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

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96 votes
11 answers
14k views

What key factor led to the sudden commercial success of MS Windows with v3.0?

Microsoft Windows was originally introduced in 1985, ostensibly to compete with the Apple Macintosh, and other computers shipping with graphical shells by that time. However, early versions of Windows ...
Brian H's user avatar
  • 60.9k
147 votes
5 answers
54k 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 ...
arminb's user avatar
  • 1,351
20 votes
8 answers
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 ...
JAL's user avatar
  • 9,620
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 ...
Remy Sharp's user avatar
  • 1,097
80 votes
14 answers
19k views

Back in the late 1980s, how was commercial software for 8-bit home computers developed?

When hobbyists wanted to write software for e.g. the Commodore 64, they either used the built-in BASIC interpreter (with all its limitations) or some native tools, like compilers for other languages ...
Felix Palmen's user avatar
  • 1,492
45 votes
3 answers
4k views

Why are the symbols on the number keys of PC & Mac keyboards different to ASCII keyboards?

On a US-layout PC keyboard, the symbols above the number keys are as follows: Whereas the keyboard on an Apple II is different: Note, for example, the '(' and ')' symbols are now above 8 and 9, and '...
Kaz's user avatar
  • 8,176
44 votes
4 answers
15k 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 ...
Barnstormer's user avatar
  • 1,359
52 votes
4 answers
6k 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 ...
rwallace's user avatar
  • 63.1k
51 votes
11 answers
13k 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 ...
Jonas Czech's user avatar
50 votes
5 answers
5k 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:...
MathematicalOrchid's user avatar
39 votes
4 answers
13k views

History of Ctrl-S and Ctrl-Q for flow control

Which OS was the first to use Ctrl-S and Ctrl-Q on the console for pause and continue? I first discovered Ctrl-S in IBM PC DOS 1.1.
Old Geezer's user avatar
34 votes
8 answers
6k views

Why were relays prevalent in early 1940s computers when vacuum tubes were also available?

Many of of the computers built in the 1940s used relays for logic (see here and here): Bell Labs Model I, 1940 Bletchley Park Bombe, 1940 Zuse Z2, 1940 Zuse Z3, 1941 Bell Labs Model II, 1943 Bell ...
DrSheldon's user avatar
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29 votes
4 answers
5k views

Was there a clearly identifiable "first computer" to use or demonstrate the use of virtual memory?

The NPR.org news article and podcast How The World Has Changed! Science During The 40 Years Of 'Morning Edition' includes the photo below with the caption Before the introduction of the personal ...
uhoh's user avatar
  • 2,358
19 votes
2 answers
7k views

First commercial DOS game?

What was the first commercial game sold for use on IBM/MS/PC DOS after the IBM August 12, 1981 release.
jwzumwalt's user avatar
  • 4,499
18 votes
4 answers
2k views

Historical price of ROM

Historical price charts for RAM are quite readily available, e.g. in the mid-seventies a ballpark figure was a penny a byte. What was the price of ROM (assuming you were getting the chips produced in ...
rwallace's user avatar
  • 63.1k
13 votes
1 answer
4k views

Why green phosphor instead of amber?

According to this answer to Why were early personal computer monitors not green? they had a severe disadvantage in that you had to choose between 'too dim' and 'rapid burn-in' whereas amber could ...
rwallace's user avatar
  • 63.1k
5 votes
4 answers
540 views

Cheapest type of Read-Only Memory allowing Random access before Year 1970

Back in the 50s and 60s people had: random access, read-write memories like Magnetic Cores. sequential access, read-write memories like Delay Lines and Magnetic Tapes. And: sequential access, write ...
Schezuk's user avatar
  • 3,754
56 votes
4 answers
10k views

Why did line printers have 132 columns?

From what I read, most line printers have 132 columns. Also, the VT-220 and presumably other terminals may be switched between 80 columns (that's a usual width) and 132 columns. As I recall, 80 ...
Omar and Lorraine's user avatar
52 votes
12 answers
11k views

What early home computers have more than one CPU, where both could be used by the programmer? [closed]

I am interested to know if any computers that are on-topic for this site had more than one CPU, where this plurality could be leveraged by a programmer. Some cases I don't so much care about: The ...
Omar and Lorraine's user avatar
49 votes
5 answers
12k 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-...
rwallace's user avatar
  • 63.1k
48 votes
1 answer
6k views

Where and when did the `0x` convention for hexadecimal literals originate?

By the early 1980s, C was using 0x as a prefix to indicate integer literals expressed in hexadecimal, e.g., 0xCAFE. This did not exist in B as of 1972, though B did support octal integer literals via ...
cjs's user avatar
  • 26.8k
42 votes
5 answers
6k 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 "...
Richard T's user avatar
  • 867
37 votes
3 answers
6k views

What was the first programming language to support “operator chaining”?

The Python language has a neat feature: An expression like x < y <= z is interpreted, according to mathematical convention, as equivalent to x < y and y <= z. Operands are evaluated only ...
texdr.aft's user avatar
  • 3,627
36 votes
6 answers
6k 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 ...
bjb's user avatar
  • 16.4k
36 votes
4 answers
7k views

What was the IBM PC cost saving for using the 8088 vs 8086?

The decision to use the 8088, a version of the 8086 with the data bus restricted to 8 bits, in the original IBM PC, seems strange on the face of it, certainly hurt performance and intuitively shouldn'...
rwallace's user avatar
  • 63.1k
33 votes
8 answers
12k views

How exactly did Windows become the OS of the home PC?

As far as I understand it, the whole personal computing revolution that Microsoft Windows did was not entirely by its own design. Is it true that the Windows OS at its core was originally designed to ...
Neil Meyer's user avatar
  • 6,899
30 votes
3 answers
5k views

What was the first operating system to feature a separate kernel?

Kernels are programs that abstract the hardware of a computer to some extent, allowing other programs to use standardised system calls (e.g. malloc) to perform hardware tasks (e.g. writing to memory, ...
wizzwizz4's user avatar
  • 18.7k
30 votes
5 answers
10k views

Why were early personal computer monitors not green?

Green was traditionally the most common color for computer monitors; it combines strain-free readability with low cost. Given this, it's surprising that the first versions of the Commodore PET and ...
rwallace's user avatar
  • 63.1k
29 votes
4 answers
3k 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.[...
snips-n-snails's user avatar
28 votes
7 answers
7k views

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

It would be nice to break it down by model if possible.
nevster's user avatar
  • 1,048
27 votes
8 answers
6k 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 ...
rwallace's user avatar
  • 63.1k
26 votes
5 answers
3k views

Why did the stock Amigas not have a battery for keeping the time/date?

The Amiga computers were advanced machines meant to do all sorts of things, including file management. They had a GUI OS (Workbench) and everything right from the very start. They were not some games-...
Superfrog's user avatar
  • 261
26 votes
10 answers
8k views

Graphics chips in 1980

Suppose you were trying to build a computer with a color graphics display in 1980, you have limited engineering resources and time to market is critical, so you want to get as many of the parts off ...
rwallace's user avatar
  • 63.1k
25 votes
1 answer
5k views

Why do all the Speech Synthesizers have that same Voice?

The first time I ever played with software speech synthesis on a microcomputer (not hardware synthesis, like in TI's Speak & Spell) was around 1983, using S.A.M for the Commodore 64. A year later,...
Brian H's user avatar
  • 60.9k
23 votes
5 answers
6k views

Why did mainframes have big conspicuous power-off buttons?

Some fascinating stories in this discussion thread. It starts with discussion about computers overheating, but about halfway through the thread, it switches to discussion of mainframe installations in ...
rwallace's user avatar
  • 63.1k
22 votes
6 answers
5k views

What caused the downfall of Pascal? [closed]

From 1985 to 1990 Borland's Turbo Pascal was at least as popular as C for DOS systems. Turbo Pascal was especially popular because of it's ground breaking BGI graphics interface while C was stalled in ...
jwzumwalt's user avatar
  • 4,499
22 votes
3 answers
3k views

Why did MS-DOS choose the percent symbol to designate variables?

I couldn't find anything but is there any reason for choosing % over $ like in *nix shells?
phuclv's user avatar
  • 3,611
19 votes
6 answers
3k 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 ...
rwallace's user avatar
  • 63.1k
19 votes
11 answers
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 ...
rwallace's user avatar
  • 63.1k
19 votes
2 answers
2k 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, ...
rwallace's user avatar
  • 63.1k
19 votes
2 answers
2k views

First computer emulator in Windows

I released my ZX Spectrum emulation Wspecem, and GPL sources first time publicly in the Internet at large, the 15th May 1996, for Windows 95. I am quite sure it was the first ZX Spectrum emulation ...
Rui F Ribeiro's user avatar
18 votes
1 answer
1k views

Why is the 8254's default rate 18.2 Hz?

The Intel 8253/8254 timer, in its default configuration, triggers IRQ0 18.2 times per second. Why this strange rate, and not something like 60 Hz (to match the most common video refresh rate) or 100 ...
Mark's user avatar
  • 8,686
18 votes
1 answer
3k views

Where does the hierarchical directory structure originate from?

Windows, Macintosh, Unix/Linux: today, they all support a hierarchical directory structure. The differences are in the details (mount points vs drive letters), but all use a hierarchical directory ...
juhist's user avatar
  • 963
17 votes
4 answers
6k views

Why did 3.5" floppies win (and not another size)?

It's an open question whether desktops would've kept using 5.25" until the end of the floppy era, but laptops meant something smaller was going to be introduced; that much was essentially ...
rwallace's user avatar
  • 63.1k
13 votes
1 answer
1k views

Did Nintendo pay WDC for their use of the 65816 core?

When Nintendo used the 6502 core in the NES (as part of the Ricoh 2A03/2A07 microprocessor and sound generator), they circumvented the 6502's patent protection by disabling the BCD arithmetic. As a ...
Michael Graf's user avatar
  • 10.1k
12 votes
2 answers
1k views

Was there an input device capable of entering all Algol 60 symbols with correct appearance?

This question was inspired by recent discussion on early keyboards and character sets, and mention in passing about how the COBOL designers were concerned about not using "non-existent" ...
dave's user avatar
  • 36.3k
9 votes
1 answer
1k views

How was the Traf-O-Data 8008 simulator developed?

Traf-O-Data was the first business partnership between Paul Allen, Bill Gates and Paul Gilbert. In order to develop the software for their custom-built Traf-O-Data machine (Intel 8008 Inside™), ...
wizzwizz4's user avatar
  • 18.7k
9 votes
1 answer
4k views

How did Microsoft take over Winsocks (Windows Sockets)?

In the early days of the Internet, Windows users had to install an application called "Trumpet Winsock" in order to use Internet apps like e-mail, FTP, WWW, etc. There were competitors, but Trumpet ...
Brian H's user avatar
  • 60.9k
7 votes
5 answers
996 views

When did smart terminals arrive?

In the days of mainframes and minicomputers, a common user interface was a serial terminal where each keystroke was sent to the computer, which could respond with an update to the contents of the ...
rwallace's user avatar
  • 63.1k
6 votes
1 answer
671 views

When did MOS Technology upgrade to 5µm?

I'm trying to understand exactly why various chips were designed the way they were at different times, in the service of which I have a rather specific question: When did MOS Technology upgrade to ...
rwallace's user avatar
  • 63.1k

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