Questions tagged [history]

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

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14 views

Were any IBM mainframes ever run multiuser?

Now of course there is a sense in which they were – some mainframe installations supported thousands of users! But there is a distinction. Consider the familiar fixture in so many 80s computer science ...
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1answer
32 views

What was the first database to start compressing in situ?

The obvious way for a database to store data is with each record in a contiguous chunk, and each field having a fixed size and offset in the record. Joel Spolsky praises that way of doing things: ...
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1answer
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How did the DEC RP06 respond to unscheduled power off?

The DEC RP06 disk drive was a remarkable piece of hardware. It seems to have been the last generation of drives that used rigid magnetic disks in removable packs, before their replacement by '...
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2answers
74 views

Why did mainframes have big conspicuous power-off buttons?

Some fascinating stories in this discussion thread. It starts with discussion about computers overheating, but about halfway through the thread, it switches to discussion of mainframe installations in ...
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Why did Gran Trak 10 cost so much?

In 1974, Atari released a driving game called Gran Trak 10. The development prototypes had used real car steering wheels and pedals, but it was realized these were too expensive, so they were changed ...
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4answers
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Why did MacOS Classic choose the colon as a path separator?

I mean, all other OSs that I know of use some form of slash as a path separator, so why did Apple choose the colon?
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3answers
829 views

How was it possible to run IBM mainframe software in emulation on HP?

... At least, without getting sued into the ground? According to one of the answers to What was the most critical supporting software for COBOL on IBM mainframes? We installed a new HP replacing an ...
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7answers
3k views

What was the most critical supporting software for COBOL on IBM mainframes?

Over the past half-century, one of the largest trends in the computer industry has been the replacement of mainframes by microcomputers. Not total by any means – there are still many mainframes in ...
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3answers
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Why did decimal arithmetic slow down VisiCalc?

There is an excellent article about VisiCalc that goes into all the details about what happened and why, highly recommended if you are interested in that part of computing history. I was reading this ...
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How were 4-digit IC part numbers assigned?

It seems that integrated circuits of the 1970s tended to have 4-digit part numbers. This includes not only the ones that came to be well-known like CPUs (Intel 4004, 8008, 8080, 8085, 8086, 8088, ...
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Why user-assembled kits?

Many early computers were sold as self-assembly kits (you get a box of parts and an instruction leaflet and have to solder them together yourself). For example, the Altair was priced at $439 kit, $621 ...
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What was the first vector supercomputer?

I am trying to understand the trade-offs between scalar and vector machines, the threshold of complexity/transistor count/performance at which vector machines started to make sense. As data points, ...
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5answers
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Did IBM originally plan to use the 68000 in the PC?

One of the big turning points in the history of the industry was IBM choosing the Intel 8088 over the Motorola 68000. Given that most people outside IBM considered the 68000 preferable, there has been ...
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6answers
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Why did 8-bit Basic use 40-bit floating point?

Nowadays floating point is usually either 32 or 64 bits, sometimes 16, occasionally 128. But of course, the Basic interpreters on the 8-bit machines, having to implement floating point in software ...
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1answer
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When did the Altair move ROM to the top of memory?

The 8080 starts running code at location 0 on reset. The natural layout of memory on a computer using that CPU is therefore ROM at the bottom of the memory map and RAM at the top. CP/M demands the ...
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What did Pete Stewart think he knew about efficient implementation of floating point denormals?

The most controversial part of the IEEE 754 floating-point standard is gradual denormals. Typically they trap to software rather than being implemented in hardware. In the common case where a workload ...
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Why did the SWTPC 6800 Computer System not take off? [closed]

In 1974, a major semiconductor company released its first 8-bit CPU that was good enough to build a serious computer around. In 1975, a smaller company built a computer around it, a horizontal box ...
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1answer
103 views

Why was the SWTPC 6800 Computer System cheaper than the Altair?

In 1974, Intel released the 8080, which basically was the first microprocessor good enough to build a serious computer around. That led to the Altair 8800 the following year, which was the beginning ...
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Was AGP only ever used for graphics cards?

Reading on the AGP spec, the little bits I've found on sites like https://old.pinouts.ru/Slots/agp_pinout.shtml, say: The Accelerated Graphics Port (also called Advanced Graphics Port) is a high-...
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1answer
509 views

Why did the Altair use 100-pin edge connectors?

The Altair 8800 was based on what came in later years (much to the displeasure of MITS) to be known as the S-100 bus, because it had 100 lines, because MITS found 100-pin edge connectors were ...
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How many 8087s were sold?

The Intel 8087 was a floating-point coprocessor for the 8086/8088, and in particular for the IBM PC and clones. I am interested in finding out how widely used it was, both for its own sake and as a ...
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2answers
1k views

Was natural convection ever a consideration in orienting expansion cards?

Many computers have followed the design pattern of a backplane with expansion cards, including arguably the three most influential microcomputers ever built: the Altair 8800, the Apple II and the IBM ...
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1answer
337 views

Was Steve Jobs really Atari employee number 40?

To be clear, I am not questioning that Steve Jobs spent a while working for Atari; that much is indubitably historical fact. Apparently he joined the company in 1974. Atari was founded in the summer ...
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Who owned the rights to the TIA chip?

The two most important chips in a game console are the CPU and GPU. In the Atari 2600, the CPU was a cut down version of the 6502, a very common low-cost microprocessor. The GPU was the TIA, which was ...
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1answer
250 views

How did a UNIVAC predict the results of the 1952 U.S. Presidential election?

The first computer prediction of a U.S. Presidential election was by a UNIVAC I computer used by CBS News on election night 1952. At 9:15 pm, with only 3.4 million of the eventual 61.8 million ...
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What did developers use before bash? [closed]

It's a fairly short question. How did the early computers before 1989 where bash was published write commands to the OS. Did they have Systemctl?
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3answers
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When/where was datum and limit relocation invented?

I recently "attended" a meeting of the UK Computer Conservation Society on the subject of LEO (Lyons Electronic Office; Lyons was a bakery and cafeteria business that found itself designing ...
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0answers
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Who did what exactly for the original Shadowgate (1987) Macintosh video game?

I primarily know Shadowgate from the wonderful NES port, which was ported by some Japanese company and whose Japanese musician composed the beautiful, iconic music which I frankly thought was there ...
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172 views

What was the specific function of the relay which captured Grace Hopper's famous “bug”?

Computer pioneer Grace Hopper often recounted the story of her team finding the first physical computer bug: While she was working on a Mark II Computer at Harvard University in 1947, her associates ...
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1answer
219 views

Whatever happened to the Refal language?

Refal is a language from the 1960s that is based on the concept of pattern-matching with many features that could be considered advanced even today- it is functional, garbage collected, and supported ...
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1answer
293 views

How did the NSA use vector supercomputers?

In the 80s, the NSA was a major customer of supercomputers. https://www.nsa.gov/Portals/70/documents/news-features/declassified-documents/cryptologic-quarterly/NSA_and_the_Supercomputer.pdf discusses ...
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What specific factor(s) made Thomas Watson, Jr. (of IBM) so enthusiastic about early electronics?

One of my favourite computer history books is Stan Augarten's "Bit by Bit", which has an author-approved scanned copy at http://ds-wordpress.haverford.edu/bitbybit/ In it, the author makes ...
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When IPv6 was designed were there any specific considerations for other planets?

Seeing Moon base internet functionality in Worldbuilding reminded me of how I began an old Space SE question Are there discussions or plans for extending the internet into space beyond Earth? Many ...
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671 views

What pointing devices were available for C64/C128?

Apart from 1351 mouse what other official Commodore C64/C128 pointing devices were available, or notable 3rd party like Mouse Cheese. Joysticks and controllers are out of question. C64-wiki seems to ...
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1answer
294 views

What is the purpose of the “difference of absolute values” instruction?

The IBM NORC computer, among others, had an arithmetic instruction computing the difference of the absolute values of its operands (|x|-|y|, see NORC Programming Manual, page 11, opcode 28), which ...
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4answers
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Intel CPU bug in the '90s

My teacher who teaches "Logic" at the university told us a story about Intel processors, which goes: In the '90s Intel had a bug in the calculation of mathematical functions like sin/cos ...
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1answer
224 views

Will there have to be a concerted effort to train new developers for legacy systems? [closed]

If we consider legacy systems that are still crucial to modern life, say for instance ATM infrastructure. If they have been coded with old languages like Cobol, for instance, would there have to be an ...
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Distinction between scientific and business computing

Wikipedia's page on the IBM System/360 family claims that a distinction once existed between business and scientific computers. The model 44 in particular was designed for scientific work and was set ...
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5answers
2k views

Which system was the first which was capable of running graphics programs remotely?

It's well known the X11 is capable of displaying a program's graphics output remotely. I checked the source code of the earliest version of X I found (X10R3, from 1986), and I found that this version ...
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8answers
9k views

Why didn't early single-chip CPUs support multiplication instructions

Early single-chip silicon CPUs like the Zilog Z80 or MOS 6502 did not have a multiply instruction at all. Was this because the technology did not exist at the time to implement it, was it too ...
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852 views

Was Commodore 128 ever used in business environment on a mass scale?

Commodore 128 / 128D was capable of displaying 80 columns through RGBi, therefore it could compete with other business machines of the time, but was this the case? Was this line of machines ever used ...
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1answer
122 views

Any informations on IBM's “Generalized Information System” still available?

I wonder if anyone has documentation left on this topic. In the early 80's, I used to be a 3270 terminal operator, and I wrote programs with GIS. I remember that this language was rather mighty but ...
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103 views

Looking for a timeline or overview of implementations/inventions in the electromechanical part of 5.25" floppy drives [closed]

It's not so much about going from full-height drives to half-height drives, but about finer details. Disk rotation drive - when and how was the belt replaced with a direct drive and a flat motor? Who ...
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4answers
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Why the change in layout of single and double precision in floating-point registers?

The Intel 8087 supported both single and double precision floating point, but only in memory; the on-chip registers were purely double precision. (Strictly speaking they were actually 80-bit extended ...
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1answer
492 views

When did tabs start defaulting to 8 columns?

The ASCII horizontal tab character defaults to 8 columns, which is unfortunate because it's too wide for indenting block structured languages (at least to most people's taste, acknowledging Linus ...
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0answers
161 views

Why was the IBM 7070 unsuccessful?

In a talk on the IBM 360 and the computers it replaced the speaker at 39:35 describes the 7070 as 'a dog', and elsewhere contrasts it unfavorably with the 1401 (which considerably exceeded ...
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2answers
343 views

Why is the Unix epoch January 1st 1970? (In honor of 1600000000 this weekend.)

In honor of this weekend being 1,600,000,000 (1.6 billion) seconds since the Unix epoch, I was wondering if anyone knows why January 1st 1970 was chosen? According to Wikipedia, The earliest versions ...
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5answers
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How and why did Intel make the PCI bus “CPU Agnostic”?

Intel invented the original 32/64-bit PCI bus in the early 1990s to replace the decade old ISA bus used in PC's. It was immediately popular (in comparison to Micro Channel or EISA), being both faster ...
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4answers
3k views

Were round punchcard holes mechanically stiffer?

The most common punch card format was the IBM 80 column by 12 row, with narrow rectangular holes. However, there were other possibilities, such as a later IBM format that used round holes. That one ...
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9answers
9k views

What did code on punch cards do with the other six bits per column?

In the fifties and sixties, program source code was typically stored on punch cards, one card per line. The most common card format was the IBM 80 column by 12 row. For source code, this was commonly ...

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