, add-on product for early desktop and home computers. but became commonplace by the mid-1990s, as they began to be included within the most ...
32
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3answers
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Were any of the books mentioned in this scene from the movie Hackers real?

In this scene from the 1995 movie Hackers, Cereal pulls out several books referred to by different colors of the "technicolor rainbow", including a "green one", "luscious orange", the "Pink Shirt book"...
2
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0answers
115 views

Can the quality of a programming language be objectively determined? [closed]

Can there really be an objective way to determine the quality of a programming language or is it all just up to the subjectivity of the programmers when the quality of languages are discussed? Is ...
9
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1answer
545 views

Why wasn't the Z6 version of the Infocom Z-machine ported to the IIgs?

Infocom ported their Z-machine to nearly every viable platform in the 70s and 80s. Zork runs on around 18 different 8/16 bit platforms using earlier versions of the Z-machine. Why was Z6 the graphical ...
2
votes
1answer
516 views

What was the first programming language to have 'printf'?

I'm curious as to which language was the first to literally have a formatted text output procedure called 'printf'. A trivial question, sure, but I was prompted to ask by a recent question on ZSPL. ...
23
votes
4answers
5k views

Was Unix ever a single-user OS?

I've been told that Unix started out as a Phone Switch OS and was not a multi-user OS at some time in its infancy. As I'm always willing to learn new things, are there any greybeards around here ...
5
votes
2answers
360 views

Why did the Apple IIc perform badly in the market?

The Apple IIc was a compact version of the Apple II that eschewed internal expansion slots in favor of having the popular expansion options already built in, and saving cost and weight. Apple expected ...
2
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0answers
102 views

HP presage of the PDA revolution

I no longer have clear memory of this, but I'm fairly certain I read an article back around 1979 or so published by Hewlett Packard. At the time, they had recently released their 41C calculator. I ...
9
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2answers
244 views

What connection exists between Facit AB and Sharp on the MZ-800 computer?

Facit used to be a very successful Swedish company manufacturing mechanical calculators that quickly went down to its final demise by not being able to adapt to the shift towards electronic ...
18
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3answers
2k views

Is there a way to get a compiler for the original B programming language?

I am learning about the original B programming language, but I don't have a compiler. Is there an emulator for an old computer that can run an old operating system that have a compiler for the ...
5
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3answers
391 views

Did the BCPL programming language support floats?

Did the BCPL programming language support floating point? If not, then how did programmers use it to add two floating point numbers?
58
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6answers
12k views

Why did C use the -> operator instead of reusing the . operator?

In the C programming language, the syntax to access the member of a structure is structure.member However, a member of a structure referenced by a pointer is written as pointer->member ...
5
votes
1answer
208 views

How to add an “int” to a “float” in the B programming language?

C has data types, so if you add an int to a float, for example: int i = 1; float f = 2.5; float r = i + f; The C compiler will know that it should generate machine instructions that adds an int to a ...
35
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5answers
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Did any compiler fully use Intel x87 80-bit floating point?

There is a paradox about floating point that I'm trying to understand. Floating point is an eternal struggle with the problem that real numbers are both essential and incomputable. It's the best ...
5
votes
4answers
381 views

What was the first time a programmer was able to use the well know block structure for conditional code?

The easily readable structure of having an if keyword which controls execution of a following block of code is so prevalent in programming that it seems to just be part of it. However, programming ...
3
votes
3answers
241 views

What was the first language to offer “full” structured programming support?

In the same vein as this question about conditionals, I am interested in the first time a language provided functionality we assume as a given for modern programming languages. The question is when a ...
10
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4answers
2k views

What was the first language to use conditional keywords?

The if keyword is so prevalent in programming that it seems to just be part of it. However, with an integer value and a goto statement, one cansimulate the functionality of an if. Which means it's ...
8
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5answers
335 views

Build automation tools before make?

I realized that make was "only" invented in 1976 and seems to be one of the first build automation tools (at least it's probably the oldest still in use). Make with its shell focus seems like a total ...
16
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4answers
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What was the first console to have temporary backward compatibility?

The first five generations of game consoles typically had no backward compatibility. New console, new hardware design, new games. (An exception was the Atari 7800, which as far as I know was the first ...
3
votes
1answer
167 views

IBM 650 - how many logic gates?

How many logic gates did the IBM 650 have? I'm used to measuring the complexity of a CPU by transistor count, but the 650 was a vacuum tube machine; the number of tubes would also be an interesting ...
12
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2answers
2k views

Did Xerox really develop the first LAN? [closed]

Did the computer scientist at Xerox really develop the first LAN, but had no backing from the company to further develop these technologies, later showing this to both Steve Jobs and Bill Gates? Just ...
3
votes
1answer
323 views

Did Xerox engineers really develop the first graphical user interface? [closed]

Did the computer scientist at Xerox really develop the first graphical user interface, later showing this to both Steve Jobs and Bill Gates? Just for reference, it is in reference to this story.
44
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2answers
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Why did the IBM 650 use bi-quinary?

The IBM 650, announced in 1953, was the world's first mass-produced computer. It represented numbers in decimal, which is understandable, both because it needed to work with exact money amounts, and ...
22
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2answers
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What was the last x86 CPU that did not have the x87 floating-point unit built in?

This Wikipedia page says the following: Most x86 processors since the Intel 80486 have had these x87 instructions implemented in the main CPU So the above quote implies that some CPUs that were ...
5
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1answer
284 views

What can an 8086 CPU do if an x87 floating-point coprocessor is attached to it? [duplicate]

As far as I know, old x86 CPUs (for example: the 8086 CPU) couldn't do floating point arithmetic, and in order to be able to do floating-point arithmetic, an x87 floating-point coprocessor should be ...
2
votes
1answer
130 views

Why was the DEC Q-Bus called the Q-bus?

The bus used for DEC's LSI-11 microcomputer implementation of the PDP-11 was originally and prosaically referred to as the LSI-11 bus, but thereafter it was universally referred to as the Q-bus. Does ...
1
vote
2answers
254 views

IBM PC memory map - why RAM at the bottom?

The 8088 provided an address space of one megabyte. The IBM PC allocated that address space as 640K RAM (not that the 5150 could physically take that much, but the address space was allocated) ...
1
vote
0answers
83 views

How many units did TI Invaders sell?

I'm trying to get a feel for the scale and dynamics of the early home computer game industry. Statistics for arcade games and console cartridges are relatively easy to come by, e.g. that Pac-Man on ...
3
votes
1answer
129 views

How much RAM did the first version of Oregon Trail on the Apple II require?

The later iterations of the series could have hundreds of kilobytes of RAM, but the original Apple II had 4K in the minimum configuration and 48K maximum (the latter using 16kbit chips which were ...
22
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6answers
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Why was the shrinking from 8″ made only to 5.25″ and not smaller (4″ or less)?

Answers and comments to Why were 5.25" floppy drives cheaper than 8"? suggest some reasons why floppy disks moved from 8" to 5.25"; basically it seems the smaller size reduced engineering ...
8
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4answers
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Early programmable calculators with RS-232

In the early seventies, companies like HP and Wang sold 'programmable desktop calculators' that were really personal computers in the time before what is usually thought of as the dawn of personal ...
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7answers
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Why did some early computer designers eschew integers?

Several early computer designs regarded a 'word' as representing not an integer, with the bits having values 2^0, 2^1, 2^2, ..., but as representing a fixed-point fraction 2^-1, 2^-2, 2^-3, ... (For ...
4
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2answers
461 views

When did computers stop needing to be marketed as calculators?

According to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hewlett-Packard_9100A The Hewlett-Packard 9100A (hp 9100A) is an early programmable calculator[3] (or computer), first appearing in 1968. HP called it a ...
3
votes
1answer
284 views

Graph of the history of databases

There are several nice graphs (in the computer science sense: nodes and arcs) of the history of programming languages, such as http://rigaux.org/language-study/diagram.html I haven't found one of ...
4
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4answers
241 views

Did the PC/AT-bus use its expanded address space?

The system bus of the IBM PC had 8 data lines and 20 address lines, in a logical correspondence to the 8088 CPU. The AT added a second inline edge connector to expand this to 16 data lines and 24 ...