For questions about the history of programming and computing.

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29
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5answers
2k views

When did the standard for packaging Linux source code become .tar.gz?

When browsing open-source projects that are primarily developed for Linux systems and downloading the latest packages, the source code is always stored in a .tar.gz or .tar.bz2 file. Is there any ...
29
votes
3answers
2k views

Why does the boolean type in C++ support ++ but not --?

Why does the operator -- not exist for bool whereas it does for operator ++? I tried in C++, and I do not know if my question apply to another language. I will glad to know also. I know, I can use ...
28
votes
14answers
4k views

Why isn't rich code formatting more common?

I was reading Code Complete and in the chapter on layout and style, he was predicting that code editors would use some sort of rich text formatting. That means, instead of code looking like this ...
28
votes
7answers
1k views

How did version control work on microcomputers of the day in the 80s and 90s?

I'm curious to know how programmer teams typically managed their software development back in the 80s and early 90s. Was all the source code simply stored on one machine which everyone worked on, or ...
27
votes
9answers
3k views

Why didn't “cloud computing” offer appear earlier?

Cloud computing is a model of renting resources - servers and data storage. Both servers and data storage have been around for much more than a decade so far. Yet cloud computing offers only appeared ...
27
votes
4answers
3k views

What is the origin of the negative term “legacy code”

Everyone talks about legacy code in software development and I have heard the term over the last ten years used to paint any codebase as being bad. Where did this term, which has such powerful ...
26
votes
4answers
2k views

What language was “standard” for Apple development before Objective C?

I don't think Objective C was in use from the beginning of Apple hardware development. What languages did app developers use for the earlier Apple computers, such as Apple II or Mac Classic?
26
votes
1answer
1k views

The Inglish parser (for The Hobbit 1982)

Was fascinated to read about the text adventure game The Hobbit which featured an incredibly robust parser called "Inglish": ...Inglish allowed one to type advanced sentences such as "ask Gandalf ...
26
votes
2answers
5k views

Why is Java boolean primitive type name not 'bool'?

Java has int and Integer boolean and Boolean This seems a bit inconsistent, why not either bool vs Boolean to use an established shorter name for primitive type? or integer vs Integer to ...
25
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2answers
7k views

What's the history of the non-official pronunciation of SQL?

SQL is officially pronounced as /ˌɛskjuːˈɛl/ like "S-Q-L", as stated in Beaulieu, Alan (April 2009). Mary E. Treseler. ed. Learning SQL (2nd ed.). Sebastapol, CA, USA: O'Reilly. ISBN 978-0-596-...
25
votes
2answers
8k views

Why was the percent sign (%) chosen as the format specifier for the printf family of functions?

Everyone knows that, at least in C, you use the printf family of functions to print a formatted string. And these functions use a percent sign (%) to indicate the beginning of a format specifier. For ...
24
votes
8answers
2k views

What is the etymology of the phrase “Source Code”? [closed]

With the movie "Source Code" just coming out today, I have had to explain the meaning of the phrase to non-techies. Then I was asked why source code is called source code and couldn't really answer. ...
24
votes
2answers
3k views

When did the term “snake case” come into use? [closed]

Many people use the term Snake Case to describe variables or other symbols with_the_form_of_underscores. In the past week, I've launched several broad searches. I can't find anything about the origin ...
23
votes
7answers
4k views

Why is filesystem preferred for logs instead of RDBMS?

Question should be clear from its title. For example Apache saves its access and error logs in files instead of RDBMS no matter on how large or small scale it is being utilized. For RDMS we just have ...
22
votes
7answers
3k views

What were the Design Patterns of the procedural programming era? [closed]

Similar: How was programming done 20 years ago? OOP is quite fashionable nowadays, having its roots in Simula 67 in the 1960s, and later made popular by Smalltalk and C++. We have DRY, SOLID, many ...
22
votes
5answers
3k views

Why do build tools use a scripting language different than underlying programming language?

I've recently been using some build tools for a Nodejs project at work when I realized that most languages' main build tool/system use a different language than the underlying programming language ...
22
votes
12answers
5k views

How did JavaScript become popular?

In ancient history, Brendan Eich had a language design, and in today's world, JavaScript is a popular language implemented and used in many different places. What caused the language to become ...
22
votes
3answers
3k views

“Ever change the value of 4?” - how did this come into Hayes-Thomas quiz?

In 1989 Felix Lee, John Hayes and Angela Thomas wrote a Hacker's test taking the form of a quiz with many insider jokes, as “Do you eat slime-molds?” I am considering the following series: 0015 Ever ...
21
votes
2answers
1k views

Who designed exceptions?

Where did exceptions and exception handling come from? I like how .NET uses it, I like how C++ supports it (but libraries unfortunately use return code or is written in C instead). I know its pretty ...
21
votes
4answers
646 views

How did programmers use networking to share expensive computer resources in the 60's and 70's?

I'm young and wasn't alive during the 60's and 70's to experience networking and programming as it once was. I have been watching some talks by Van Jacobson on Content Centric Networking, and in ...
20
votes
11answers
1k views

Is there a reason for initial overconfidence of scientists and engineers working on artificial intelligence in the 1960s?

I just started an AI & Data Mining class, and the book. AI Application Programming, starts off with an overview of the history of AI. The first chapter deals with the history of AI from the 1940s ...
20
votes
5answers
2k views

How did they debug segmentation faults before protected memory?

Now, when I make a programming mistake with pointers in C, I get a nice segmentation fault, my program crashes and the debugger can even tell me where it went wrong. How did they do that in the time ...
20
votes
1answer
1k views

Why do arrays in .Net have Length but other collection types have Count? [closed]

In C# for example, arrays have Length property. But other collection types like lists, etc. have Count property. Is there a reason why these two are different? If so I would like to know.
20
votes
5answers
2k views

What good reasons are there to capitalise SQL keywords?

There seem to be a lot of developers who write their SQL by capitalising the keywords: SELECT column FROM table INNER JOIN table ON condition WHERE condition GROUP BY clause HAVING ...
20
votes
1answer
5k views

What did they call Object-Oriented Programming before Alan Kay invented the term?

Alan Kay claims that "I made up the term "object-oriented", and I can tell you I did not have C++ in mind." What he had in mind, of course, was Smalltalk. But he did not make up object-oriented ...
20
votes
1answer
470 views

What is the origin of the C Preprocessor?

The C preprocessor is attached to C, but it has a completely different syntax from the main language: syntactically significant whitespace (end of line terminates a statement, gap after the macro ...
19
votes
6answers
3k views

Why do we call it “production”?

A coworker was wondering this today: "Why is it that in our industry 'production' means 'final, deliverable product'? You know, like if a movie is 'in production', it means they're currently filming ...
19
votes
3answers
2k views

What's the origin of foo and bar? [duplicate]

Possible Duplicate: Using “Foo” and “Bar” in examples I know AT&T labs used them in their Unix days, but do they have even deeper histories?
19
votes
5answers
5k views

Why are several popular programming languages influenced by C? [closed]

The Top 10 programming languages, according to the TIOBE index seem to be heavily influenced by C: 1. Java The language derives much of its syntax from C and C++ but has a simpler object model ...
19
votes
1answer
465 views

Where did “exit(-1)” come from?

I see in a lot of legacy software and bad tutorials on the Internet that recommend using exit(-1), return -1 or similar to represent "abnormal termination". The problem is, in POSIX at least, -1 has ...
18
votes
2answers
5k views

Why does C use the asterisk for pointers? [closed]

I'm just now learning about C. I find it odd that the creators chose the asterisk (*) as the symbol for pointers rather than a symbol that actually looks like a pointer (->). Considering how ...
18
votes
5answers
4k views

In what programming language did “let” first appear?

I was wondering about the origins of the "let" used in Lisp, Clojure, and Haskell. Does anyone know which language it appeared in first?
18
votes
6answers
4k views

What is the philosophy/reasoning behind C#'s Pascal-casing method names?

I'm just starting to learn C#. Coming from a background in Java, C++ and Objective-C, I find C#'s Pascal-casing its method-names rather unique, and a tad difficult to get used to at first. What is the ...
18
votes
2answers
2k views

Why is the Unix linker called “ld”

Tried to search the web and couldn't find an answer. It might have something to do with "load", but that doesn't make much sense to me. Obviously, "ln" was already taken, but where does that "d" come ...
18
votes
3answers
2k views

Why five dining philosophers?

I was wondering why the Dining philosophers problem is based on a five philosophers case. Why not four? I guess that we can observe all unpleasant issues that can occur when discussing five ...
17
votes
13answers
2k views

What features contributed to the evolution of Pascal?

I am compiling a detailed history of the Pascal language, and there are a few details I am missing. There are so many features today that we take for granted. What features significantly contributed ...
17
votes
6answers
736 views

Why did the web win the space of remote applications and X not?

The X Window System is 25 years old, it had it's birthday yesterday (on the 15'th). As you probably are aware of, one of it's most important features is the separation of the server side and the ...
17
votes
6answers
3k views

What made BASIC profitable? [closed]

In the 1970s, a man called Bill Gates developed an interpreter for BASIC: the Altair BASIC. Per my understanding, he was able to persuade the guy in charge of a microcomputer company to include the ...
17
votes
6answers
3k views

What came first, the compiler, or the source?

I'm curious about the birth of the compiler. How did programming begin? Did people first build hardware that recognized a certain set of commands, or did people define a language and then build ...
17
votes
3answers
2k views

Where did the convention of naming command line arguments as 'argv' come from?

It seems like Python, PHP, and Ruby all use the name "argv" to refer to the list of command line arguments. Where does the name "argv" come from? Why not something like "args"? My guess is that it ...
17
votes
6answers
1k views

How did programmers work back when a computer was very expensive, rare, as big as a room?

I assume they weren't able to sit in front of a computer for the whole day like we do today. So how did they write their program? On a piece of paper and type it later when the computer is available? ...
17
votes
4answers
2k views

What was the first hierarchical file system?

"Directories containing directories and files" seems to have been around forever, but there must have been a first.
17
votes
1answer
833 views

Where did the notion of 'calling' a function come from?

I've always wondered why one calls a function as opposed to, for example, executing it. A Google search for function call etymology and similar terms turns up nothing useful, Wikipedia doesn't ...
17
votes
1answer
2k views

Books and stories on programming culture, specifically in the 80's / early 90's [closed]

I've enjoyed a number of (fiction/non-fiction books) about hacker culture and running a software business in the 80's, 90's. For some reason things seemed so much more exciting back then. Examples are:...
16
votes
9answers
2k views

What were the reasons why Windows never had a decent shell? [closed]

I was reading a topic on SO: Why are scripting languages (e.g. ...) not suitable as shell languages?. Especially I liked the answer by Jörg W Mittag, from which I learned interesting things about ...
16
votes
6answers
9k views

Why pointer symbol and multiplication sign are same in C/C++? [duplicate]

I am writing a limited C/C++ code parser. Now, multiplication and pointer signs give me really a tough time, as both are same. For example, int main () { int foo(X * p); // forward declaration ...
16
votes
4answers
1k views

Why is mod (%) a fundamental mathematical operator in many programming languages?

Is there a reason, historical or otherwise, why the modulus operator is part of a small set of standard operators in what seems like many languages? (+, -, *, / and %, for Java and C, with ** in Ruby ...
16
votes
1answer
618 views

In what programming language did the use of the percent sign (%) to mean modulo/remainder originate?

In what programming language did the use of the percent sign (%) to mean modulo/remainder originate? This previous post1 explains that the symbol % was likely chosen because it includes a slash, ...
15
votes
2answers
5k views

Who was the first programmer?

Is there some consensus among historians on who was the first programmer ever? If so, who was it and what were they programming on? I find it more interesting to know more about the pioneers of ...
15
votes
2answers
5k views

Is the 14th line of The Zen of Python a reference to Dijkstra?

Python's Zen states on line 14 that: Although that way may not be obvious at first unless you're Dutch. Is this a reference to the famous Dutch computer scientist Edsger W. Dijkstra?