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Questions tagged [history]

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

10
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6answers
917 views

Part-bad chips other than RAM

In the early eighties, you could buy half-bad 64k RAM chips at a discount. Some cost-conscious manufacturers such as Sinclair and Tandy took advantage of this, buying eight such chips to make a 32K ...
1
vote
1answer
110 views

Which developer set the precedent for use of the Shift key for safety (or skipping) at startup time?

Which developer set the precedent? I began wondering after recalling that Mozilla Firefox starts in safe mode if Shift is held at application startup time. Predecessors … I'm certain that Netscape ...
2
votes
2answers
153 views

Was sneakernet a job description?

'Sneakernet' is a colloquial term for moving data by walking back and forth with a removable digital medium such as a floppy disk or tape in your hand. In 'IBM's 360 and Early 370 Systems', page 533, ...
0
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0answers
61 views

Components (hardware and software) and prices of fully working business installations of Apple II systems in 1982-1986 [on hold]

To work effectively with business applications (spreadsheets, databases, text editors, etc.), 1982-1986 systems based on Apple II(e) were equipped with a fairly large set of extensions and peripherals....
7
votes
1answer
527 views

Who established the original F1 desktop BIOS key and why did laptops use a different key?

It seems early on IBM, MS, and DOS clones established a standard of holding the F1 key down during boot to access the BIOS setup. Yes there were a few much less common combinations that used the DEL (...
2
votes
0answers
62 views

Documentation for the MIT PDP-1X OS

The PDP-1x is a Digital Equipment Corporation PDP-1 computer modified to support both ones and twos complement arithmetic, and to include a memory management unit. It ran a locally developed ...
10
votes
1answer
2k views

Did Nintendo change its mind about 68000 SNES?

Compared to its main rival from Sega, the Super Nintendo has a weaker CPU but a more powerful graphics chip. According to http://web.archive.org/web/20080505070423/http://www.eidolons-inn.net/tiki-...
5
votes
1answer
397 views

De facto standard width of a business computer

A very interesting article about an interesting, late (in more senses than one) and little remembered computer: https://www.theregister.co.uk/2013/06/28/30_years_on_the_story_of_the_memotech_mtx/?page=...
37
votes
11answers
5k views

What is the oldest computer capable of running a modern version of Linux?

A bit of a trivia question: What is the oldest hardware capable of running a modern Linux-based operating system ? By this I mean being capable of running a fairly recent Linux kernel, in some form. ...
0
votes
2answers
287 views

Why did Steve Jobs say that Darwin is a kernel? [closed]

In this video, Steve Jobs introduces Mac OS X (in the year 2000), this is a snapshot from the video: He says that Darwin is the kernel for Mac OS X. Now the following is a diagram of the Mac OS X ...
5
votes
0answers
175 views

What is the timeline of NASA ground control computers?

In the movie "Hidden Figures", NASA receives an IBM 7090 in 1961. What is the subsequent timeline of the primary computing means for flight planning and orbit calculation? Specifically, what was the ...
13
votes
4answers
5k views

Why plastic cases?

Early computers of the 'all in one' form factors, such as the Commodore PET, the early IBM microcomputers and later models of the TRS-80, as well as the 'box' form factors such as the Altair, used a ...
1
vote
1answer
225 views

'Swap file' on early time sharing machines

In the Wikipedia article for time sharing, it says The "state" of each user and their programs would have to be kept in the machine, and then switched between quickly. This would take up computer ...
6
votes
4answers
472 views

What is the origin of Mac OS X?

I think that Mac OS X is based on the Darwin OS, and the Darwin OS is based on the NeXTSTEP OS. Am I correct?
18
votes
1answer
3k views

Did 5.25" floppies undergo a change in magnetic coating?

3.5" floppy disks, in the transition from 720K to 1.44M, changed the actual coating to a different compound that was magnetically 'stiffer'. This was necessary to support the higher density, but meant ...
10
votes
6answers
2k views

Sound chips in 1977

By the early eighties, there were a variety of off-the-shelf sound chips suitable for use in home computers and arcade games. What about 1977? That seems to have been just a little early; I'm not ...
12
votes
2answers
2k views

Why did some CPUs use two Read/Write lines, and others just one?

Many 8-bit processors, such as Motorola's 6800 and MOS Technology's 6502 make use of a single pin to indicate to the rest of the system whether the CPU wishes to read from or write to a memory ...
13
votes
1answer
2k views

What are Holorydmachines?

While going through the memoirs of a witness of the Holocaust in Germany, I stumbled upon the passage: there in Rudolfstadt we had a new holorydmachine from the Americans - in the barn of a farmer -...
29
votes
2answers
3k views

Why did the C64 have ← and ↑ as dedicated keys?

I've always wondered why the Commmodore 64 had discrete keys dedicated for the ← and ↑ symbols. If I remember correctly, they weren't used in BASIC at all, and were not very useful for drawing, ...
5
votes
1answer
251 views

Were there any working computers using residue number systems?

Wikipedia says: A residue numeral system (RNS) is a numeral system representing integers by their values modulo several pairwise coprime integers called the moduli. Bit widths of each of those "...
71
votes
12answers
16k views

Back in the late 1980s, how was commercial software for 8-bit home computers developed?

When hobbyists wanted to write software for e.g. the Commodore 64, they either used the built-in BASIC interpreter (with all its limitations) or some native tools, like compilers for other languages ...
5
votes
3answers
800 views

A different kind of sprite system

Early consoles and home computers that were optimized for games, often provided sprites. From the viewpoint of a game developer, these were good to have, though one always wanted bigger sprites, to ...
4
votes
3answers
471 views

What was the first integrated PC compatible computer?

When IBM developed the PC, they famously chose a bunch of off-the-shelf components. Besides making the machine relatively easy to clone, another effect of this was it used a lot of chips and board ...
23
votes
9answers
5k views

Graphics chips in 1980

Suppose you were trying to build a computer with a color graphics display in 1980, you have limited engineering resources and time to market is critical, so you want to get as many of the parts off ...
23
votes
4answers
7k views

History of Ctrl-S and Ctrl-Q for flow control

Which OS was the first to use Ctrl-S and Ctrl-Q on the console for pause and continue? I first discovered Ctrl-S in IBM PC DOS 1.1.
30
votes
2answers
2k views

Why are the symbols on the number keys of PC & Mac keyboards different to ASCII keyboards?

On a US-layout PC keyboard, the symbols above the number keys are as follows: Whereas the keyboard on an Apple II is different: Note, for example, the '(' and ')' symbols are now above 8 and 9, and '...
17
votes
4answers
5k views

What was the effect of the Video Game Crash of 1983 outside of North America?

The Video Game Crash of 1983 is well known for the effect that it had on the video game console market in North America. A prime example is Atari burying thousands of unsold game cartridges in ...
30
votes
6answers
10k views

Which was the first programming language that had data types?

Machine language (and Assembly language) don't have the concept of data types, so if you want to add an int and a float variables in Assembly, you have to use the appropriate Assembly instruction that ...
2
votes
3answers
280 views

History of advanced hardware [closed]

Like most people, I grew up in the 1980s, and bore whitness to the great 8-bit home computer revolution. From where I'm sitting, "computers" started with slow 8-bit machines just powerful enough to ...
12
votes
3answers
2k views

What was the first microprocessor to support full virtualization?

Virtual memory, which allows an operating system to run several machine code programs isolated from each other, came to the desktop during the eighties. But full virtualization, which lets the ...
14
votes
2answers
501 views

When did README files start showing up in software?

Everyone knows how important documentation is -- for a project to grow past a certain point, it's a must-have. However, almost every software project of any size nowadays comes with at least a README ...
5
votes
1answer
387 views

How old is Perl's “Plain Old Documentation” (POD) format and why was it called “old” initially?

I recently wondered how the "old" came into the "Plain Old Documentation" of Perl's documentation format "POD". Was it named like this from the beginning? If so, why was it considered old back then? ...
54
votes
6answers
14k views

How were the first ZX Spectrum games written?

Being a child of the 80s I loved my ZX Spectrum, did my best to learn BASIC but I felt like the games I was playing (Jetpac, Dizzy, Renegade etc) were perhaps not written using BASIC. I wondered: how ...
25
votes
8answers
13k views

Did a shuttle launch take most of the world's computing power?

The 1998 movie "Armageddon" depicts two Space Shuttles launching simultaneously. I read some expert say that "There isn't enough computing power in the world to launch two shuttles at the same time". ...
13
votes
1answer
410 views

Why does AT&T syntax use * and $?

In a comment to an answer about AT&T assembly syntax, another-dave asked the following: DEC used #foo for an immediate operand in -11 assemblers; the Unix guys apparently preferred $foo, which ...
5
votes
2answers
314 views

Where was this Grace Hopper/Univac photo taken?

Here is a photo of a Univac I with four individuals. According to Artifact Details at the Computer History Museum's web page with an extremely similar photo (perhaps a shot a few moments earlier/later)...
4
votes
1answer
189 views

ENIAC stands for Electrical Numerical Integrator And Calculator; what made it particularly suitable for numerical integration?

The acronym ENIAC stands for Electrical Numerical Integrator And Calculator. The fact that it was simpy a numerical computer means it probably could be used to perform numerical integration in some ...
16
votes
7answers
4k views

Why didn't PostScript eliminate the need for printer drivers?

In the days of dot matrix printers connected by RS-232 or the IBM/Centronics parallel port, each with its own quirky set of commands, it's obvious why printer drivers were a necessary and important ...
19
votes
2answers
1k views

The almost-was Atari IBM PC

One of the more remarkable events in the history of personal computers was IBM contemplating basing their PC on Atari technology. That this was seriously considered, everyone agrees, but it's hard to ...
20
votes
5answers
1k views

What was the first computer to support Arabic writing?

Looking at early microcomputers, all of them have support for something resembling ASCII, occasionally a few letters with accents and things were included also. And occasionally another alphabet such ...
15
votes
4answers
4k views

Why did 3.5" floppies win? [duplicate]

It's an open question whether desktops would've kept using 5.25" until the end of the floppy era, but laptops meant something smaller was going to be introduced; that much was essentially ...
11
votes
8answers
2k views

Why did common floppies never advance past 1.4 MB in size?

The chronology of some early floppy standards was: 80 kB, 160 kB, 360 kB, 720 kB, 1.2 MB, finally 1.44 MB. (There were less common sizes such as 250 kB, 800 kB, ...
2
votes
4answers
512 views

How was corporate training done before PowerPoint?

The usual thing today is a laptop (maybe desktop) PC (or Mac) connected to a video projector to display content from PowerPoint (or Keynote) slides. How was it done, in general, before this hardware ...
15
votes
6answers
3k views

Reason for popularity of Apple IIGS

According to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apple_IIGS the Apple IIGS, in its year of introduction, outsold the Macintosh, without being substantially cheaper than it. This is somewhat counterintuitive:...
48
votes
11answers
13k views

Why did trackballs disappear?

For a desktop computer, a mouse is a great pointing device. For a laptop if you don't want an extra device to keep track of, you need an alternative. The options I'm aware of: NubLow-tech, cheap, ...
4
votes
2answers
311 views

When were sprites first displayed in the border area?

I assume one of the first undocumented effects on the VIC-II was the ability to display sprites in the (upper and lower) border area. I wonder how and when this was first discovered and used? Was it ...
23
votes
5answers
4k views

Why did Commodore sell CPUs to its competitors?

Many of the most popular personal computers and video game consoles of the 1970s and 1980s, including those made by Commodore, Apple, and Atari, used the 6502 CPU (or some close relative, such as the ...
1
vote
1answer
441 views

Wider tower cases

Desktop computers have been in tower cases for a long time; in some cases since the eighties, per When did the tower form factor appear and when did it become popular? The form of tower cases has ...
26
votes
3answers
5k views

Why separate cursor keys?

The original IBM PC keyboard didn't have separate cursor keys; the numeric keypad doubled as such. It wasn't long, however, until a new keyboard was introduced that did have separate cursor keys (so ...
2
votes
4answers
1k views

Why were teletype printers not used for DOS computers?

Prior to the introduction of DOS in 1981 teletype printers were probably the most common hardcopy printer being used - usually in govt, educational or research facilities. When DOS arrived, teletype ...