Questions tagged [history]

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

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42
votes
5answers
11k views

How did Atari lose money on home computers?

The answer recently posted to Did Atari make more money from arcade games or consoles? quotes a New York Times article from 1982 https://www.nytimes.com/1982/12/19/business/the-game-turns-serious-at-...
7
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1answer
106 views

Which versions of TECO had merged G- and Q-registers?

In this answer to 'Why were TECO variables called Q-registers?' I reference documentation indicating that the original Q-registers were separate from the same-named G-registers. (I.e., X1 would store ...
19
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2answers
651 views

Why were TECO variables called Q-registers?

The TECO editor, (originally Tape Editor and COrrector, later Text Editor...) found in some form on just about every computer and operating system DEC ever made, provides variables in which you can ...
8
votes
5answers
482 views

Besides the IBM 709 and its descendents, did any other machine have "slightly longer" registers?

This question occurred to me while I was formulating this answer about arithmetic versus logical shifts. The IBM 709, and its descendant the 7090, etc., is a 36-bit mainframe with a classical single-...
6
votes
0answers
289 views

What was a DEC PDP-11/85 intended to be, and why might it be able to use DECsystem-10 software?

In this DEC PDP-11 Strategy Memo from Sept 1974, there is this curious question. HOW MUCH OF THE DEC SYSTEM 10 SOFTWARE CAN THE 11/85 USE, OR DOES THE 11/85 HAVE TO START FROM SCRATCH? CONFLICTING ...
8
votes
1answer
521 views

What was the first interactive OS to run each command in a new process?

I was prompted to ask this by another recent question about early Unix process structure. The more-or-less contemporaneous systems I'm aware of (built 1960s to 1970s) mostly gave you a software ...
8
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2answers
566 views

What's the timeline of Commodore diskette drives?

Commodore produced a number of different floppy diskette drive units, both 8" and 5.25", over the course of its history. Can someone provide a chronological list of the drives, their release dates, ...
10
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6answers
2k views

How prevalent is the CR (classic MacOS) line ending today? [closed]

In a parser library I am maintaining, I stopped recognizing singular Carriage Return characters as line endings to reduce complexity in the tokenizer's position tracking code, a perennial source of ...
22
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8answers
4k views

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 ...
9
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1answer
229 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 ...
9
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1answer
1k views

Is it true that "do ... done" blocks in Bash do not end with "od" because od existed before Bash/Bourne shell?

The Wikipedia page about od says: Since it predates the Bourne shell, its existence causes an inconsistency in the do loop syntax. Other loops and logical blocks are opened by the name, and closed by ...
5
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1answer
190 views

What was the first control display unit with selector keys around the display?

If not the first, then the one that became popular first (in any application; this is not limited to aviation systems). A control display unit, CDU for short, is fairly common in aviation, perhaps ...
33
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1answer
2k views

When and where did the $ convention for hexadecimal literals originate?

I found this question asking about the origin of 0x to denote hexadecimal to be interesting. However, when I cut my teeth programming on 8-bit 65xx systems in the early 80's everything I saw used a $ ...
27
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3answers
3k views

Odyssey game console: what's the deal with "English Control"?

I've just read about the original Magnavox Odyssey console. Interesting story. But what I'm wondering about are the game controllers, and in particular the knob labeled as "English". This ...
3
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1answer
452 views

Were any 680x0 features specifically requested by a customer?

The Motorola 680x0 processor family was used in a variety of systems, including Apple Macintosh, Atari ST, Commodore Amiga, Sharp X68000, and Sinclair QL systems. Had any of these customers wanted a ...
15
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4answers
6k views

What is the source of the Apple logo?

What is the source of the Apple logo? I heard that it was a reference to Alan Turing, who died of cyanide poisoning after eating an apple.
8
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1answer
299 views

How did the HP 9100 use base 14?

Wikipedia's page on numeral systems claims: 14 Tetradecimal Programming for the HP 9100A/B calculator and image processing applications; pound and stone Exactly how did the HP 9100A/B use base 14? ...
25
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4answers
2k views

Did Apple really advise customers to lift up and then drop their computers?

This led to the infamous technical note where Apple recommended users facing problems with the Apple III to lift the computer two inches and then drop it, as this would set the circuits back in place.[...
20
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3answers
3k views

What init system was used in early Linux distributions?

Nowadays there is quite some debate and controversy over whether Linux distributions should use systemd, GNU Shepherd etc. But all these systems are relatively new - for these examples dating back to ...
45
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2answers
7k views

Did IBM encourage Bill Gates to retain the rights over PC-DOS?

As is well-known, Microsoft's negotiations with IBM to deliver PC-DOS 1.0 with the original IBM PC resulted in: IBM licensing the OS from Microsoft, as opposed to purchasing it outright. Microsoft ...
18
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1answer
4k views

When did Linux kernel become libre software?

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 ...
75
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7answers
9k views

What technological factors drove the rise of "high-speed" modems in the early 1990s?

The first inexpensive modem I ever purchased was a 300 baud direct-connect unit for the C64 User Port in late 1983. I recall that a couple of years later (1986), 1200 baud modems were affordable and I ...
9
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1answer
499 views

Which pre-ANSI C compilers allowed a conditional expression as Lvalue?

Soon after learning the C language in the late 80s, before an ANSI C compiler was available on the machines I was using, it occurred to me to check if the following compiles int a, b, c; foo() { (...
25
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3answers
7k views

In what ways was the Soviet STRELA computer "designed to function during a nuclear winter"? Or at least parts of it?

From Strela computer: Strela computer (Russian: ЭВМ Стрела, arrow) was the first mainframe computer manufactured serially in the Soviet Union, beginning in 1953. This first-generation computer had ...
18
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3answers
5k views

Which language had the first scanf?

As a companion to the question "What was the first programming language to have 'printf'?", which language had the first scanf? It doesn't have to be literally called scanf, but I am looking ...
9
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2answers
516 views

Why did the Bell 103 modem specification use 1070Hz, 1270Hz, 2025Hz and 2225Hz?

The Bell 103 modem spec gives the following frequencies to use: Transmit Side: 1070Hz (space) and 1270Hz (mark) Receive Side: 2025Hz (space) and 2225Hz (mark) Why were these specific frequencies ...
33
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6answers
3k views

Why did the Bell 103 modem use a data rate of 300 bps?

Virtually every telephone modem in existence runs at a data rate that's a multiple of the Bell 103A's 300 bps. Why was the base 300 bps chosen in the first place?
9
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4answers
548 views

Is there a non-paging ITS for the PDP-6 or PDP-10?

In the late 60s, the Incompatible Timesharing System ran on a PDP-6 without any paging hardware (i.e. an MMU in modern terminology). See the Jargon entry for BLT, for example, which states (my ...
20
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8answers
2k views

Retrocomputing software development process/methodologies

This is a test question based on this meta post. If the question can be reworded to be more on-topic, please feel free to suggest improvements. This is an open ended question about software ...
14
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1answer
2k 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 ...
3
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3answers
337 views

What happened to Spatial Freedom and the Astroid controller?

I've been doing some research into 3D mice. Pretty much the only game in town is the space mouse from 3Dconnexion. In doing this I discovered that its original designer John Hilton left after the ...
12
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2answers
1k views

Transition from static to dynamic shared libraries

A static library, also known as an archive, is one intended to be statically linked. Originally, only static libraries existed. Static linking must be performed when any modules are recompiled. (From ...
77
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9answers
24k 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 ...
6
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0answers
232 views

What percentage of DVD Forum royalties did Sony get?

A slightly arcane question that I think is relevant to a chapter of the history of game consoles whose dynamics I'm trying to understand. In the mid-nineties, several companies were developing optical ...
39
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11answers
6k views

What's the origin of terminating strings by setting the high bit of the last character?

I was looking at a hex dump of the ROM BASIC from the original IBM PC and found some byte strings like this (ASCII dump is on the right): 50 52 49 4e d4 9d 4c 49 53 d4 9e 50 4f d3 1b 45 PRIN..LIS.....
45
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3answers
5k views

How did varargs in C develop?

C has a feature for variadic functions, my understanding is this feature was originally a hack, relying on the simple stack-based parameter passing used by early C implementations and that some time ...
16
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2answers
6k views

What is the oldest commercial MS-DOS program that can run on modern versions of Windows without third-party software?

What is the oldest commercial MS-DOS program that can run on modern versions of Windows (such as Windows 8.1 or Windows 10) without third-party emulators?
10
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1answer
271 views

What sort of intermediate representation did the first Fortran compiler use?

Proebsting's Law asserts that improvements to compiler technology double the performance of typical programs every 18 years, but even granted that this is somewhat tongue-in-cheek, it's not really ...
8
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4answers
949 views

Why were the PlayStation 2 CPU and GPU initially separate chips?

At the heart of the PlayStation 2 were a pair of custom chips, described in https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PlayStation_2_technical_specifications CPU: MIPS III R5900-based "Emotion Engine", ...
20
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6answers
5k views

Why did some video games apparently use "interlaced" video modes?

I was under the impression that "interlaced" video modes was only a thing for remote television content because it saved bandwidth to only send 50% of the data to the homes, so you could fit ...
42
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5answers
8k views

Why didn't C++ specify filename extensions?

Apparently even today there is no single "official" standard for C++ file extensions. There are just common conventions. To me this stands out as an anomaly... file extensions are heavily ...
11
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1answer
1k views

What computer programs did Grace Hopper work on during World War II?

Admiral Grace Hopper was a computer pioneer. She wrote the first linker and one of the first compilers; was a proponent of human-readable computer languages, machine-independence of languages, and ...
15
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1answer
2k views

What was the first programming language to use `+` for string concatenation?

Many reasonably modern programming languages (Java, Python, C++, Ruby) use + to represent string concatenation. "A" + "B" is the string "AB". Languages with a more ...
7
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2answers
1k views

What are the "other crontabs" that /etc/crontab refer to? [closed]

The /etc/crontab file on ubuntu has a header that reads: # /etc/crontab: system-wide crontab # Unlike any other crontab you don't have to run the `crontab' # command to install the new version when ...
48
votes
5answers
4k views

Filesystems with versioning

I've been reading through The Unix Hater's Handbook. It has many, many very valid criticisms. (I'm still raging that terminal escape codes aren't in the terminal driver...) There is one anomaly though:...
3
votes
1answer
222 views

Why were procedure parameter specifications optional in the ALGOL 60 Revised Report?

In Algol 60 procedure declarations, the 'specification' part was optional for by-name parameters. The specification is what gives (loosely speaking) the type of parameter - whether it's real, integer,...
37
votes
4answers
12k views

Where does this esoteric Pascal operator come from?

In the documentation for an implementation of Pascal for a Soviet computer, I've encountered a very weird language extension. I'll try to translate it: Branching operator (branch) Syntax &...
16
votes
4answers
3k views

Why does Pascal have numeric labels?

Pascal was intended, in part, to be a simple language to implement. Some of the design decisions reflecting this are Declarations/definitions must be given in a strict order (labels, constants, types,...
12
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3answers
2k views

Who were the first engineers to "cleanroom" the IBM PC BIOS?

In the first season of the AMC show Halt & Catch Fire, the protagonist "Cameron Howe" is introduced. Cameron portrays a rookie engineer who is recruited for being extraordinarily talented, and is ...
12
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6answers
641 views

Are there any primary sources for the “passing constant by reference” behavior in old Fortran compilers?

Occasionally I have heard references to a peculiarity of certain (old) Fortran compilers, with regards to subprogram argument passing. Here is an example, from an answer to a Stack Overflow question: ...

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