Stephen Kitt
  • Member for 5 years, 9 months
  • Last seen this week
It's now safe to turn off your computer
Accepted answer
167 votes

TL;DR: it took a long time (on PCs) because the industry wasn’t ready to push it. Scroll down to “Why did it take so long?” for details. Shutdown screens That screen comes from Windows 95 and its ...

View answer
Why does part of the Windows 98 Setup program look older than the rest?
Accepted answer
140 votes

Basically, because it is running under Windows 3.1 at that point. Windows 98’s setup process goes through three main phases, in three different operating environments; each one installs the operating ...

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

Turbo Pascal programs start by calibrating a delay loop (so that the Delay function knows how much to spin to achieve a certain delay). The calibration counts the number of times a certain loop is run ...

View answer
Why did some old MS-DOS games lack the ability to exit them?
123 votes

Paratrooper was originally a “PC booter”. All PC booters run without DOS or any other operating system¹ — to start them, you would insert the floppy into the drive, and switch the computer on (or ...

View answer
What character is the MS-DOS cursor?
Accepted answer
120 votes

The text-mode cursor isn’t a character, it’s managed separately by the video output circuitry (which is how it keeps blinking even when your computer is busy or locked up). It can be enabled or ...

View answer
How was copying prevented when the first CD-ROM games were introduced?
Accepted answer
111 votes

When CD-ROM games were first introduced, game developers didn’t take any measures to prevent users from copying them, for two main reasons: CD-ROMs could contain more data than most hard drives at ...

View answer
Why is Windows using CR+LF and Unix just LF when Unix is the older system?
Accepted answer
106 votes

This is covered largely in the history section of Wikipedia’s entry on newlines. Basically there are two primary lineages of operating systems leading to modern-day desktop usage: Windows on the one ...

View answer
On DOS computers, what would the PARK command do?
Accepted answer
103 votes

Hard drives have read/write heads which fly above the spinning disks when the drive is powered. When power is removed, the heads no longer fly... For a long time now, the arms which hold the heads ...

View answer
What key factor led to the sudden commercial success of MS Windows with v3.0?
90 votes

There were a number of factors involved. Windows 3.0 introduced a more refined user interface than available in Windows 2.0: more colours, proportional fonts everywhere, smaller icons, and MDI ...

View answer
Could you reverse engineer silicon just by looking at it?
84 votes

With a powerful enough microscope, you can see each transistor. Reverse-engineering silicon then boils down to carefully removing each layer (ceramic or plastic to expose the chip, then each metal ...

View answer
What's the story behind the name "X11"?
Accepted answer
82 votes

The short version is that X11 was the first widely-disseminated version, and it turned out to be good enough to remain as-is for thirty years. X is the X Window System, which at its core is a ...

View answer
How much better was DEC Alpha than contemporaneous x86?
Accepted answer
81 votes

The Alpha team set out to create a high-performance architecture, planned to last for 25 years and allow for 1000-performance increase over those 25 years. So they placed some long bets, starting with ...

View answer
Why do keyboards have an asterisk key?
80 votes

Keyboards have an asterisk because typewriters did, long before computers existed. Typewriters, particularly mechanical ones, typically made a number of compromises to reduce the number of keys ...

View answer
Who set the 640K limit?
Accepted answer
79 votes

There was a 640K limit on the original IBM PC, but it was the result of IBM’s design decisions, and nothing to do with Microsoft: it’s the largest contiguous amount of memory which can be provided ...

View answer
Is there any code in Firefox (as of 2020) that comes from Netscape Navigator?
Accepted answer
79 votes

A number of components still present in Firefox date back to the first code drop in 1998 and were probably present before that. One of these is nsprpub, the NetScape Portable Runtime library, and it ...

View answer
Exactly what color was the text on monochrome terminals with green-on-black and amber-on-black screens?
Accepted answer
78 votes

Based on the phosphors used for green and amber screens, this answer on Super User gives the following values: i.e. #FFB000 for dark amber, #FFCC00 for light amber, and variations around #33FF33 or #...

View answer
Intel CPU bug in the '90s
Accepted answer
75 votes

I suspect your teacher was referring to the FDIV Pentium bug, which led to a large outcry in the media at the time and for which Intel issued a recall. This bug caused floating-point division to ...

View answer
Were later MS-DOS versions still implemented in x86 assembly?
Accepted answer
75 votes

C did exist when DOS was developed, but it wasn’t used much outside the Unix world, and as mentioned by JdeBP, wouldn’t necessarily have been considered a good language for systems programming on ...

View answer
How exactly did Windows become the OS of the home PC?
Accepted answer
74 votes

The short version is that Windows became the de facto operating system thanks to Microsoft’s business acumen (or shenanigans, depending on your point of view), marketing, skilled developers, a strong ...

View answer
When was the famous "sudo warning" introduced? Under what background? By whom?
Accepted answer
72 votes

The message appears in sudo’s revision control (in its current guise) in June 1993, in the University of Colorado version of sudo, in a slightly shorter form: We trust you have received the usual ...

View answer
How do DOS games like DOOM benefit from a PCI graphics card?
Accepted answer
71 votes

DOOM itself doesn’t do anything special to benefit from PCI graphics cards. It runs faster with PCI graphics cards (and VLB, AGP, and PCI Express cards) than with ISA graphics cards because the ...

View answer
Who is credited for the creation of Assembly Language?
Accepted answer
70 votes

According to Wikipedia, the first assembly language was developed in 1947 by Kathleen Booth (née Britten). The language doesn’t look anything like “modern” assembly though (see the end of this paper); ...

View answer
Why did C have the return type before functions?
Accepted answer
70 votes

Dennis Ritchie’s paper on The Development of the C Language gives some idea of the reasoning behind this: namely, the fundamental rule in C that declaration syntax should match expression syntax. For ...

View answer
Dealing with oversized files decades ago? Data transfer in the age of floppy disks
70 votes

Forty years ago, a 7MB file would be unheard of, at least in contexts where floppies would be the only available means of transferring it. (Tapes were commonly used for large transfers on minis and ...

View answer
Were any of the books mentioned in this scene from the movie Hackers real?
Accepted answer
69 votes

As indicated on IMDb, the books are Green: International UNIX Environments, probably part of POSIX or The X/Open Guide. Orange: Trusted Computer System Evaluation Criteria, part of the Rainbow Series ...

View answer
Which "very esoteric processor instructions" are used by OS/2?
67 votes

As far as I’m aware the difficulty in virtualising OS/2 isn’t due to esoteric processor instructions, but rather esoteric processor features. Specifically, OS/2 uses all the protected mode features ...

View answer
Why are the symbols on the number keys of PC & Mac keyboards different to ASCII keyboards?
Accepted answer
67 votes

It all dates back to typewriters, but the two layouts aren’t ASCII v. non-ASCII, they’re mechanical v. electric. The !" etc. layout was common on mechanical typewriters, based on the layout used for ...

View answer
What warning was given on attempting to post to USENET, circa 1990?
Accepted answer
63 votes

The message was This program posts news to thousands of machines throughout the entire civilized world. Your message will cost the net hundreds if not thousands of dollars to send everywhere. ...

View answer
Why did computers use a power supply with a socket?
62 votes

The socket (or rather inlet) is most definitely standard, it’s a IEC 60320 C14 inlet. The standard was published in 1970. C6 and C8 are commonly used for laptop power supplies and smaller audio ...

View answer
What did AOL use for pre-web GUI client?
Accepted answer
60 votes

AOL provided (and still provide) their own client, which — at least back then — was called “America Online”. This was available on a variety of platforms, including DOS: (based on GeoWorks) and ...

View answer
1
2 3 4 5
15