Questions tagged [history]

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

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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 ...
5 votes
2 answers
376 views

How many 6SN7 tubes did it take to store a bit?

One of the most important components of a computer is a circuit called a flip-flop, which has two stable states (that it can flip-flop between, hence the name); it is used for temporary storage of a ...
17 votes
3 answers
699 views

When and where was the ‘dotted sequence of integers’ version numbering scheme invented?

Probably the most widespread software version numbering scheme in use today takes the form of a dotted sequence of integers. Variants of this scheme usually share the following characteristics: ...
28 votes
7 answers
6k views

Over its lifetime, how many Apple II computers were sold?

It would be nice to break it down by model if possible.
39 votes
4 answers
5k 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 "...
31 votes
13 answers
6k views

In what language(s) is the return value set by assigning to the function’s name?

In this Stack Overflow question the original code made the mistake of using the function name as a variable, and assigned the return value to it. A commenter mentioned that he once used a language ...
0 votes
1 answer
415 views

What is the origin of the "my" variable/method/et-al in didactic materials?

I think back to many tutorials and code snippets in which I have seen variables, functions, and files with "my" or "my_" prepended. What is the origin of this convention?
14 votes
2 answers
567 views

What is the purpose of the "difference of absolute values" instruction?

The IBM NORC computer, among others, had an arithmetic instruction computing the difference of the absolute values of its operands (|x|-|y|, see NORC Programming Manual, page 11, opcode 28), which ...
41 votes
3 answers
9k views

Where did the free parameters of IEEE 754 come from?

It's clear where many of the design decisions of IEEE 754 floating point come from. For example, the binary format maximizes efficiency on binary hardware. And 32 and 64 bits for single and double ...
12 votes
0 answers
229 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 ...
79 votes
10 answers
26k 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 ...
18 votes
4 answers
3k 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 ...
13 votes
2 answers
2k views

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 ...
19 votes
8 answers
3k views

CP/M in fewer than 80 columns

The standard for business computing in the seventies and eighties was 80 columns, and CP/M was primarily for business computing, so it's unsurprising that CP/M typically ran in 80 columns. For example,...
14 votes
5 answers
2k views

Magnetic tapes as a random access medium?

A two-part question: How widespread in legacy systems was the practice of using magnetic tapes as a genuinely random access medium at the OS level by pre-formatting them in a way before the first use,...
58 votes
5 answers
16k views

Why were most PCs and electronics beige back in the day?

Back in the day (especially during the 70's and 80's), it seems that most computers and electronics were colored 'beige'. It seems it would be easy to use different colors, so why didn't they? Some ...
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 ...
45 votes
5 answers
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-...
10 votes
2 answers
797 views

What pointing devices were available for C64/C128?

Apart from 1351 mouse what other official Commodore C64/C128 pointing devices were available, or notable 3rd party like Mouse Cheese. Joysticks and controllers are out of question. C64-wiki seems to ...
17 votes
4 answers
3k views

What was the first programming language, other than Lisp, to have “short-circuiting” Boolean expressions?

(This question is, of course, another thrilling installment of “The history of expression evaluation”; see the previous episodes here and here.) In many programming languages, the Boolean operators ∧ ...
24 votes
8 answers
5k views

Why did 8-bit Basic use 40-bit floating point?

Nowadays floating point is usually either 32 or 64 bits, sometimes 16, occasionally 128. But of course, the Basic interpreters on the 8-bit machines, having to implement floating point in software ...
34 votes
1 answer
6k views

1913 mystery computer below Grand Central Station

Over on the twobithistory Twitter channel, I came across this post from Gothamist about a computer from 1913 under Grand Central that was purportedly developed by Westinghouse. According to the ...
42 votes
3 answers
5k views

Was AGP only ever used for graphics cards?

Reading on the AGP spec, the little bits I've found on sites like https://old.pinouts.ru/Slots/agp_pinout.shtml, say: The Accelerated Graphics Port (also called Advanced Graphics Port) is a high-...
16 votes
1 answer
1k views

Where did the lookup table in Entombed come from?

Entombed is an Atari 2600 game where you move through an infinite vertically-scrolling maze and try not to die. This maze is procedurally generated, with two bits from a PRNG (underlined) added each ...
36 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 ...
3 votes
1 answer
337 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 ...
11 votes
1 answer
329 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”?
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 ...
34 votes
1 answer
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 $ ...
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 "...
11 votes
1 answer
625 views

1990s BBS game featuring mining elements from a planet

Sometime in the 90s (sorry, can't be more specific) I used to dial in to a BBS and play a multi-player game that involved manually mining elements from a planet. It was very detailed, you got employed ...
24 votes
4 answers
6k 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 ...
10 votes
1 answer
401 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: ...
9 votes
1 answer
1k views

What was the first computer board to be wave-soldered?

The Wikipedia article on wave soldering does not give any information on its history. What was the first computer circuit board to use this process? I am specifically looking for computers that were ...
27 votes
1 answer
7k views

What was the first operating system called DOS?

MS-DOS a.k.a. PC-DOS nee QDOS, was commonly just referred to as DOS. But 'disk operating system' is a very obvious acronym; there must have been previous operating systems so called. What was the ...
57 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 ...
4 votes
1 answer
397 views

Bill-of-material cost of early hard drives

Based on this topic (and continuing this topic), my question once again surfaced: And what was the layout of the prime cost of early 8 and 5.25 inch hard drives? From Seagate and competing ...
14 votes
3 answers
937 views

Did the Oric-1 improve on the Spectrum's keyboard?

So I've been whiling away some of a quiet Saturday night reading up on an early eighties computer called the Oric-1, which seems to be a curious little machine that has been largely unsung; moderately ...
9 votes
6 answers
646 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-...
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 ...
5 votes
1 answer
388 views

What were the characteristics of the Siemens 8160 and 9750 terminals?

An answer to a recent question https://retrocomputing.stackexchange.com/a/22332/4274 referred to the Siemens 8160 and 9750 terminals, which struck me as interesting enough to ask about separately in ...
1 vote
0 answers
389 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 ...
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 ...
138 votes
4 answers
43k views

It's now safe to turn off your computer

One thing I remember very well from my childhood is the screen you got at the end of a shutdown process on old computers: I don't know if this was a Windows 95/98/2000/ME only thing but I wonder why ...
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 ...
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 ...
27 votes
3 answers
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 ...
9 votes
1 answer
900 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 ...
9 votes
2 answers
781 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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