Questions tagged [history]

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

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20
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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. ...
2
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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 ...
12
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3answers
2k views

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 (...
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 &...
14
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1answer
1k views

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 ...
23
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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'...
7
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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.
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" ...
13
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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 ...
9
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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 ...
6
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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=...
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 ...
6
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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 ...
-1
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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,...
13
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3answers
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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 ...
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 ...
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. ...
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 ...
7
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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 ...
10
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1answer
1k views

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 ...
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 ...
10
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4answers
1k views

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 ...
15
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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 ...
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 ...
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 ...
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 ...
1
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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 ...
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 ...
6
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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 ...
20
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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 ...
16
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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 ...
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2answers
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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 ...
18
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3answers
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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 ...
26
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3answers
4k views

When did 5.25″ floppies exceed the capacity of 8″?

When 5.25″ floppies were introduced, in the mid-to-late seventies, they would have had less capacity than the older 8″ because, well, less area on which to store data. On the other hand, being cheaper ...
8
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4answers
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Why Kansas City Standard (KCS/CUTS) differs from Bell 103/202/212 modem protocol?

While both were data transfer protocols serving streams at 300/1200 baud, why did they choose different frequencies, marks, modulation, and anything else? I understand that they serve different ...
0
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0answers
284 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?
21
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3answers
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What windowing system had the first size-proportional scroll bar?

I came across a link to a site that shows the history of the scroll bar. While the content of the site is pretty thin and devoid of explanation, it does show Xerox Star, Lisa, Mac, Amiga, Windows, ...
5
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2answers
594 views

What was the reason that the original Western NES console had a "cartridge bed" that had to be pushed down to play?

In Japan, they had the Famicom. You put in the cartridges on the top, just like with the later SNES and other consoles. But for Europe and the USA (and the entire "West"), the "NES"...
36
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6answers
7k views

Why couldn't early C compilers handle variable declarations between statements?

In modern C, you may place variable declarations between statements: do_something(); int x; x = something_else(); However, older C compilers required that variables are declared before all statements:...
5
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2answers
250 views

Did any computer ever signal floating-point overflow purely with a sticky flag?

Every implementer of floating-point arithmetic, needs to think about how to signal overflow. One possible way to do it is by raising an exception, though this creates the problem that 'exception' can ...
11
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2answers
458 views

Was `wchar_t` ever widely adopted by the Unix culture in actual practice?

My very rough understanding of character encoding history as it relates to the Unix family of platforms/languages is that: They started using single-byte (7/8/9-ish bit) character sets like ASCII/...
7
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1answer
111 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 ...
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 ...
5
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1answer
199 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 ...
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
472 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 ...
9
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1answer
318 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? ...
16
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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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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 ...

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