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Questions tagged [history]

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

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38 votes
4 answers
8k views

What motivated stack being invented originally?

In the very early days (the earlier the better! Babbage maybe?) when something like a stack was developed, what motivated it originally? I am aware that these days it makes many features possible, ...
BipedalJoe's user avatar
36 votes
8 answers
7k views

Did they forget to add the physical layout to the USB keyboard standard?

USB keyboards must have been one of the first devices that could be connected to a USB port. When you are from the US it's possible that you have never faced this problem. But in all other parts of ...
zomega's user avatar
  • 5,372
28 votes
8 answers
8k views

Why did x86 support self-modifying code in the 80s and 90s?

In this question, by 'self-modifying code', I mean software that writes to a section of code that the CPU will very soon fetch and attempt to execute. I am not here talking about the software ...
rwallace's user avatar
  • 63.1k
16 votes
1 answer
3k views

Was any DRAM ever slower than 2 MHz?

4096-bit dynamic RAM chips were commonly used for main memory in microcomputers of the late seventies. According to the Mostek MK4096 datasheet, it was sold in various speed grades, with the slowest ...
rwallace's user avatar
  • 63.1k
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 ...
user51462's user avatar
  • 521
16 votes
7 answers
3k views

Was any indentation-sensitive language ever used with a teletype or punch cards?

Most programming languages delimit block structure with punctuation e.g. { ... } or keywords e.g. begin ... end. However, some languages such as Python and Haskell delimit it with indentation (...
rwallace's user avatar
  • 63.1k
13 votes
2 answers
1k views

When did the natural number of branch delay slots become greater than 1?

Some early RISC CPUs had branch delay slots, the theory being that this would make the CPU both cheaper and faster; you could omit some interlock circuitry, and at the same time, in some cases, ...
rwallace's user avatar
  • 63.1k
27 votes
5 answers
5k views

Did underclocking the early Z80 chips improve yield?

The Z80, one of the most successful and well-known of the 8-bit microprocessors, was released in July 1976 at an initial clock speed of 2.5 MHz. The TRS-80 Model I, released the following year, is ...
rwallace's user avatar
  • 63.1k
2 votes
3 answers
424 views

did people already connect computer with other computers (like a LAN/Intranet) before ARPANET/NPL that sparked the Internet? [closed]

As far as I understand ARPANET and NPL shared the goal to make data transmission scalable and reliable over large distances between many computers/networks. Of course to make the internet today, ...
cozycoder's user avatar
  • 131
4 votes
2 answers
3k views

What was the last Mac in the obelisk form factor?

In the 80s, most home computers had the CPU and keyboard in a single unit with monitor and disk drive separate; most business computers had the CPU and disk drives in a 'desktop' horizontal case (...
rwallace's user avatar
  • 63.1k
9 votes
1 answer
2k views

What is the meaning of asctime?

I see asctime in C, C++ and Python. What does the abbreviation mean? All those functions of max 8 characters are pretty obvious (strcpy e.g.) but this one eludes me. Is it ASCII time? Is it 'as ctime' ...
Michiel van der Blonk's user avatar
23 votes
6 answers
9k views

Why was video, audio and picture compression the poorest when storage space was the costliest?

"Full-motion video" sequences in PC and console games in the 1990s were bad-looking, in spite of taking huge amounts of storage space. Same thing with random short video clips that I ...
Romalis's user avatar
  • 281
4 votes
1 answer
241 views

When did Turing's results become impactful in computer science? [closed]

Turing was working on a mathematical problem, not a computational one, and computers of a sort existed before his work. At what point did the researchers working on computers realize that Turing's ...
Michael Stachowsky's user avatar
31 votes
2 answers
9k views

Did Forth's inventor Charles Moore really write a CAD program in only 5 lines of code?

In wiki.OSDev.org, they talk about Forth's inventor Charles Moore and you have the following statement: Charles Moore, inventor of Forth, wrote a CAD program which was structured around just 5 lines ...
aybe's user avatar
  • 7,112
12 votes
6 answers
10k views

What was the original unix font?

I'm looking for a font for a tattoo. I don't have any preferred font so I thought using the original Unix font could be a great reference to the great history. Can't find any reliable information ...
user avatar
3 votes
0 answers
328 views

First Computer built by a single person [closed]

Who was it that built the first functional electronic computer as a single-person effort? It must have been back in the mini-computer era, 1970 or so, but who was it?
Seti Net's user avatar
  • 131
26 votes
2 answers
3k views

What innovation helped CD-ROM speeds increase exponentially?

Early CD-ROM drives were considered both expensive and slow (in comparison to HDDs). This limited their adoption until around 1992, when both the prices fell and the speeds increased dramatically. In ...
Brian H's user avatar
  • 60.9k
12 votes
6 answers
5k views

How was the first release of Java (JDK 1.0) used?

Foreword: I am not trying to accomplish a task using this technology but rather asking about the specific use cases of the very first release, out of curiosity. Was Java used for anything else other ...
Ethicist's user avatar
  • 223
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
13 votes
3 answers
2k views

At what point did computing go from mainly performance- and functionality-oriented to security-oriented? Why? [closed]

I realize this question may have a different answer for each field of computing (enterprise vs. business vs. personal vs. field equipment), but there should still be an objective point in time where ...
ArrayBolt3's user avatar
30 votes
3 answers
4k views

What exactly did the "UNFORMAT" MS-DOS command do?

I found only this: The UNFORMAT command is used to undo the effects of formatting a disk. The command is available in MS-DOS versions 5 and later. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/...
P. Molet's user avatar
  • 301
10 votes
1 answer
1k views

What kind of printer is shown in the opening title sequence for the movie Desk Set?

The movie Desk Set opens (see here for a clip) with a close-up of a computer printer which is pre-loaded with paper containing the film's opening credits. While the printer doesn't appear to actually ...
supercat's user avatar
  • 37.6k
3 votes
1 answer
382 views

Mark IV - information please

I have in my library a copy of "Mark IV systems : Application Development Systems : Pocket Specifications Manual" by Informatics Inc. I can find very little about this, only a generalised ...
user avatar
31 votes
2 answers
3k views

What "spectacular to watch" algorithms were used for sorting tapes?

Python's heapq.__about__ variable contains an anecdote (François Pinard, circa 2000): [1] The disk balancing algorithms which are current, nowadays, are more annoying than clever, and this is a ...
wizzwizz4's user avatar
  • 18.7k
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
13 votes
1 answer
450 views

Was there a hard disk type that had a SMART overflow crash/bug?

A data center employee told me a story about 25 years ago, explaining why that data center took some time to assemble a RAID array. Recently, I wasn't able to verify the facts by googling, and I may ...
Guntram Blohm's user avatar
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 ...
user3840170's user avatar
  • 23.2k
13 votes
2 answers
4k views

Why does OpenGL use counterclockwise order to determine a triangle's front face by default?

OpenGL by default determines a triangle to be facing towards the camera if the triangle's vertexes are ordered in a counterclockwise order from the perspective of the camera. This seems to have been ...
virchau13's user avatar
  • 233
39 votes
3 answers
5k views

Why are assemblers called assemblers?

We tend use the term assembler as if there is a fundamental implication of being different from a compiler. This disparity is usually taken as a fact, no matter how sophisticated or primitive either ...
Raffzahn's user avatar
  • 228k
3 votes
1 answer
389 views

Which system had the first desk accessories?

Many early operating systems were single-tasking. However, sometimes small programs were developed that could share the system and user interface with a main program. Examples include Borland ...
DrSheldon's user avatar
  • 16.5k
11 votes
1 answer
529 views

How did the MC6800 get its name?

The 68000 was allegedly named for its (approximately) 68k transistors, and to imply some sort of relation to Motorola’s first microprocessor, the 6800. But then how did Motorola pick the name “6800”?
Jacob Krall's user avatar
  • 2,299
11 votes
4 answers
2k views

Did any hardware-supported floating-point format ever fast-track integers?

The floating-point format on the ZX Spectrum has the unusual feature of special-casing small integers: Why does Sinclair BASIC have two formats for storing numbers in the same structure? There are ...
rwallace's user avatar
  • 63.1k
40 votes
3 answers
12k views

What was the first operating system to be called an "operating system"?

According to Wikipedia, the first operating system was GM-NAA I/O, produced in 1956 by General Motors' Research division for its IBM 704. According to Merriam-Webster and Etymonline, the term "...
hippietrail's user avatar
  • 6,918
10 votes
1 answer
614 views

What's the story behind IBM's SKU numbers?

Big Blue IBM seemingly since forever is using a fixed numbering scheme for all their parts, where every little thing, dingus and gizmo is labeled with the so-called IBM SKU#. It's always in the form: ...
Micropolis's user avatar
14 votes
2 answers
4k views

What was the first software company to go public?

I'm trying to determine which was the first purely software company to launch an IPO on a major stock exchange. By this I mean a company whose revenue comes directly from software unit sales, rather ...
Brian H's user avatar
  • 60.9k
1 vote
0 answers
443 views

Where does Hello World come from? [closed]

Where does the concept of the first program programmers learn to do is print hello world to the console originate from? This seems to be a tech tradition as old as the mountains? Where does the ...
Neil Meyer's user avatar
  • 6,899
26 votes
2 answers
5k views

Which software was the first to use copy protection?

While researching early magnetic storage around 1980, I've come to ponder if we know of the first piece of software on removable media that employed copy protection? The Wikipedia article mentions ...
Micropolis's user avatar
8 votes
3 answers
3k views

Why didn't the original Commodore PET computer use a standard typewriter style keyboard?

Being a huge fan of Commodore, I've often wondered why Commodore would use such a horrible keyboard layout for their premier computer utilizing an alpha-numeric keyboard. My only guesses would be ...
Hitek's user avatar
  • 927
10 votes
1 answer
1k views

What did Shin Nihon Kikaku (SNK) originally manufacture in 1973?

The company SNK was originally Shin Nihon Kikaku, founded in 1973. What did Shin Nihon Kikaku originally manufacture in 1973? I would assume some sort of primitive computers or calculators, but ...
Hitek's user avatar
  • 927
9 votes
1 answer
979 views

Was there a compression program based on the Mayne-James algorithm?

Before the advent of Lempel-Ziv family compression algorithms, there was an algorithm for "Information compression by factorising common strings" by A. Mayne and E. B. James (1975), based on ...
Leo B.'s user avatar
  • 19.4k
33 votes
2 answers
3k views

When and why was the question mark chosen to abbreviate PRINT?

In many dialects of BASIC, the PRINT statement can be abbreviated with a single question mark when entering programs or direct-mode commands. So instead of typing PRINT "HELLO, WORLD" you ...
Psychonaut's user avatar
  • 7,681
22 votes
4 answers
5k views

What was the first programming language with generics?

To belatedly celebrate the release of Go 1.18, I ask the question: what was the first programming language with support for generics? For concreteness (to prevent anyone trying to weasel out with ‘...
user3840170's user avatar
  • 23.2k
3 votes
1 answer
387 views

What was the first personal computer store in Australia?

In the US, the personal computer revolution was kickstarted by mail order, which is the channel through which the Altair was sold. However, it did not take long for the new industry to be augmented ...
rwallace's user avatar
  • 63.1k
11 votes
1 answer
536 views

Why was Paperback Writer renamed to Pocket Writer?

I was a big fan of Digital Solutions Inc.'s Paperback Software, a Commodore 64/128 productivity suite that featured an interoperable word processor (Paperback Writer), spreadsheet (Paperback Planner), ...
Psychonaut's user avatar
  • 7,681
17 votes
2 answers
1k views

Can I really change standard operator priorities in ALGOL 68?

In Algol 68, I can declare the priority (precedence) of an operator-symbol: prio @ = 5; (Higher number means higher precedence). I can apparently redefine the priorities of built-in operators: ...
dave's user avatar
  • 36.3k
5 votes
1 answer
408 views

Why did Dennis Ritchie write that UNIX was a modern implementation of CTSS? [closed]

At the Tenth Hawaii International Conference on the System Sciences in 1977 Dennis Ritchie presented the paper The Unix Time-sharing System: A retrospective in which he states: ...a good case can be ...
Knickers Brown's user avatar
15 votes
2 answers
2k views

What information was "off limits" to IBM PC clone BIOS authors?

Back in the PC clone days the accepted legally defensible method of selling a non-IBM PC BIOS was using a "clean room" whereby an engineer who had never been exposed to proprietary IBM ...
640KB's user avatar
  • 1,357
27 votes
6 answers
9k views

Why did Western designs suddenly overtake native Russian ones in the USSR?

In the USSR there flourished some very interesting machines, including the БЭСМ and МЭСМ lines, the Сетунь, the ЭВМ Стрела and others. Maybe the most famous ones are БЭСМ-4, which is said to have ...
Omar and Lorraine's user avatar
4 votes
1 answer
268 views

Who were the members of the IEEE 754 working group?

The IEEE 754 working group began meeting in 1977, produced a draft standard for floating-point arithmetic by the beginning of the eighties, and had it formally ratified in 1985, by which time it was ...
rwallace's user avatar
  • 63.1k
32 votes
7 answers
5k views

Did any PC software floating point use non-IEEE format?

During the 1980s, prior to the 486 (well, strictly speaking, prior to the discontinuing of the 486SX in the nineties), IBM PCs and compatibles had hardware floating point only in the form of an ...
rwallace's user avatar
  • 63.1k

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