Questions tagged [history]

History of computers, digital electronics, hardware manufacturers, and software developers.

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What was the first software company to go public?

I'm trying to determine which was the first purely software company to launch an IPO on a major stock exchange. By this I mean a company whose revenue comes directly from software unit sales, rather ...
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1 vote
0 answers
282 views

Where does Hello World come from? [closed]

Where does the concept of the first program programmers learn to do is print hello world to the console originate from? This seems to be a tech tradition as old as the mountains? Where does the ...
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25 votes
2 answers
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Which software was the first to use copy protection?

While researching early magnetic storage around 1980, I've come to ponder if we know of the first piece of software on removable media that employed copy protection? The Wikipedia article mentions ...
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8 votes
4 answers
2k views

Why didn't the original Commodore PET computer use a standard typewriter style keyboard?

Being a huge fan of Commodore, I've often wondered why Commodore would use such a horrible keyboard layout for their premier computer utilizing an alpha-numeric keyboard. My only guesses would be ...
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10 votes
1 answer
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What did Shin Nihon Kikaku (SNK) originally manufacture in 1973?

The company SNK was originally Shin Nihon Kikaku, founded in 1973. What did Shin Nihon Kikaku originally manufacture in 1973? I would assume some sort of primitive computers or calculators, but ...
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9 votes
1 answer
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Was there a compression program based on the Mayne-James algorithm?

Before the advent of Lempel-Ziv family compression algorithms, there was an algorithm for "Information compression by factorising common strings" by A. Mayne and E. B. James (1975), based on ...
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27 votes
1 answer
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When and why was the question mark chosen to abbreviate PRINT?

In many dialects of BASIC, the PRINT statement can be abbreviated with a single question mark when entering programs or direct-mode commands. So instead of typing PRINT "HELLO, WORLD" you ...
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22 votes
4 answers
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What was the first programming language with generics?

To belatedly celebrate the release of Go 1.18, I ask the question: what was the first programming language with support for generics? For concreteness (to prevent anyone trying to weasel out with ‘...
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3 votes
1 answer
218 views

What was the first personal computer store in Australia?

In the US, the personal computer revolution was kickstarted by mail order, which is the channel through which the Altair was sold. However, it did not take long for the new industry to be augmented ...
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11 votes
1 answer
427 views

Why was Paperback Writer renamed to Pocket Writer?

I was a big fan of Digital Solutions Inc.'s Paperback Software, a Commodore 64/128 productivity suite that featured an interoperable word processor (Paperback Writer), spreadsheet (Paperback Planner), ...
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17 votes
2 answers
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Can I really change standard operator priorities in ALGOL 68?

In Algol 68, I can declare the priority (precedence) of an operator-symbol: prio @ = 5; (Higher number means higher precedence). I can apparently redefine the priorities of built-in operators: ...
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4 votes
1 answer
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Why did Dennis Ritchie write that UNIX was a modern implementation of CTSS? [closed]

At the Tenth Hawaii International Conference on the System Sciences in 1977 Dennis Ritchie presented the paper The Unix Time-sharing System: A retrospective in which he states: ...a good case can be ...
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15 votes
2 answers
2k views

What information was "off limits" to IBM PC clone BIOS authors?

Back in the PC clone days the accepted legally defensible method of selling a non-IBM PC BIOS was using a "clean room" whereby an engineer who had never been exposed to proprietary IBM ...
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25 votes
5 answers
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Why did Western designs suddenly overtake native Russian ones in the USSR?

In the USSR there flourished some very interesting machines, including the БЭСМ and МЭСМ lines, the Сетунь, the ЭВМ Стрела and others. Maybe the most famous ones are БЭСМ-4, which is said to have ...
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4 votes
1 answer
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Who were the members of the IEEE 754 working group?

The IEEE 754 working group began meeting in 1977, produced a draft standard for floating-point arithmetic by the beginning of the eighties, and had it formally ratified in 1985, by which time it was ...
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32 votes
7 answers
4k views

Did any PC software floating point use non-IEEE format?

During the 1980s, prior to the 486 (well, strictly speaking, prior to the discontinuing of the 486SX in the nineties), IBM PCs and compatibles had hardware floating point only in the form of an ...
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4 votes
2 answers
403 views

Why do computer rooms no longer have raised floors? [closed]

As I understand it, computer rooms in the days of mainframes and minicomputers, commonly had raised floors, so that the space under the floor could be used for power cables and cool air. I'm not clear ...
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17 votes
1 answer
351 views

Was any commercial end-user software written in PROMAL?

PROMAL is a procedural programming language from the 1980s. Its designer, Systems Management Associates, released compilers for the Commodore 64, Apple II, and IBM PC. The language and development ...
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53 votes
9 answers
12k views

What is the oldest digital processor still performing non-educational duties in its original environment?

I discover that Mariner 9 is supposed to crash on Mars this month (2022/03). Discussing the specification of the CPU, I see that a CPU from the early 70s is still running. So I was wondering (sort of ...
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8 votes
0 answers
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What did the Big Red Button actually do on the IBM 4341?

Wiktionary explains the origin of the term molly guard: Originally a Plexiglas cover improvised for the Big Red Switch on an IBM 4341 mainframe after a programmer's toddler daughter (named Molly) ...
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10 votes
1 answer
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Nontrivial B program

I have been able to find very little about the B programming language online. the predominant resources seem incomplete, particularly in regards to standard library functions. I have not been able ...
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3 votes
2 answers
410 views

Did any 8-bit disk drive screen off the hardware? [closed]

The Commodore 1541 floppy drive was a separate computer in its own right, with its own 6502 CPU. It was designed that way because they were basically copying the design from the Vic, partly due to a ...
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6 votes
2 answers
292 views

Were there any square monitors other than PLATO?

The PLATO multiuser interactive computer system used – and indeed invented for this purpose – a plasma display, whose key selling point in the late sixties was that it did not need refresh, therefore ...
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27 votes
3 answers
4k views

The two types of Return keys on keyboard layouts

Why have these two types of Return keys persisted to this day? A quick look at different keyboards from different keyboard manufacturers from today shows the Shift-style Return seems to have more ...
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18 votes
1 answer
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How long did plasma displays persist?

I'm reading a book called The Friendly Orange Glow, about the PLATO multiuser computer system developed by the University of Illinois in the late sixties, which is fascinating at several levels as a ...
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-4 votes
3 answers
262 views

Why did so few early computers have video output? [closed]

Why was the serial terminal the dominant modality for interactive computer input and output up until the rise of desktop systems, with no earlier widespread adoption of the design later used by ...
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9 votes
2 answers
542 views

Which linker or object-file format imposed the 6-character restriction on external names?

It's my understanding that the reason that external identifiers in portable C programs had (still have?) to be unique in the first six characters is that six 6-bit characters¹ fill a 36-bit machine ...
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25 votes
5 answers
3k views

Why did the stock Amigas not have a battery for keeping the time/date?

The Amiga computers were advanced machines meant to do all sorts of things, including file management. They had a GUI OS (Workbench) and everything right from the very start. They were not some games-...
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  • 251
15 votes
1 answer
398 views

Why did the 8080's PUSH PSW write one reserved bit as 1 and the other two as 0?

The x86 "flags" register, which holds condition codes and other processor status bits, has several reserved bits with fixed values, but these fixed values are not all the same. In ...
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16 votes
2 answers
1k views

When did argument types first appear in formal argument lists?

Following on from this popular question about K&R-style argument specification, in which we discussed the history of routines with formal argument lists not including type information (i.e., as in ...
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8 votes
2 answers
698 views

Did Commodore ever produce gray colored Commodore 64?

The Commodore 64 was produced for a 12 years from 1982 to 1994. It had several iterations of case color, keyboard color & keyboard labels, badge etc. Commodore was famous for using whatever parts ...
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40 votes
4 answers
6k views

When was this C function definition style, with type declarations of parameters after the parameter list, invented?

Recently I dug a little bit into old graphics libraries and found libxmi. The site was last updated on 08/09/2000. And in the source code I found the following style of function definitions which I ...
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17 votes
4 answers
4k views

Is this Votan voice assistant from 1984 a real system?

This clip from BBC Archive allegedly shows a computer that can do voice recognition, speaker recognition and speech synthesis with minimal delay in 1984. I find that hard to believe, they must have ...
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25 votes
9 answers
4k views

What happened to all those Unix workstations in the '90s?

Around the early to mid '90s it seems there was a trend for high-end workstations running some form of Unix, and running a RISC or at least some kind of non-x86 architecture. For example: Sun ...
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21 votes
2 answers
4k views

Who invented small string optimization?

In the source code of the 1972 Pascal compiler (a very large OCR-ed PDF), there are declarations of variables and record fields of type ALFA, which are "packed arrays" of 10 characters. ...
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2 votes
1 answer
291 views

When was fixed page size, flexible assignment bank switching patented?

The 8-bit microprocessors invented in the seventies, had a 16-bit address space. It didn't take long for memory demand to exceed this, with the result that bank switching was a fact of life for the ...
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4 votes
1 answer
540 views

Why did this joke man page use July 16, 1974 as an epoch?

This fake manual page posted to the comp.humor newsgroup jokes that A.out accepts any option passed to it, stalls for a few seconds, and then prints a cryptic message chosen from the list below. The ...
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14 votes
3 answers
3k views

Release timeline for 128KB personal computers?

IBM, Apple, Commodore, and Atari all released upgraded versions of their popular home/personal computers having "stock" 128KB of RAM around the early 1980's. What was the order of release (...
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27 votes
2 answers
7k views

Why did Nintendo name its console the "Famicom"?

The NES was known as the "Famicom" in Japan, short for "Family Computer". But why was it given an English name in Japan, given (I assume) most people wouldn't know what the words &...
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15 votes
2 answers
1k views

What was the first two-panel file manager for DOS?

I'm trying to settle a debate between me and some colleagues about two-panel file managers in MS-DOS/PC DOS. According to my own recollection the first was DV.EXE (see EDIT below), but some of my ...
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23 votes
8 answers
7k views

Why was computer memory so expensive and scarce?

Computer memory used to be a limited and expensive asset for a long while (for example, in computers with 16KiB RAM or less, compared to the 2 MiB of my first PC (an Intel 486) in 1995 and current day'...
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  • 371
7 votes
2 answers
687 views

Who introduced the standard 8-bit punched tape, and when?

Who introduced the standard that later became widespread for the 8-bit punch tape, and when? I think the 5-bit tape was an earlier standard.
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6 votes
0 answers
320 views

Looking for an 8-bit microcomputer with a hardware-accelerated database

In some old video on YouTube a few years ago, I noticed a curious computer from the end of the 70s - early 80s. In the rack (half height), typical of minicomputers of those years, there was a 14" ...
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13 votes
4 answers
3k views

Which is the first non-assembly (and binary) language to write operating system(s)?

Many programming languages predating C, like FORTRAN, LISP, B, BCPL, were either special purpose or too heavy to write OS. OS were bound to their hardware architecture and died with them. C was used ...
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9 votes
2 answers
570 views

What did Richard Stallman have against VMS?

Richard Stallman of course was an advocate of free software, and VMS was proprietary, so he would've disapproved of it on that basis alone. (To be clear, I am not discussing here whether he was right ...
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6 votes
1 answer
451 views

Did ancillary LEDs trade arcade game design for manufacturing cost?

Looking at the 1974 arcade game Speed Race, I notice that the cabinet includes ancillary LEDs to show the scores. https://flyers.arcade-museum.com/?page=wide-flyer&db=videodb&id=4056&image=...
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  • 48.8k
4 votes
1 answer
329 views

Why was Atari Tank less cloned?

The first commercially successful arcade video game was Pong in 1972. According to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arcade_video_game the number of units eventually sold was about 19,000. (A lower figure ...
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6 votes
0 answers
339 views

The first micromouse competition in 1977 had 6000 initial entries, what would the majority of them have been (e.g. wall followers)?

The first micromouse competition in 1977, had 6000 initial entries, what would the majority of them have been (e.g. wall followers)? Note - In the link above, first micromouse competition in 1977, it ...
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  • 137
-1 votes
3 answers
352 views

What is generally accepted as being the first machine implementation of a search tree?

What is generally accepted as being the first machine implementation of a search tree (as they are more commonly known and used in modern computing for things like solving or powering, mazes, checkers,...
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  • 137
13 votes
3 answers
3k views

When was the 6502 second sourced?

According to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_source MOS Technology licensed Rockwell and Synertek to second-source the 6502 microprocessor and its support components. This makes sense; the 6502 ...
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