Questions tagged [history]

For questions concerning the history of computers, digital electronics, hardware manufacturers and software developers.

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37
votes
3answers
7k views

Why does nobody attempt to build Charles Babbage's Analytical Engine?

The Difference Engine was built in the 90s. Why has nobody succeeded in building the Analytical Engine? Charles Babbage designed the Analytical Engine as a general-purpose computer to succeed his ...
28
votes
3answers
11k views

Why were early computers named “Mark”? [closed]

I have seen many examples, Harvard Mark 1, Manchester Mark 1, Colossus Mark 1 and 2. It is possible that this is a very obvious thing for native English speakers, but not entirely for me. Was this an ...
8
votes
1answer
267 views

Did Charles Babbage design three Difference Engines?

At the British Science Museum they have four different models of Charles Babbage’s difference engines (including his designs). The display implied that he had at least three different designs. This ...
8
votes
1answer
486 views

Is S-100 alive?

1) Is S-100 still supported or available for serious home brew? Does anyone still actively sell new boards, cases, designing, support, etc? If not, then about what year did S-100 development stop? 2) ...
10
votes
2answers
408 views

Why Game controllers changed from righthanded to lefthanded?

Why are video game and computer joysticks of the seventies and early eighties right-handed (eg. Atari 2600, Odyssey 2, Apple II), and game pads, since Nintendo Entertainment System to today, all left-...
14
votes
1answer
418 views

Zilog's relationship with Mostek

The Wikipedia page on Mostek, one of the original fabricators of Z80 chips, includes the following claim: When Vin Prothro, President, and L. J. Sevin, Chairman of the Board, discovered that ...
16
votes
2answers
547 views

When did README files start showing up in software?

Everyone knows how important documentation is -- for a project to grow past a certain point, it's a must-have. However, almost every software project of any size nowadays comes with at least a README ...
6
votes
3answers
933 views

A different kind of sprite system

Early consoles and home computers that were optimized for games, often provided sprites. From the viewpoint of a game developer, these were good to have, though one always wanted bigger sprites, to ...
6
votes
4answers
1k views

What is the (usually lower quality) “software rendering” mode visible in so many “second-generation” FPS games?

During a conversation, a friend of mine sent me this picture: It's the first Thief (I guess), with so-called software rendering. I already experienced this effect in Quake 1-2 and to an extent, in ...
45
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5answers
13k views

Why did C have the return type before functions?

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 ...
22
votes
1answer
4k 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,...
3
votes
1answer
1k 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 ...
7
votes
5answers
542 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 ...
18
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2answers
4k 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.
6
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2answers
672 views

Who were the first engineers to “cleanroom” the IBM PC BIOS?

In the first season of the AMC show Halt & Catch Fire, the protagonist "Cameron Howe" is introduced. Cameron portrays a rookie engineer who is recruited for being extraordinarily talented, and is ...
12
votes
6answers
2k views

Why did tactile-feedback keyboards lose popularity?

IBM spoiled me for hardware quality. I've gone through many computers, including a TRS-80, Heathkit H-89, Commodore Vic-20 and C-64, and countless PC's but my first original IBM PC will always be my ...
1
vote
1answer
593 views

Where was MS-DOS used? [closed]

How widely was MS-DOS used? Was it globally, or just in some specific places? Were there any regional substitutes used more commonly, and if so, what were they?
4
votes
4answers
607 views

When did the Z80 compatibles reach very high clock speed?

In the early eighties, the Z80B and Z80H at 6 and 8 MHz respectively, were released. In 1985, the Hitachi HD64180 reached 10 MHz (with some enhancements such that it seems to be reckoned the ...
2
votes
4answers
2k views

Why were teletype printers not used for DOS computers?

Prior to the introduction of DOS in 1981 teletype printers were probably the most common hardcopy printer being used - usually in govt, educational or research facilities. When DOS arrived, teletype ...
19
votes
2answers
2k views

How widely used was 0xDEADBEEF?

Inspired by some comments on the question "The history of the NULL pointer":- There was a practice in the '70s to use the hexadecimal code 0xDEADBEEF to indicate an invalid value. This could be to ...
23
votes
3answers
4k views

Why did 80x25 become the text monitor standard?

Prior to the 1981 release of the IBM PC, the VT105 (72x20 1971), VT52 (80x12 1974), and VT100 (80x25 1978) text terminals were used on many Unix machines and the PDP11 (probably the most widely used ...
11
votes
1answer
495 views

Where was the Willowsoft Overture File System (OFS1) used?

While chatting about data recovery, an obscure filesystem came up. It apparently claimed the MBR partition ID 0x20 and was named "Willowsoft Overture File System (OFS1)". In the modern world, it seems ...
43
votes
9answers
16k 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 ...
30
votes
4answers
5k views

Did any computers use the Z80B?

The Z80 was one of the most popular CPUs of the seventies and eighties. In almost all cases that I know of, the version used was the Z80A, rated for 4 MHz, sometimes clocked a little slower in order ...
4
votes
1answer
259 views

How many units did the Victor 9000 sell?

According to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sirius_Systems_Technology the Victor 9000 aka Sirius 1 was "the most popular 16-bit business computer in Europe, especially in Britain and Germany," though ...
6
votes
1answer
163 views

Component cost in historical ads versus wholesale

To get an idea of how much various components such as CPUs, RAM chips, disk drives and monitors historically cost, and therefore how those costs influenced design decisions that were made, a good ...
3
votes
2answers
248 views

With better character handling capability, why didn't PC-98 system succeed in rest of East Asia?

From my understanding, an important advantage PC-98 have over IBM compatible PC was that it is better at handling ideograph based characters which are common in East Asian countries. Why didn't other ...
2
votes
0answers
415 views

What was the first game to use humorous progress updates? [closed]

I've recently downloaded Futurama: Worlds of Tomorrow on my phone, and I noticed it has a progress bar with humorous messages in it (it usually loads fast enough for only two messages to appear). Two ...
8
votes
3answers
868 views

When did CPUs start using page mode DRAM?

According to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dynamic_random-access_memory#Page_mode_DRAM Page mode DRAM is a minor modification to the first-generation DRAM IC interface which improved the ...
4
votes
2answers
476 views

Manufacturing cost breakdown for a 16-bit computer

The dynamics of the market, of what platforms end up being used at what times in what contexts, depend not only on what is technically possible, but even more on what can be done for what price, so ...
3
votes
1answer
141 views

ST-506 price: wholesale or retail?

The ST-506 was an early personal computer hard disk, introduced in 1980 with a capacity of 5 megabytes and a price of $1500. While several sources confirm the price, I haven't been able to find ...
29
votes
4answers
7k views

Why (historically) include the number of arguments (argc) as a parameter of main?

A comment on this answer to a StackOverflow question made me curious. According the C99 standard, section 5.1.2.2.1: The function called at program startup is named main. The implementation ...
11
votes
1answer
3k views

First computer with LCD screen

The Toshiba T100, the company's first laptop computer, shipped in 1982 with an LCD screen of 80x25 text resolution: http://oldcomputers.net/toshiba-t100.html Was this the first computer ever to have ...
1
vote
1answer
500 views

Amiga versus Atari ST computer introductions [closed]

I'm interested in the time, place and manner in which some historically important computers were introduced to the world. For example, the Macintosh was presented in January 1984 by Steve Jobs, first ...
10
votes
2answers
809 views

Apple II GS versus Mac Plus cost

I just came across a fascinating video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7h4tepFbMso&t=78s which makes a coherent case - I don't feel I can pass a final verdict on whether he's right or wrong, but a ...
68
votes
6answers
8k views

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 ...
0
votes
1answer
172 views

PC for DMV knowledge test - since when? [closed]

I was watching a movie License to Drive (1988) where the character was doing a DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) knowledge test on an interactive software on a PC. I was a bit surprised that such ...
18
votes
6answers
1k 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 ...
15
votes
6answers
3k views

Reason for popularity of Apple IIGS

According to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apple_IIGS the Apple IIGS, in its year of introduction, outsold the Macintosh, without being substantially cheaper than it. This is somewhat counterintuitive:...
9
votes
4answers
2k views

Was Family BASIC for the NES/Famicom powerful enough to create full games and applications?

"Family BASIC or Famicom BASIC is the consumer product for programming Nintendo's Family Computer video game console of Japan." wikipedia I can't seem to find much info about Family BASIC ...
5
votes
2answers
557 views

Maximum size of 8-bit computer cartridges

What was the largest cartridge produced, or possible, for any 8-bit home computer? That is, the later 8 or 16-bit console cartridges could be surprisingly large, up to several megabytes in some cases,...
31
votes
8answers
9k views

Why do articles use the term “UART” instead of “serial port”?

I am learning about old computers, and I have found the following image from this article: They use the terms "UART" instead of "serial port" and "UART driver" instead of "serial port driver", I have ...
26
votes
5answers
5k views

Why did Commodore sell CPUs to its competitors?

Many of the most popular personal computers and video game consoles of the 1970s and 1980s, including those made by Commodore, Apple, and Atari, used the 6502 CPU (or some close relative, such as the ...
7
votes
1answer
560 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™), ...
5
votes
1answer
783 views

How was the Microsoft PDP-10 8080 emulator developed? [closed]

Altair BASIC, the first version of Microsoft BASIC, was developed using an Intel 8008 emulator, modified to emulate an Intel 8080, running on a PDP-10 computer. This emulator was originally designed ...
4
votes
1answer
359 views

Cost differential between 2 and 4 MHz RAM chips in 1982

The most common speed of the 6502 was 1 MHz, allowing the use of 2 MHz RAM chips (half the bandwidth went to the video chip to refresh the screen). In 1982, the BBC Micro shipped, with double speeds ...
8
votes
4answers
719 views

Video chip for hypothetical 1988 arcade game

I have a project where I aim to create a retro arcade game cabinet, the technology would be ~1988. For now I am planning to only simulate the system on my PC in order to develop the game. The ...
4
votes
1answer
232 views

Primary manufacturers of picture tubes for early monitors

Which companies were the most important manufacturers of picture tubes for monitors (both monochrome and color) in the seventies and eighties? That is, it's easy enough to find lists of monitors by ...
2
votes
1answer
680 views

What was the first commercially available computer with ECC memory?

In the early days of computing, memory error detection and correction was either non-existent (Wikipedia tells of Seymour Cray famously saying "parity is for farmers" when asked why he left it out of ...
10
votes
6answers
2k views

Sound chips in 1977

By the early eighties, there were a variety of off-the-shelf sound chips suitable for use in home computers and arcade games. What about 1977? That seems to have been just a little early; I'm not ...