Questions tagged [history]

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

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10
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2answers
1k views

Why did IBM want to keep ICL alive?

According to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Computers_Limited International Computers Limited (ICL) was a British computer hardware, computer software and computer services company that ...
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2answers
3k 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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3answers
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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 ...
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1answer
269 views

When was fixed page size, flexible assignment bank switching patented?

The 8-bit microprocessors invented in the seventies, had a 16-bit address space. It didn't take long for memory demand to exceed this, with the result that bank switching was a fact of life for the ...
4
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1answer
422 views

Why did this joke man page use July 16, 1974 as an epoch?

This fake manual page posted to the comp.humor newsgroup jokes that A.out accepts any option passed to it, stalls for a few seconds, and then prints a cryptic message chosen from the list below. The ...
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5answers
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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,...
27
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2answers
7k views

Why did Nintendo name its console the "Famicom"?

The NES was known as the "Famicom" in Japan, short for "Family Computer". But why was it given an English name in Japan, given (I assume) most people wouldn't know what the words &...
10
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1answer
367 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 ...
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3answers
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Release timeline for 128KB personal computers?

IBM, Apple, Commodore, and Atari all released upgraded versions of their popular home/personal computers having "stock" 128KB of RAM around the early 1980's. What was the order of release (...
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8answers
7k views

Why was computer memory so expensive and scarce?

Computer memory used to be a limited and expensive asset for a long while (for example, in computers with 16KiB RAM or less, compared to the 2 MiB of my first PC (an Intel 486) in 1995 and current day'...
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2answers
641 views

Who introduced the standard 8-bit punched tape, and when?

Who introduced the standard that later became widespread for the 8-bit punch tape, and when? I think the 5-bit tape was an earlier standard.
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1answer
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What was the first two-panel file manager for DOS?

I'm trying to settle a debate between me and some colleagues about two-panel file managers in MS-DOS/PC DOS. According to my own recollection the first was DV.EXE (DualView IIRC), but some of my ...
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2answers
405 views

What was the most popular operating system on the PDP-11 computers?

What was the most popular operating system on the PDP-11 computers? And is it known what percentage of PDP-11 computers used this operating system?
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3answers
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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 ...
17
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1answer
858 views

Where was the Willowsoft Overture File System (OFS1) used?

While chatting about data recovery, an obscure filesystem came up. It apparently claimed the MBR partition ID 0x20 and was named "Willowsoft Overture File System (OFS1)". In the modern world,...
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1answer
430 views

Did ancillary LEDs trade arcade game design for manufacturing cost?

Looking at the 1974 arcade game Speed Race, I notice that the cabinet includes ancillary LEDs to show the scores. https://flyers.arcade-museum.com/?page=wide-flyer&db=videodb&id=4056&image=...
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4answers
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What was the first language to use keywords for conditional execution?

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 can simulate the functionality of an if. Which means it's ...
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8answers
11k 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 happen to be both essential and incomputable. It's the ...
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4answers
3k views

Which is the first non-assembly (and binary) language to write operating system(s)?

Many programming languages predating C, like FORTRAN, LISP, B, BCPL, were either special purpose or too heavy to write OS. OS were bound to their hardware architecture and died with them. C was used ...
6
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0answers
298 views

Looking for an 8-bit microcomputer with a hardware-accelerated database

In some old video on YouTube a few years ago, I noticed a curious computer from the end of the 70s - early 80s. In the rack (half height), typical of minicomputers of those years, there was a 14" ...
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2answers
496 views

What did Richard Stallman have against VMS?

Richard Stallman of course was an advocate of free software, and VMS was proprietary, so he would've disapproved of it on that basis alone. (To be clear, I am not discussing here whether he was right ...
3
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1answer
296 views

Why was Atari Tank less cloned?

The first commercially successful arcade video game was Pong in 1972. According to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arcade_video_game the number of units eventually sold was about 19,000. (A lower figure ...
5
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1answer
263 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 ...
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0answers
326 views

The first micromouse competition in 1977 had 6000 initial entries, what would the majority of them have been (e.g. wall followers)?

The first micromouse competition in 1977, had 6000 initial entries, what would the majority of them have been (e.g. wall followers)? Note - In the link above, first micromouse competition in 1977, it ...
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3answers
331 views

What is generally accepted as being the first machine implementation of a search tree?

What is generally accepted as being the first machine implementation of a search tree (as they are more commonly known and used in modern computing for things like solving or powering, mazes, checkers,...
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16answers
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Did many programs really store years as two characters (Y2K bug)?

The claim that programs stored dates as two ASCII or similar characters because computers were limited in resources seems wrong to me because it takes more memory than one 8-bit integer would. Also in ...
13
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3answers
3k views

When was the 6502 second sourced?

According to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_source MOS Technology licensed Rockwell and Synertek to second-source the 6502 microprocessor and its support components. This makes sense; the 6502 ...
20
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1answer
2k views

Is the MANIAC in the movie 'The Magnetic Monster' the real MANIAC computer?

I just watched the movie The Magnetic Monster, which is a 1953 science-fiction thriller. The main premise is hokum, but there's an amount of reasonable-seeming background "science" around. ...
12
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1answer
436 views

Unknown device in MANIAC I machine room

In my answer to the question about the LANL MANIAC I posted a picture of it in its natural habitat. In the picture there's a mystery device electrical-taped to one of the columns by the system ...
6
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1answer
313 views

Why did the Atari 5200 revert to only two controller ports?

The Atari 5200, released in 1982, had four controller ports, an unusual feature which as far as I know had never been seen before, and would not be seen again until the late nineties. The 1983 ...
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3answers
1k views

Were there any NMOS (or PMOS) processors that could tolerate a stopped clock?

Early microprocessors often used NMOS or PMOS transistor technology (see this question for their use in early Intel chips). Techniques such as implementing registers with dynamic memory cells (...
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1answer
262 views

What hardware was used for Magic circa 1985?

Magic, which is described as a "smart" layout system for integrated circuits, was open-source and available by the end of 1983. As far as hardware and OS requirements, early documentation ...
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1answer
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Why was the Microvitec Cub monitor made of metal?

In British schools in the early eighties, the iconic microcomputer was the BBC Micro, typically connected to the equally iconic Microvitec Cub color monitor, as described in this video. Why this ...
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4answers
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Anecdote in Weinberger's Psychology of Computer Programming: is it ARPANET?

Gerald Weinberger, in the 1971 book The Psychology of Computer Programming, gives the following anecdote: The numerous stages [of reporting?] can produce interesting effects, as a result of filtering ...
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0answers
372 views

When was an image of an apple first used to promote the APL language

The APL community is contemplating the adoption of a common logo but some are worried about trouble from Apple lawyers. Now, IBM and others have been using apple motifs in promoting APL for a long ...
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2answers
386 views

What was the history of Nanodata Corporation?

Nanodata was a Buffalo, New York company that was formed in 1971 and seems to have sold its first products in 1973. They filed for bankruptcy in 1982, though they may have carried on business for a ...
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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 ...
2
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0answers
169 views

Did other Acorn keyboards use two-shot molding?

The BBC Micro hardware specification includes the clause: The legend on the keys will be achieved by two-shot moulding This is a process by which the glyphs are made to run all the way through the ...
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2answers
1k views

Who considered multimedia capability a liability for a business computers, and why?

For technical reasons, business computers of the late '70s usually had little multimedia capability. There have been modern claims (e.g., in the comments on this video) that such capability was ...
2
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1answer
179 views

Were any form-based applications designed for more than 80 columns?

The traditional standard display for business computers was 80 column text (with either 24 or 25 rows). Business software, roughly speaking, falls into two categories: Horizontal applications like ...
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11answers
4k views

What was the earliest system to explicitly support threading based on shared memory?

The notion of multiple processes has been around a long time, at least since the IBM 360. Multiple processes running at the same time, in separate memory spaces with protection from each other. (In ...
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4answers
11k views

Why did 80x25 become the text monitor standard?

Prior to the 1981 release of the IBM PC, the VT05 (72x20 1970), VT50 (80x12 1974), VT52 (80x24 1975), and VT100 (80x24 1978) text terminals were used on many Unix machines and the PDP-11 (probably the ...
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5answers
6k views

Was 10BASE5 a mistake?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/10BASE5 gives a succint but vivid description of the physical layer of the first version of Ethernet and its subsequent replacement: 10BASE5 (also known as thick ...
18
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1answer
2k views

What was the first operating system that supported preemptive multitasking?

What was the first operating system that supported preemptive multitasking? By preemptive multitasking I mean that user processes were able to run in a time-sliced manner without special programming, ...
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2answers
515 views

Was server operating systems ever created with a terminal operating system in mind? [closed]

I have always thought that in the case of Microsoft's server operating systems that they were created with the idea that the end-user of those servers would use Windows. I also thought the same for ...
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4answers
1k views

What was the first Ethernet hub?

An Ethernet hub is – well, Wikipedia does an impeccable job of summarizing what it is: An Ethernet hub, active hub, network hub, repeater hub, multiport repeater, or simply hub is a network hardware ...
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5answers
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.
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2answers
1k views

What was the first CPU/FPU without a hardware square-rooter?

The first programmable, electronic, general-purpose digital computer, ENIAC had a "square rooter": five of the accumulators were controlled by a special divider/square-rooter unit to ...
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2answers
1k views

How were 4-digit IC part numbers assigned?

It seems that integrated circuits of the 1970s tended to have 4-digit part numbers. This includes not only the ones that came to be well-known like CPUs (Intel 4004, 8008, 8080, 8085, 8086, 8088, ...
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3answers
5k views

Did anyone ever put half a megabyte of memory in an Altair?

The Altair 8800 typically, at least in the early years after its release in 1975, operated with no more than a few kilobytes of memory, for the excellent and sufficient reasons that memory was ...

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