The Stack Overflow podcast is back! Listen to an interview with our new CEO.

Questions tagged [history]

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

Filter by
Sorted by
Tagged with
52
votes
4answers
9k 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 ...
34
votes
7answers
11k views

Why did Commodore 64 cartridge games disappear?

The Commodore 64 has a cartridge slot, but by the mid-eighties, cartridge games disappeared; everything was on tape or disk. Why? One answer that suggests itself is that by that time, a larger ...
16
votes
5answers
5k views

Why plastic cases?

Early computers of the 'all in one' form factors, such as the Commodore PET, the early IBM microcomputers and later models of the TRS-80, as well as the 'box' form factors such as the Altair, used a ...
0
votes
2answers
386 views

Is emulation ultimately the future of retro computing? [closed]

As you probably know, nothing really lasts forever in the human-made world of appliances, especially electronic ones. Whether it stems from market evolution, technical advancements, newer paradigms, ...
42
votes
20answers
14k views

How were files transferred between different systems in the late 1980s?

Today there are adapters available allowing you to connect historic floppy drives to a modern PC. This allows you to copy data from historic floppy disks to the PC. In the late 1980s and the early ...
10
votes
1answer
493 views

Can we express the instructions to the Analytical Engine in terms of assembler or machine code?

On a recent trip to the London Science Museum I saw Babbage’s Analytical Engine. Apparently this had an ALU (or equivalent). I can build an ALU out of logic gates but I can’t conceptualise how to do ...
6
votes
4answers
610 views

What was the 2nd best selling computer ever? [closed]

It's widely known that the Commodore 64 was the best-selling single model of personal computer. Which computer make & model got second place? To clarify, I'm looking for an objective answer about ...
10
votes
3answers
2k views

Why did expert systems fall?

Wikipedia gives a good summary of the AI winter of the late eighties and early nineties (the qualification is necessary since there has been more than one). Some aspects of it are clear enough, but ...
11
votes
7answers
1k views

Can I build a working(ish) vacuum tube byte?

This is a somewhat odd question. I teach a course on media history, and spend some time talking about digital data towards the end. I am interested in building a device to illustrate some basic ideas ...
7
votes
5answers
895 views

Power of university computer in the '70s?

I have run into a condensed-matter-physics research paper published in 1973, from the Physics Department of Rutgers University, NJ, USA. The paper provides some numerical computations of condensed-...
6
votes
2answers
528 views

What system pioneered displaying masking characters for password entry and why?

On the mainframe OSes I was familiar with, and on UNIX to that day, when there is a prompt for a password in "text mode" (a command line session), the echo is suppressed, and there is no visual ...
7
votes
3answers
714 views

Was there any particular reason the 6502's LDX#imm and LDY#imm aren't opcodes A8 and AA?

Parts of the 6502 opcode map are fairly regular, and parts of it aren't. One bit that strikes me as really weird is the decoding of LD_ instructions, in relation to the decoding of other ALU ...
38
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
271 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
501 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
412 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
422 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
561 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
972 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
votes
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
554 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
votes
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
votes
2answers
690 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
595 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
636 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
516 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 ...
44
votes
9answers
17k 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
6k 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
267 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
167 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
255 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
416 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 ...
9
votes
3answers
902 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
480 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
149 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
8k 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
506 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
847 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 ...
69
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 ...