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

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23 votes
9 answers
7k views

Why were nested functions excluded from B and C?

I'm learning C and was curious as to why the language does not allow nested functions. From what I've read, the lack of nested functions seems to have been a simplification that was inherited from its ...
1 vote
0 answers
96 views

Which aspects of RF emission were TI unable to get under control?

The TI 99/4 (as opposed to 4A) was a computer killed by RF emission problems. From Wikipedia Through the development period, several companies attempting to enter the home computer market were faced ...
19 votes
2 answers
1k views

Why doesn't sed have a j command?

It has always bugged me that sed, which is mostly compatible with ed, doesn't have the same j command (to join two lines together) that ed does. Once upon a time I imagined this was because sed works ...
22 votes
5 answers
2k views

What other computers used this floating-point format?

I have discovered that the DEC PDP-10 used a floating-point format that differed from IEEE-754 in an interesting way. IEEE-754 is like sign-magnitude representation. The only difference between a ...
23 votes
4 answers
4k views

What was the purpose of low-UID special user accounts like “bin”, “sys” or “daemon” 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 ...
5 votes
2 answers
2k views

Did any 8-bit machine select palette by character name instead of color memory?

8-bit home computers, and contemporary third-generation consoles, commonly displayed graphics with an array of character cells, a.k.a. character names, character pointers, name table etc, each of ...
11 votes
1 answer
1k views

Did any attendees write up accounts of pre-1980 Homebrew Computer Club meetings?

Per Wikipedia, "The Homebrew Computer Club was an early computer hobbyist group in Menlo Park, California, which met from March 1975 to December 1986." I'm looking for written accounts or ...
8 votes
1 answer
546 views

Why does the boot-up screen for Cruis'n USA (arcade version) display this strange text?

(I originally asked this in the "gaming"/Arqade section. However, it was suggested by a commenter that I should instead migrate it here. Since I don't know how one "migrates" a ...
4 votes
0 answers
250 views

Looking for early examples of extended precision by interpretation

The other day I came across a clever way of implementing variable-length extended precision, dated 1967 (on the BESM-6, apparently as part of the system software available at the time of introduction ...
17 votes
1 answer
729 views

What capabilities did the Mark I Perceptron demonstrate?

The Mark I Perceptron, developed by Frank Rosenblatt in 1958, was a pioneering supervised image classification learning system. Many articles explain the mathematics behind it, and its shortcomings, ...
4 votes
1 answer
313 views

Why didn't Commodore run the 6502 at 2 MHz? [closed]

The Atari 800, in 1979, ran the 6502 at 1.79 MHz. That rounds to 2, and was presumably a 6502A rated for 2 MHz, underclocked. Why did Commodore keep running their 6502 computers at 1 MHz, even the 64 ...
17 votes
5 answers
4k views

Why was the 1540 a computer in its own right?

The Commodore 1540 disk drive, along with its better-known successor the 1541, is a computer in its own right, with its own 6502 CPU. Why was it designed like that? It adds significant cost to the ...
7 votes
0 answers
227 views

The works of Frontier Manufacturing

Having spent the last however many decades believing Commodore Semiconductor Group was a simple rename of MOS Technology, I just watched a video – quite interesting in its own right – which casually ...
3 votes
0 answers
263 views

What process node enabled the 6502 to reach 2 MHz? [duplicate]

The original version of the 6502 was rated for 1 MHz, but before the end of the decade, the CPU was available in a 2 MHz version. Presumably what changed was Dennard scaling: make the transistors ...
15 votes
2 answers
688 views

Why did Acorn use the 6502?

It is an interesting quirk of the British microcomputer industry, that the main vendor of cheap microcomputers, Sinclair, used the better, more expensive CPU (Z80), whereas the main vendor of better, ...
9 votes
2 answers
552 views

How did the PL/I designers not understand environments?

In Charles Lindsey's “A browse through some early bulletins”, he mentions (regarding Knuth's Man Or Boy test): As a postcript to this whole episode, it may be noted that a couple of years later Bekic ...
2 votes
1 answer
181 views

When were the late 70s FCC regulations introduced?

According to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TI-99/4A Through the development period, several companies attempting to enter the home computer market were faced with significant pushback from the ...
5 votes
1 answer
315 views

Did Atari lobby against FCC regulation change?

In the 1970s, FCC limits on RF emissions applied to 'anything that plugs into a TV', and were stringent and difficult to pass. Atari went to extraordinary lengths regarding this when designing their ...
3 votes
0 answers
156 views

Did Commodore have an alternative chip company acquisition target?

One pf the pivotal historical events of the 8-bit computer industry was the acquisition by Commodore of MOS Technology in 1976. This gave Jack Tramiel the vertical integration he wanted, and led ...
33 votes
2 answers
7k views

How did ALT + F4 become the shortcut for closing?

This is another in a long line of computer history trivia questions. It is very much related to this question. How did Alt + F4 become the close keyboard shortcut? I always used that close command on ...
2 votes
1 answer
171 views

US equivalent of the Microvitec Cub monitor

In the 8-bit computing era, UK schools acquired BBC Micros in a project sponsored by the BBC. The monitor typically used with these was the Microvitec Cub. In the US, there was also a push to put ...
9 votes
6 answers
4k views

Did ROM chips jump from 8K to 32K?

This is a question about mask ROM (not EPROM) chips of the 8-bit era. The size of DRAM chips increased by factors of 4, so there were 4kbit chips, then 16kbit, 64kbit, 256kbit etc. The natural width ...
11 votes
1 answer
386 views

What's the earliest source for the legend of Gary Kildall's airplane snub?

A commonly repeated (and commonly debunked) legend describes how Gary Kildall blew his chance at writing the operating system for the IBM PC. Examples include the following: …legend has it that ...
5 votes
5 answers
1k views

How much extra did a color RF modulator cost?

I've been doing more reading about the early 8-bit home computers, a fascinating era, in which the cost of the hardware was of course a constant, dominating constraint, and trying to understand ...
47 votes
3 answers
23k 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 ...
7 votes
2 answers
714 views

What is the earliest use in C of indexing the bits of a float or double to sample a table lookup?

One common way to produce an approximation of a function like the logarithm or the exponential is to precompute a table of values (a lookup table) for the output or some intermediate stage of the ...
17 votes
6 answers
6k views

Why did 5.25″ floppies invert the meaning of the write-protection notch?

According to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Floppy_disk#8-inch_and_5%C2%BC-inch_disks A small notch on the side of the disk identifies whether it is writable, as detected by a mechanical switch or ...
34 votes
2 answers
7k views

Why was 2^127 − 1 an interesting problem for "Baby"?

The BBC News article The 'Baby' that ushered in modern computer age along with the short embedded video begins with: A machine that took up an entire room at a laboratory in Manchester University ran ...
25 votes
1 answer
4k views

Why does the Commodore 64 have 4K of non-banked RAM at $C000?

I wonder why the Commodore 64 memory map was created as it was. Naively, it seems to be that it would have been more logical to put I/O and the character ROM at $B000 to $BFFF, have the ROMs in a ...
2 votes
0 answers
158 views

Apple II sales by sector

Of the American 8-bit personal computers, the Apple II was arguably the most general, in that it sold well to home enthusiasts (Woz's original intended target market), schools (thanks in part to the ...
3 votes
0 answers
96 views

Was the Atari 800 expansion port hidden because of RF emission? [duplicate]

I just stumbled on a curious detail about the Atari 8-bit machines that I had not known about: https://forums.atariage.com/topic/133652-400800-expansion-port-pinouts/ I've seen questions about the ...
15 votes
1 answer
3k views

What's the story behind the "mysterious" 486DX3?

As I was skimming through an old MS-DOS game's README, I stumbled upon this: Therefore, we reccomend a newer 486-100 or better, preferably with a large external cache. Best performance will result ...
9 votes
1 answer
429 views

How many commercial Spectrum ROM cartridges were released?

According to this site, Sinclair released a total of ten titles on cartridge: all games that were popular on cassette, and all in 1983, the year the Interface 2 was released. I know the cartridges ...
5 votes
4 answers
292 views

First free and open source assembler and linker for i386 targeting and running on Win32

I'm looking for the first free and open source assembler and linker for i386 targeting and running on Win32. My requirements are: It has to be able to build a Win32 PE .exe from assembly source, the ...
34 votes
5 answers
8k views

Why did MacOS Classic choose the colon as a path separator?

I mean, all other OSs that I know of use some form of slash as a path separator, so why did Apple choose the colon?
60 votes
4 answers
13k views

Why were single quotes ('…') chosen for characters, and double quotes ("…") for strings?

In C, '' is used to denote a character, while "" is used to denote a string. Why was this syntax chosen? I tried to research this using Wikipedia’s Timeline of Programming Languages along ...
42 votes
16 answers
10k views

What "unusual" syntax assembly languages are/were there?

This question may have the apparent form of a question soliciting a "list" answer, but I'm expecting the list to be very short, so please bear with me. What "unusual" syntax ...
11 votes
0 answers
385 views

When was the asterisk first used for "unsaved changes" and why?

The asterisk itself has been around as a symbol since literally (pun intended) before the earliest writing systems. Among its many uses, in some user interfaces it denotes unsaved changes to a file or ...
7 votes
2 answers
594 views

When were floating point rounding modes first implemented?

It appears that at least some pre-IEEE 754 computers had only one hardwired floating point rounding mode, e.g. away from zero as in PDP-11 (page 154 of PDF). Which historical architectures were the ...
2 votes
3 answers
862 views

Understanding the Need for Positive Sync Polarities in Sony PVM Monitors

Understanding the Need for Positive Sync Polarities in Sony PVM Monitors Note: This post has been edited several times during its lifetime, and some questions may have already been answered. I'm in ...
85 votes
11 answers
29k 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 ...
3 votes
0 answers
149 views

Hierarchical/navigational database engine available on RSX-11M

Around 1988-1990 I worked for a company that was using an old RSX-11M system to host an ERP application. The application used a third-party database product of which I am trying to recall the name. ...
6 votes
1 answer
807 views

Using audio tape recorders on non-personal computers?

A Soviet manual (1978) for an interactive integrated development system named ПУЛЬТ (translated as "console" or "[remote] control panel") developed for the BESM-6 mainframe contains a cryptic note: ...
17 votes
2 answers
1k views

What was the first dedicated core router?

From 1969 up through the early 80s, the Internet used general-purpose Honeywell minicomputers for its core routers. At some point after that, purpose-built machines started being used. What was the ...
51 votes
1 answer
13k views

After creating HTML, why did Tim Berners-Lee bother creating HTTP? Why didn't he just write a HTML renderer for a FTP client?

My beginning 'facts' in this question are: HTTP is essentially nothing more than a file transfer protocol that only moves HTML. Networked file transfer protocols were well established by 1991, were ...
21 votes
9 answers
9k views

What were the major things that caused TCP/IP to become the internet standard protocol?

I was wondering what were the major reasons that TCP/IP became the protocol used to communicate over the Internet, as this was uncertain for quite some time in the 80'es and early 90'es. Wikipedia ...
10 votes
2 answers
1k views

What other terms have been used to describe storing working data permanently besides "save"?

Today, we "save" the file we're working on to disk. This terminology appears to be specific to architectures combining volatile and non-volatile memory. I also distinctly remember a "...
6 votes
2 answers
416 views

Primary manufacturers of picture tubes for early monitors

Which companies were the most important manufacturers of picture tubes for monitors (both monochrome and color) in the seventies and eighties? That is, it's easy enough to find lists of monitors by ...
51 votes
7 answers
28k views

Why did the Motorola 68000 processor family fall out of use in personal computers in the 21st century?

In the '80s and '90s the Intel x86 and Motorola 68000 families were the two leading microcomputer architectures in the 16-bit/32-bit personal computer scene. The 68000s were even preferred by the ...
40 votes
4 answers
38k views

Did any processor implement an integer square root instruction?

Has any processor ever implemented an integer square root instruction? Obviously, floating-point square root instructions are quite common, but I've never seen one specifically for integers. One close ...

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