Questions tagged [history]

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

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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
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109 votes
7 answers
27k views

Why was `!` chosen for negation?

It seems that the use of the exclamation mark ! to denote negation started with the C programming language (as far as I can tell from my Google research). Nowhere though is mentioned who and why chose ...
blues's user avatar
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103 votes
6 answers
46k views

Why did base64 win against uuencode?

From the the two methods of encoding 8-bit data as human-readable ASCII, for a time, uuencode format was more popular. USENET 'binaries' groups were filled with uuencoded posts with whatever goodies ...
SF.'s user avatar
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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
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85 votes
2 answers
32k views

Is there any code in Firefox (as of 2020) that comes from Netscape Navigator?

Inspired by comments on the previous question Is it true that Netscape Navigator eventually became Mozilla Firefox? (Answer: Yes). In 1998, Netscape released a large amount of their existing source ...
IMSoP's user avatar
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81 votes
10 answers
28k 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
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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
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80 votes
9 answers
15k views

Why were CLIs typically light text on dark background, whereas GUIs typically use(d) dark text on light background?

My experience is that CLIs were typically shown with light text on a darker background. For example, the IBM PC would use white/light gray (depending on your point of view), amber or green (the latter ...
user's user avatar
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79 votes
7 answers
37k views

Who invented file extensions in file names?

Do we know when and where the idea of adding a suffix to filenames was conceived? I have found a lot of information about the history of specific file formats, but I am curious about when the need for ...
viggo's user avatar
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75 votes
8 answers
21k views

Why did IBM make the PC BIOS source code public?

IBM released the IBM 5150 Technical Reference manual in August, 1981, and included in it the fully commented source code listing for the BIOS. I find this odd for two reasons: IBM must have realized ...
Brian H's user avatar
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75 votes
7 answers
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What technological factors drove the rise of "high-speed" modems in the early 1990s?

The first inexpensive modem I ever purchased was a 300 baud direct-connect unit for the C64 User Port in late 1983. I recall that a couple of years later (1986), 1200 baud modems were affordable and I ...
Brian H's user avatar
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74 votes
5 answers
18k views

Why did C use the arrow (->) operator instead of reusing the dot (.) operator?

In the C programming language, the syntax to access the member of a structure is structure.member However, a member of a structure referenced by a pointer is written as pointer->member ...
DrSheldon's user avatar
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69 votes
7 answers
16k views

Where did the popularity of the `i` variable come from?

I have heard that the reason the i variable is used so much is because there was an old computer where each variable could only be a single letter and that reserved the variables a through h as ...
CJ Dennis's user avatar
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66 votes
10 answers
15k views

When was the term ‘directory’ replaced by ‘folder’?

I started using computers with MS-DOS and as far as I can remember the data structure holding files was called a directory (it held other directories as well), DIR is still used to list the content of ...
user10191234's user avatar
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65 votes
13 answers
16k views

Were later MS-DOS versions still implemented in x86 assembly?

Recently, Microsoft published the source code of old MS-DOS versions on GitHub. What is odd in my opinion is the use of x86 assembly language for everything. The assembly language would not be my ...
juhist's user avatar
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65 votes
10 answers
22k views

How was copying prevented when the first CD-ROM games were introduced?

Several ways exist to protect against the copying of games but, when CD-ROM games were first introduced, were there any measures taken by video game developers to prevent the copying of games?
user avatar
65 votes
2 answers
10k views

What are the software logos in MORICONS.DLL?

Every copy of Windows comes with a file named MORICONS.DLL which was first distributed with Windows 3.0. As far as I know, this file has not been changed since Windows 3.0. Some of the icons include: ...
Avery's user avatar
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63 votes
12 answers
18k views

How did people get apps on their computer before the Internet?

The Internet has existed since the 90s, but how did people get apps and games installed on their computers before that and how were they accessed and saved?
Chadley123's user avatar
63 votes
6 answers
18k 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 ...
Unknown's user avatar
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63 votes
1 answer
18k views

When was the famous "sudo warning" introduced? Under what background? By whom?

On all Unix-like operating systems, sudo is often provided as the standard package for executing commands as superuser (or an alternative user). When sudo is invoked by the user for the first time, ...
比尔盖子's user avatar
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61 votes
19 answers
19k views

Why were computer customers called "Users"?

The term User for computer hardware and software customers has been universal for as long as I can remember. It has always applied to both hardware and software customers - There were "Lotus Users" ...
Brian H's user avatar
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60 votes
7 answers
15k 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 ...
rwallace's user avatar
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60 votes
8 answers
16k views

Could we have avoided the whole UTF-16 fiasco? [closed]

Anyone who has studied Unicode and is honest will admit that UTF-16 was kind of a mistake. It was born from the early assumption that 16 bits would be enough for all of Unicode. Then a hack was ...
JoelFan's user avatar
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60 votes
4 answers
12k 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 ...
hb20007's user avatar
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60 votes
4 answers
11k views

Why did F1 become the Help Key?

There was actually a pretty big push among some vendors in the 1980's to have a dedicated Help Key (conveniently labeled as Help). Atari introduced it in 1983, and kept it to the end. The Commodore ...
Brian H's user avatar
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59 votes
7 answers
6k views

Origin of "string"

When did people start referring to an ordered group of characters as a "string"? Did this name come from before / outside of the computing field, or is it special to computing? The metaphor ...
John Skiles Skinner's user avatar
58 votes
16 answers
13k views

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 ...
Mr. Chem Question's user avatar
58 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 ...
malat's user avatar
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57 votes
6 answers
8k views

Did Microsoft really reserve secret APIs in Windows?

In the nineties when the antitrust case was building against Microsoft, various accusations of abuse of monopoly power were leveled against the company, some of which were proven true. One of the more ...
rwallace's user avatar
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57 votes
4 answers
10k views

Why is Ctrl-V the Paste shortcut?

We now casually use the Ctrl-C to Copy. We also use Ctrl-X to Cut. I understand this choice. We cannot reuse Ctrl-C and the 'X' represents a cross. Crossing something out on a sheet of paper was ...
Alexis Wilke's user avatar
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
55 votes
2 answers
8k views

How was the blinking terminal cursor invented?

I was just staring at my blinking terminal cursor: And was wondering where it comes from. Does anybody have some piece of history about the blinking cursor? I couldn't find much online. E.g.: when/...
Gohu's user avatar
  • 661
54 votes
8 answers
9k views

Why didn't early single-chip CPUs support multiplication instructions

Early single-chip silicon CPUs like the Zilog Z80 or MOS 6502 did not have a multiply instruction at all. Was this because the technology did not exist at the time to implement it, was it too ...
Bartek Malysz's user avatar
54 votes
11 answers
17k views

Why did trackballs disappear?

For a desktop computer, a mouse is a great pointing device. For a laptop if you don't want an extra device to keep track of, you need an alternative. The options I'm aware of: NubLow-tech, cheap, ...
rwallace's user avatar
  • 60.2k
54 votes
5 answers
12k views

Did the Apollo Guidance Computer really use 60% of the world's ICs in 1963?

This NASA webpage makes this claim about the Apollo Guidance Computer: By 1963, MIT - during the testing and development of the AGC Block I units - had ordered and consumed some 60% of the then ...
DrSheldon's user avatar
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53 votes
5 answers
16k views

Why did C have the return type before function names?

In general, there are two types of syntax of defining functions - Something like C, C++, C#, or Java (int functionName(char arg)) vs the ML (and others) tradition of defining the return type after the ...
Unix's user avatar
  • 1,553
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
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
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51 votes
4 answers
6k views

Was AGP only ever used for graphics cards?

Reading on the AGP spec, the little bits I've found on sites like AGP interface pinout and wiring @ old.pinouts.ru, say: The Accelerated Graphics Port (also called Advanced Graphics Port) is a high-...
Bryan Boettcher's user avatar
50 votes
9 answers
21k views

Why were floppy drives not any faster?

180rpm to 360 rpm, unlike 12000rpm on optical discs, was how fast floppy disks got. I am not sure, whether all drives had the same speed, but 360rpm is not close to the physical stress limitations of ...
neverMind9's user avatar
  • 1,749
50 votes
11 answers
12k 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
49 votes
7 answers
36k views

How could early UNIX OS comprise so few lines of code?

I start my journey to become a hardware / software specialist with an internship in two weeks time and decided to start studying the C language early. I came across this video, Learn C Programming ...
Neil Meyer's user avatar
  • 6,135
49 votes
7 answers
27k 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 ...
Biff Iam's user avatar
  • 2,169
49 votes
10 answers
11k views

Why did 1950s-60s computers have such wide words?

Modern general-purpose computers typically have a 64-bit word size, but looking back in time, we see narrower CPUs. In the early 80s, the 68000 dealt with 32-bit addresses but the ALU was only 16 bits ...
rwallace's user avatar
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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
  • 60.2k
49 votes
3 answers
6k views

How did varargs in C develop?

C has a feature for variadic functions, my understanding is this feature was originally a hack, relying on the simple stack-based parameter passing used by early C implementations and that some time ...
Peter Green's user avatar
  • 2,884
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
  • 25k
47 votes
8 answers
8k views

What was the first programming book

I'm curious, what was the first book, about programming for digital computers. I tried to google it, but it led me to multiple results. I'm mostly interested in the language it was about and the ...
Bálint's user avatar
  • 1,103
47 votes
3 answers
9k views

What's the relationship between early 90s Pentium microprocessor and today's Intel designs?

My simplified understanding of the evolution of the Intel processors over the last 20 years is that the Pentium II and Pentium III architectures were sort of "dead-ends", and today's Intel processors ...
Brian H's user avatar
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