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

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Was any commercial end-user software written in PROMAL?

PROMAL is a procedural programming language from the 1980s. Its designer, Systems Management Associates, released compilers for the Commodore 64, Apple II, and IBM PC. The language and development ...
Psychonaut's user avatar
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57 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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8 votes
1 answer
862 views

What did the Big Red Button actually do on the IBM 4341? [duplicate]

Wiktionary explains the origin of the term molly guard: Originally a Plexiglas cover improvised for the Big Red Switch on an IBM 4341 mainframe after a programmer's toddler daughter (named Molly) ...
DrSheldon's user avatar
  • 16.4k
10 votes
1 answer
585 views

Nontrivial B program

I have been able to find very little about the B programming language online. the predominant resources seem incomplete, particularly in regards to standard library functions. I have not been able ...
les-citrons's user avatar
3 votes
2 answers
459 views

Did any 8-bit disk drive screen off the hardware? [closed]

The Commodore 1541 floppy drive was a separate computer in its own right, with its own 6502 CPU. It was designed that way because they were basically copying the design from the Vic, partly due to a ...
rwallace's user avatar
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6 votes
2 answers
548 views

Were there any square monitors other than PLATO?

The PLATO multiuser interactive computer system used – and indeed invented for this purpose – a plasma display, whose key selling point in the late sixties was that it did not need refresh, therefore ...
rwallace's user avatar
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28 votes
3 answers
5k views

The two types of Return keys on keyboard layouts

Why have these two types of Return keys persisted to this day? A quick look at different keyboards from different keyboard manufacturers from today shows the Shift-style Return seems to have more ...
raspi's user avatar
  • 383
18 votes
1 answer
2k views

How long did plasma displays persist?

I'm reading a book called The Friendly Orange Glow, about the PLATO multiuser computer system developed by the University of Illinois in the late sixties, which is fascinating at several levels as a ...
rwallace's user avatar
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-4 votes
3 answers
324 views

Why did so few early computers have video output? [closed]

Why was the serial terminal the dominant modality for interactive computer input and output up until the rise of desktop systems, with no earlier widespread adoption of the design later used by ...
brainchild's user avatar
9 votes
2 answers
710 views

Which linker or object-file format imposed the 6-character restriction on external names?

It's my understanding that the reason that external identifiers in portable C programs had (still have?) to be unique in the first six characters is that six 6-bit characters¹ fill a 36-bit machine ...
Toby Speight's user avatar
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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
17 votes
2 answers
773 views

Why did the 8080's PUSH PSW write one reserved bit as 1 and the other two as 0?

The x86 "flags" register, which holds condition codes and other processor status bits, has several reserved bits with fixed values, but these fixed values are not all the same. In ...
zwol's user avatar
  • 449
16 votes
2 answers
1k views

When did argument types first appear in formal argument lists?

Following on from this popular question about K&R-style argument specification, in which we discussed the history of routines with formal argument lists not including type information (i.e., as in ...
dave's user avatar
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9 votes
2 answers
2k views

Did Commodore ever produce gray colored Commodore 64?

The Commodore 64 was produced for a 12 years from 1982 to 1994. It had several iterations of case color, keyboard color & keyboard labels, badge etc. Commodore was famous for using whatever parts ...
wizofwor's user avatar
  • 2,978
41 votes
4 answers
7k views

When was this C function definition style, with type declarations of parameters after the parameter list, invented?

Recently I dug a little bit into old graphics libraries and found libxmi. The site was last updated on 08/09/2000. And in the source code I found the following style of function definitions which I ...
hefe's user avatar
  • 669
18 votes
4 answers
4k views

Is this Votan voice assistant from 1984 a real system?

This clip from BBC Archive allegedly shows a computer that can do voice recognition, speaker recognition and speech synthesis with minimal delay in 1984. I find that hard to believe, they must have ...
AndreKR's user avatar
  • 333
30 votes
10 answers
7k views

What happened to all those Unix workstations in the '90s?

Around the early to mid '90s it seems there was a trend for high-end workstations running some form of Unix, and running a RISC or at least some kind of non-x86 architecture. For example: Sun ...
Meatwad's user avatar
  • 373
21 votes
2 answers
4k 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. ...
Leo B.'s user avatar
  • 19.4k
2 votes
1 answer
348 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 ...
rwallace's user avatar
  • 63.1k
5 votes
1 answer
780 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 ...
DrSheldon's user avatar
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18 votes
3 answers
3k 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 (...
Brian H's user avatar
  • 60.9k
30 votes
3 answers
8k 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 &...
komodosp's user avatar
  • 1,046
15 votes
2 answers
2k 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 (see EDIT below), but some of my ...
Tonny's user avatar
  • 366
24 votes
8 answers
8k 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'...
Piovezan's user avatar
  • 421
7 votes
2 answers
1k 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.
Anixx's user avatar
  • 1,547
8 votes
1 answer
427 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" ...
Wheelmagister's user avatar
14 votes
4 answers
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 ...
Abdullah Ibn Fulan's user avatar
10 votes
2 answers
1k 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 ...
rwallace's user avatar
  • 63.1k
7 votes
1 answer
543 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=...
rwallace's user avatar
  • 63.1k
4 votes
1 answer
506 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 ...
rwallace's user avatar
  • 63.1k
6 votes
0 answers
393 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 ...
infomtn's user avatar
  • 287
-1 votes
3 answers
365 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,...
infomtn's user avatar
  • 287
14 votes
3 answers
4k views

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 ...
rwallace's user avatar
  • 63.1k
16 votes
3 answers
822 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 ...
Alex Hajnal's user avatar
  • 9,390
20 votes
1 answer
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. ...
dave's user avatar
  • 36.3k
9 votes
2 answers
670 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 ...
rwallace's user avatar
  • 63.1k
8 votes
1 answer
351 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 ...
Brian H's user avatar
  • 60.9k
11 votes
1 answer
2k 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 ...
rwallace's user avatar
  • 63.1k
12 votes
1 answer
1k 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 ...
timbitsaregood's user avatar
10 votes
4 answers
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 ...
Kaz's user avatar
  • 1,660
17 votes
1 answer
593 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 ...
Adám's user avatar
  • 668
2 votes
0 answers
221 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 ...
rwallace's user avatar
  • 63.1k
5 votes
1 answer
568 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 ...
rwallace's user avatar
  • 63.1k
2 votes
1 answer
286 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 ...
rwallace's user avatar
  • 63.1k
1 vote
2 answers
553 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 ...
Neil Meyer's user avatar
  • 6,899
11 votes
2 answers
2k 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 ...
rwallace's user avatar
  • 63.1k
6 votes
4 answers
2k 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 ...
rwallace's user avatar
  • 63.1k
21 votes
5 answers
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 ...
rwallace's user avatar
  • 63.1k
19 votes
2 answers
2k 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 ...
rwallace's user avatar
  • 63.1k
4 votes
2 answers
1k views

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 ...
Leo B.'s user avatar
  • 19.4k

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