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Questions tagged [history]

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

7
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3answers
272 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 ...
57
votes
7answers
15k 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 ...
8
votes
2answers
231 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 ...
2
votes
1answer
213 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 (...
4
votes
3answers
149 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 ...
9
votes
5answers
1k views

Largest practical motherboard for early computers

The power of a computer is often effectively determined by the size the RAM can be expanded to. In many cases, this was even more important than CPU speed: Memory-limited workloads In the early days, ...
2
votes
1answer
101 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 ...
12
votes
1answer
806 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 ...
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 ...
9
votes
1answer
540 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 ...
7
votes
2answers
267 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 ...
23
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4answers
2k views

What was the purpose and history of the C64's special keys?

I never had a Commodore 64 but I've always been curious what the purpose and history of some of the special keys were. In particular: C= Run/Stop Clr/Home Restore I'm mostly used to the standard ...
8
votes
3answers
821 views

When did CPUs start using page mode DRAM?

According to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dynamic_random-access_memory#Page_mode_DRAM Page mode DRAM is a minor modification to the first-generation DRAM IC interface which improved the ...
2
votes
2answers
334 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? ...
41
votes
11answers
5k views

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

A bit of a trivia question: What is the oldest hardware capable of running a modern Linux-based operating system, including user-space? (Not necessarily GNU userspace, but running a standard GNU/Linux ...
32
votes
3answers
6k views

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"...
15
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2answers
2k views

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 ...
15
votes
1answer
287 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 ...
8
votes
4answers
1k views

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
votes
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/...
17
votes
9answers
1k views

Were there any commercially available graphical interfaces before the apple Lisa?

I just finished the Steve Jobs biography and I thought... Was the apple Lisa really the first commercially available Graphical interface? This is just out of interest but I'll be really interested ...
11
votes
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 ...
37
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3answers
6k views

Why does nobody attempt to build Charles Babbage's Analytical Engine?

The Difference Engine was built in the 90s. Why has nobody succeeded in building the Analytical Engine? Charles Babbage designed the Analytical Engine as a general-purpose computer to succeed his ...
6
votes
2answers
744 views

How early could plasma screens be used in laptops?

Back in the eighties, batteries weren't yet at the point where they could run a laptop with similar computing power to a desktop. If you wanted that much computing power, you just accepted that your ...
2
votes
0answers
113 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 ...
75
votes
9answers
12k views

Why were CLIs typically light text on dark background, whereas GUIs typically use(d) dark text on light background?

My experience is that CLIs were typically shown with light text on a darker background. For example, the IBM PC would use white/light gray (depending on your point of view), amber or green (the latter ...
18
votes
6answers
1k views

Limiting factor on sprite sizes

Early consoles and home computers that were optimized for games, tended to provide sprites. From a game programmer's viewpoint, these were good to have. Of course, one always wanted more and larger ...
14
votes
4answers
5k views

What was computer “Fuzzy” logic?

In the mid 1980's computers began to be advertised as having or being capable of "Fuzzy" logic. How was "Fuzzy" logic added to a computer and what was it suppose to do better than a computer without ...
2
votes
1answer
514 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
350 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
votes
0answers
99 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 ...
18
votes
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 ...
58
votes
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 ...
22
votes
6answers
6k views

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 ...
5
votes
3answers
388 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?
8
votes
3answers
483 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)...
35
votes
5answers
5k views

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
1answer
206 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 ...
8
votes
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 ...
5
votes
0answers
227 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 ...
5
votes
4answers
379 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
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.
16
votes
4answers
3k views

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 ...
10
votes
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 ...
3
votes
3answers
239 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 ...
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 ...
44
votes
2answers
5k views

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 ...
12
votes
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 ...
23
votes
2answers
2k views

Was the first ARM “processor” a BBC BASIC program?

The best background I have found so far on the early development of the ARM processor at Acorn comes from this interview with Steve Furber. The interview does not mention the development of the first ...