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420
votes
8answers
221k views

Why did moving the mouse cursor cause Windows 95 to run more quickly?

I was playing Hypnospace Outlaw, a game about a retro-themed OS. This OS has a peculiar behavior that when loading a webpage, wiggling the mouse cursor will load the page faster. That reminded me of ...
181
votes
4answers
44k views

What algorithm did Microsoft use to dither colour in early versions of Windows?

In the late 1980s to mid 1990s, most consumer-class video hardware was not capable of displaying greater than 16 colours at a time. To create the illusion of greater colour, software often "blended" ...
160
votes
1answer
27k views

Why does trying to break into the NT 3.1 kernel reboot my 486DX4 machine?

I installed Windows NT 3.1 on a Compaq ProSignia 3080 system, because of several reasons: I know that this machine was running Windows NT 3.1 when it was in productive use. And I think this machine ...
135
votes
6answers
18k views

Why is the keyboard and cellphone / telephone numbers in a different order?

Cellphone / Telephone have the seven bottom-left and the one top-left. While the keyboard has the seven top-left and the one bottom-left How did this come to be? Is there an interesting computing ...
132
votes
4answers
41k views

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 ...
120
votes
2answers
21k views

How did Commodore's anti-Microsoft Easter Egg work?

A couple years ago the Toronto PET Users Group published an article (The Great Commodore/Microsoft Easter Egg War, on p. 7) about a newly discovered anti-Microsoft Easter Egg that Commodore hid in the ...
107
votes
22answers
38k views

Was there ever any reason to wait 30 seconds to restart a c.1995 PC?

I owned a PC in the mid-to-late 90s, and while everyone said when you turn it off and back on again, count to 30. But it also had an instant reset button down below. Was there ever really any risk ...
107
votes
7answers
25k 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 ...
106
votes
5answers
24k views

How can tilting a N64 cartridge cause such subtle glitches?

When the N64 cartridge is tilted in Super Mario 64, it reliably produces glitches such as this. Mario's limbs disappear, he rotates 90° and sinks into the floor, and the music gets messed up (usually ...
102
votes
16answers
23k views

Does "Disk Operating System" imply that there was a "non-disk" Operating System?

In the 1980's at primary school we saw MS-DOS and DR DOS competing before Windows 3.1 and subsequent releases took over that space. At home we had Apple II's which booted up to a BASIC prompt. On ...
97
votes
17answers
24k views

How was early randomness generated?

Many programs make use of randomness, from BASIC guess-the-number games to encryption key generators. This randomness could have been generated in many, many different ways: hardware, software, ...
97
votes
9answers
36k views

Why do C to Z80 compilers produce poor code?

When reading some other questions about compiling C for the Z80, How much benefit should be expected on a more advanced compiler for z80/r800 based computers? Native C compiler for Sinclair ZX ...
95
votes
19answers
20k views

How did people use ed?

ed was the standard Unix editor, and is present on all POSIX certified systems (though it's not installed by default in Debian, FWIW). It's a line editor (meaning, you can't see all the text at a ...
95
votes
7answers
28k views

Why would a NES game use an undocumented 1-byte or 2-byte NOP in production?

Reading the NESdev wiki page on CPU unofficial opcodes, I see a few games use an undocumented 2-byte NOP instuction in production: Puzznic, F-117A Stealth Fighter, and Infiltrator use $89 #i. Beauty ...
95
votes
6answers
10k views

Were there 8086 coprocessors other than the 8087?

The 8087 math coprocessor for the 8086 (and descendants) nominally added floating point and transcendental (trigonometric and logarithmic) instructions to the 8086. Contrary to naive expectations, the ...
95
votes
1answer
28k views

Why did MS-DOS applications built using Turbo Pascal fail to start with a division by zero error on faster systems?

On faster MS-DOS systems, it wasn't entirely uncommon for applications built using Borland's Turbo Pascal to fail to start, and (before exiting back to the command prompt) to report a division by zero ...
87
votes
20answers
19k views

Have programming languages driven hardware development?

Programming language development has been influenced by hardware design. One example from this answer mentions how C pointers were, at least in part, influenced by the design of the PDP-11. Has the ...
87
votes
11answers
12k 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 ...
87
votes
3answers
21k views

Why does part of the Windows 98 Setup program look older than the rest?

When installing Windows 98, the part of the setup process where you enter things like product details looks... different. The scrollbars, buttons, title bar and such look more like they belong in ...
84
votes
18answers
18k views

Why was BASIC built into so many operating systems?

There are a lot of retro-computers with BASIC as an integral part of the operating system. The IBM 5100 was one of the first computers with a separate memory space for BASIC, followed by the Commodore ...
84
votes
6answers
22k views

Exactly what color was the text on monochrome terminals with green-on-black and amber-on-black screens?

I am wondering what were the color shades and brightness of the text appearing on classic monochrome terminals? If I were to recreate approximately the green-text-on-black-screen or amber-text-on-...
83
votes
9answers
19k views

Why did modems have speakers?

Everyone who used early telecommunications services, not to mention the early dial-up Internet services, is familiar with the tones and hissing sounds of a modem establishing a connection. I recall ...
83
votes
2answers
14k views

How did Windows 3.1 implement multitasking?

Windows in its earliest days was simply a shell that ran on top of MS-DOS, which means that Windows 3.1 itself was actually just a standard MS-DOS application like any other. Yet, MS-DOS is not a ...
82
votes
3answers
20k views

Why does the Minus World exist?

In Super Mario Bros. for the NES and Famicom there exists a secret world, accessible by clipping through a wall to the first warp zone and entering the left-most pipe. This pipe will take you to ...
81
votes
2answers
31k 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 ...
78
votes
9answers
25k 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 ...
78
votes
9answers
14k 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 ...
77
votes
12answers
18k 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 ...
76
votes
9answers
11k views

Why is the processor instruction called "move", not "copy"?

Many processors have an instruction called "move" (sometimes spelled MOV) which copies data from one location (the "source") to another (the "destination") in registers and/or memory. It does not do ...
75
votes
7answers
9k 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 ...
74
votes
4answers
15k views

What made Windows Me so crash-prone?

Many people remember this operating system as not exactly a walk in the park, namely that it could crash as early as during the installation phase or at unexpected times when the user wasn't doing ...
73
votes
14answers
18k views

Did any 8-bit computer system / OS have concepts for concurrency and multitasking like we know from today?

So, today all major OS support multitasking and concurrency in languages like for instance threading. The Amiga seems to be the first home computer which has advanced concepts in this area. But had ...
72
votes
8answers
19k 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 ...
72
votes
7answers
13k views

Why wasn't ASCII designed with a contiguous alphanumeric character order?

Anyone who has dealt with strings at a low level (e.g., writing a parser in C), knows that doing so tends to involve frequent checks of—either manually, or through isalpha(), isalnum(), etc—whether a ...
72
votes
7answers
36k views

Why was the Kickstart 1.x "Insert floppy" graphic so bad?

Anyone who used an pre-Kickstart 2.0 Amiga will be very familiar with the "Insert Workbench floppy" image: I realise that this is subjective, but the image has always stuck me as ... well, a bit ugly....
72
votes
8answers
22k views

How much better was DEC Alpha than contemporaneous x86?

The DEC Alpha, released in 1992, seems like an early implementation of a fully 64-bit microprocessor architecture. Its release led to quite a bit of both marketing hype and genuine vendor support in ...
70
votes
3answers
9k views

Why did Unix use slash as the directory separator?

The Unix designers came from the GE/MIT Multics project, and Multics inspired some Unix features. In particular, Multics has a hierarchical filesystem, and so does Unix. On Multics, pathnames were of ...
69
votes
2answers
14k views

Why does the infamous "ENGAGERIDLEYMOTHERFUCKER" Metroid password break NES emulators?

For those who are unfamiliar, the original NES Metroid was one of many NES games to use passwords as a means to save progress. Later, this password system was leveraged to create unusual effects in ...
67
votes
12answers
18k views

Did Apple not originally allow anyone to develop software for the Macintosh?

This probably nearly belongs on Skeptics.SE but here goes. Within the last few years I've become an Apple convert for the most part, which occasionally brings me into (usually) good natured conflict ...
66
votes
5answers
15k views

Why did C use the -> operator instead of reusing the . 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 ...
66
votes
5answers
9k views

Back in 1984 I wrote some games for Spectrum - Will they still be playable?

Back in 1984, I was commissioned to write some games for ZX-Spectrum. They were sold together. To my amazement I found that someone is selling a copy online. I thought of buying it but it is in the ...
66
votes
10answers
15k views

How was C ported to architectures that had no hardware stack?

Thinking about machines such as the PDP-7, PDP-10, CDC-160 and so on1, these are machines which do not have a stack pointer which can quickly and easily change to point to a new stack frame, like the ...
66
votes
4answers
23k views

Why is Windows using CR+LF and Unix just LF when Unix is the older system?

Windows and MS-DOS use the control characters CR+LF (carriage return, line feed) for new lines, while Unix uses just LF. As far as I know CR+LF made sense for systems controlling a real teletypewriter,...
66
votes
7answers
18k views

Which Linux or BSD distributions do still support i386, i486 or i586 CPUs?

Unfortunately Debian kicked out Pentium 1 (i586) CPU support from its 32-bit PC port (named i386 for historic circumstances) for its next stable release Debian 9 Stretch. (Then again they complain ...
65
votes
3answers
14k views

What character is the MS-DOS cursor?

The cursor used on my 486 (and Pentium 3) in MS-DOS 6/7 has a thick underlined character. I cannot find that in code page 437. The underscore character is the closest to it, but is thinner. Where ...
65
votes
7answers
15k 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 ...
64
votes
2answers
9k 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: ...
64
votes
1answer
4k views

How do I extract the program from the Radiohead "Nude" tribute by James Houston?

One of my favorite videos ever is a tribute to Radiohead "Nude" by James Houston. I have never seen the program in the video available to download, so I've just made an attempt to extract it myself. ...
63
votes
10answers
8k views

What makes accurate emulation of old systems a difficult task?

Thanks to a lot of passionate and skilled people, we can emulate pretty much any retro platform today. For most people they perform well enough, but in fact, a substantial amount of these emulators ...
63
votes
3answers
13k views

Why did DOS use dollar-terminated strings?

According to a few tutorials I am seeing, DOS used dollar-terminated strings to write to the terminal. This seems to also be documented here on INT 21H. AH = 09h - WRITE STRING TO STANDARD OUTPUT ...

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