Questions tagged [history]

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

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13 votes
3 answers
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At what point did computing go from mainly performance- and functionality-oriented to security-oriented? Why? [closed]

I realize this question may have a different answer for each field of computing (enterprise vs. business vs. personal vs. field equipment), but there should still be an objective point in time where ...
29 votes
3 answers
3k views

What exactly did the "UNFORMAT" MS-DOS command do?

I found only this: The UNFORMAT command is used to undo the effects of formatting a disk. The command is available in MS-DOS versions 5 and later. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/...
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10 votes
1 answer
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What kind of printer is shown in the opening title sequence for the movie Desk Set?

The movie Desk Set opens (see here for a clip) with a close-up of a computer printer which is pre-loaded with paper containing the film's opening credits. While the printer doesn't appear to actually ...
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3 votes
1 answer
230 views

Mark IV - information please

I have in my library a copy of "Mark IV systems : Application Development Systems : Pocket Specifications Manual" by Informatics Inc. I can find very little about this, only a generalised ...
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26 votes
2 answers
3k views

What "spectacular to watch" algorithms were used for sorting tapes?

Python's heapq.__about__ variable contains an anecdote (François Pinard, circa 2000): [1] The disk balancing algorithms which are current, nowadays, are more annoying than clever, and this is a ...
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39 votes
5 answers
6k views

What's the origin of process return status 0 meaning success?

Why, usually, does 0 mean success in process return status codes? When I worked at TANO Corp in New Orleans in the late 70s and early 80s, the convention there was the opposite: 1, true, was the "...
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12 votes
0 answers
236 views

Was there a hard disk type that had a SMART overflow crash/bug?

A data center employee told me a story about 25 years ago, explaining why that data center took some time to assemble a RAID array. Recently, I wasn't able to verify the facts by googling, and I may ...
19 votes
4 answers
4k views

What was the purpose of those special user accounts in Unix?

In a modern Linux system – modern enough to have upgraded useradd to a version from no earlier than February 2008 – it is usually the case that user accounts with UIDs no less than 1000 (other than ...
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13 votes
2 answers
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Why does OpenGL use counterclockwise order to determine a triangle's front face by default?

OpenGL by default determines a triangle to be facing towards the camera if the triangle's vertexes are ordered in a counterclockwise order from the perspective of the camera. This seems to have been ...
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37 votes
3 answers
4k views

Why are assemblers called assemblers?

We tend use the term assembler as if there is a fundamental implication of being different from a compiler. This disparity is usually taken as a fact, no matter how sophisticated or primitive either ...
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3 votes
1 answer
341 views

Which system had the first desk accessories?

Many early operating systems were single-tasking. However, sometimes small programs were developed that could share the system and user interface with a main program. Examples include Borland ...
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11 votes
1 answer
343 views

How did the MC6800 get its name?

The 68000 was allegedly named for its (approximately) 68k transistors, and to imply some sort of relation to Motorola’s first microprocessor, the 6800. But then how did Motorola pick the name “6800”?
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11 votes
4 answers
2k views

Did any hardware-supported floating-point format ever fast-track integers?

The floating-point format on the ZX Spectrum has the unusual feature of special-casing small integers: Why does Sinclair BASIC have two formats for storing numbers in the same structure? There are ...
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38 votes
3 answers
11k views

What was the first operating system to be called an "operating system"?

According to Wikipedia, the first operating system was GM-NAA I/O, produced in 1956 by General Motors' Research division for its IBM 704. According to Merriam-Webster and Etymonline, the term "...
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10 votes
1 answer
408 views

What's the story behind IBM's SKU numbers?

Big Blue IBM seemingly since forever is using a fixed numbering scheme for all their parts, where every little thing, dingus and gizmo is labeled with the so-called IBM SKU#. It's always in the form: ...
14 votes
2 answers
4k views

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
394 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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26 votes
2 answers
5k views

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 ...
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
1k views

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
905 views

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
3k views

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
5k views

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
237 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
458 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
1k views

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
330 views

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 ...
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
8k views

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
179 views

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
452 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
379 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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58 votes
9 answers
13k 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
431 views

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
536 views

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 ...
3 votes
2 answers
426 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
322 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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28 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
2k views

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
282 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
568 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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15 votes
1 answer
436 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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9 votes
2 answers
816 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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41 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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18 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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27 votes
9 answers
5k 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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