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What Was The First Computer Operating System?

Cliff posted more than 13 years ago | from the delving-into-history dept.

News 247

somethinsfishy asks: "A shell and a kernel is a fine description of a 'primitive' OS, but back in the days of vacuum tubes and mercury delay lines, a programmer had to be intimately familiar with the hardware. No source I've seen in print or on-line definitely says 'x' is the first OS. I've looked. This seems like it could be a grey area. Any thoughts?"

cancel ×


Languages (1)

Xenophon Fenderson, (1469) | more than 13 years ago | (#828756)

Well, it would have supported at least FORTRAN, and I think Lisp was developed on a 7040 or a 7090.

Rev. Dr. Xenophon Fenderson, the Carbon(d)ated, KSC, DEATH, SubGenius, mhm21x16

Re:The first operating system was... (1)

mikfer (3266) | more than 13 years ago | (#828758)

No, VSE/ESA, which is a direct descendent of DOS/VSA, is still sold and supported by IBM.

Also, the OS/390 does *not* have a Unix Kernel, but it can support a POSIX compliant program program (TCP/IP, Hierarchical directories, etc.) under OS/390. Yes, you can do Unix development on a mainframe, under a mainframe operating system, and recompile that application under Unix.

Re:what is really sad... (1)

mikfer (3266) | more than 13 years ago | (#828759)

Yup, mainfames still use JCL. They also,

- use REXX and CLIST as batch scripting languages, giving the mainframe user access to any feature hosted on the box (batch processes, LU6.2 and TCP/IP communications, etc.)

- support transnational networks with a single point of control.

- support 200 to 300 simultaneous users with 10 to 15 large scale batch processes all running concurrently.

- support tetra-byte size databases with response times measured in single seconds.

- etc., etc., etc.,

PC's never took over. PC's added to the mix and skill set that professionals learn and understand.

Re:Win95 (1)

linuxci (3530) | more than 13 years ago | (#828760)

hehe, that's straight out of the Bill Gates marketing book! At least Bill knew that his was the first internet ready OS, the UNIX systems that were on the internet before then just weren't ready for it were they? IE2 was also ahead of its times with support for things like the marquee tag which made Netscape innovations such as frames and tables.

Ahh well you can tell from your post you were taking the piss. Mark the AC as funny :)

Re:Speling? (1)

Psiren (6145) | more than 13 years ago | (#828763)

Well, they do have to post up to ten stories a day. Sometimes even three or four per person. That's a story every, what, 2 hours? Whew, what a workload. Glad I'm not doing it.

Resident monitor !!!! (1)

peril (11405) | more than 13 years ago | (#828768)

I don't think this is a really easy question to answer. Originally, jobs were scheduled by a person, where the whole machine was available to one program at a time, and you had a person manually entering jobs on cards. This person was replaced with a program which scheduled the programs called "The Resident Monitor". AFAIK, this was the first job control program, but this is the stuff that led to developing OSs, certainly not a full fledged OS in and of itself.

Re:Well in a few years time... (1)

Vapula (14703) | more than 13 years ago | (#828774)

Nothing wrong with it. twm is still great when low CPU load is needed. And it is very easy to configure.

X-Window + twm is, IMHO, more powerful than MS Windows. But who do still remind twm ? everybody knows MS Windows, even if they don't own a computer or own a MAC/Unix station.

That's how the history is written, by what the people know well... The less known facts are shadowed by the most known. Even if that lead to inaccurate information...

Most of the people forget that steam engine was discovered by the greeks, BC. (steam machine from Heron). The ancient greek did use science for amusement only. It was funny, not useful. Even if in mathematics we use very often the fact that only one line may contain 2 given points, who still think of this as one of the Euclide's postulates ? It's something that everybody know as "common sense" and don't try to put a name on it.

What is an OS (1)

redbird (24548) | more than 13 years ago | (#828780)

A lot of this comes down to what we might consider an OS. If kernel and shell is it, Unix is my best guess (though I haven't much knowledge of pre 1970s computers). In my mind, an OS just provides the basics of software to hardware interactions, and anything else that it does is just fluff. When I install Debian, I don't think that all the software that comes with it is the OS; I don't even think that everything on the base#.tgz is the OS (if you've never installed over PPP or with disk, you probably never had to use the base install).

A fine description of a "PRIMATIVE" OS (1)

draggy (30660) | more than 13 years ago | (#828786)

Is that an OS for Primates? If it includes monkeys, then Microsoft BOB is the answer to your question.

Good luck with your spell checker 2000!

Let's not all suck at the same time please

Re:Technically... (1)

unapersson (38207) | more than 13 years ago | (#828790)

If the universe were like Windows it would have crashed aeons ago...

Re:But what is an OS anyway? (1)

dmaxwell (43234) | more than 13 years ago | (#828794)

I always thought `OS' meant a program used to run other programs. If we define it that way, who wrote the first program loader?

Think of old 8-bits that came with basic and some routines built into the ROMS; the TI 99/4A and Atari 800s come to mind as somewhat modern examples. The Atari for instance, had routines to display characters and even to fill shapes in the OS but had no DOS unless it bootstrapped one in. Just how primitive can you make this sort of thing and still have the computer "boot" itself to a semi-usable state?

Re:I've found it! (1)

jimfrost (58153) | more than 13 years ago | (#828801)

Given that a lot happened that year, it's not really clear that the IBM is the first. But Atlas, same year, was certainly the most advanced, pioneering quite a lot of the features that wouldn't appear elsewhere for a decade or more.

jim frost

wow... what happened to fact checking (1)

operagost (62405) | more than 13 years ago | (#828803)

That link has some good screenshots... but damn, they have a lot of misinformation on there! They confuse WFW with Windows 3.11, think 5.25" floppies help 380K instead of 360K, etc.

Re:Screenshots (1)

psergiu (67614) | more than 13 years ago | (#828807)

Try getting win1.01 from The Keep [] . Wonder if it will autodetect my 3d accelerated video card ?

(hint all - do not /. - bookmark and come back l8r)


Microsoft (1)

CMU_Nort (73700) | more than 13 years ago | (#828809)

Wait, didn't the great innovators at Microsoft create the first OS? Surely there was nothing filling the great void until they came along. Not only did they create the first true OS (DOS), but they created the first user-friendly GUI'd OS (windows). I thought everyone knew this. Don't you read they're press releases?

First OS (1)

MontSegur (75369) | more than 13 years ago | (#828810)

my buddy, ClevertronAl, has decided that the first OS was whatever source code that was copied from the first computer program to the second; no matter what the actual hardware (or wetware?) was.

Re:Asck Slashduth (1)

ForceOfWill (79529) | more than 13 years ago | (#828812)

The only word he had an opprtunity to spell correctly was "asks" and he did. The rest was provided by someone who asked the question. Should he really change someone else's words?

Must be... (1)

riggwelter (84180) | more than 13 years ago | (#828814)

Surely it would be Windows 3, ummm, 95, that is, I meant to say 98, which of course was a joke, I meant to say 2000, just testing, it was ME.

Good job we have M$ to invent computing for us every couple of years eh?


Re:Speling? (1)

sykik (87357) | more than 13 years ago | (#828817)

Of course you shouldn't complain until you actually read the article. The word they're using is "definitively," not "definitely."

Re:Well in a few years time... (1)

Pao|o (92817) | more than 13 years ago | (#828822)

It's already happening now. You can't get on the Internet without using Internet Explorer, can't download mail without Outlook/Outlook Express, not use free e-mail without Hotmail or chat on IRC without mIRC (that's Microsoft Internet Relay Chat to the public at large).

The graPH
Substance that makes techies tick []

Think of the Abacus! (1)

Andrew Dvorak (95538) | more than 13 years ago | (#828823)

Does the abacus not include Bead Calculation Technology (BCT)? So why must we all mock it? It has an excellent UI that was designed thousands of years ahead of its time. You had the option of programming even in binary (should the bead go to the left or the right?)

Re:Screenshots (1)

dwarfking (95773) | more than 13 years ago | (#828824)

I had a copy of Windows 286 (came in the box with a mouse). Was it before or after Windows 1.0?

Re:Before 1950s (1)

dingbat_hp (98241) | more than 13 years ago | (#828825)

I'd agree with your general point that OS (and indeed Disk OS) were around in the '50s, long before OS/360.

OTOH though, The Zuse ABC machine never had anything that resembled a monitor, let alone an OS.

Re:Screenshots (1)

Ravagin (100668) | more than 13 years ago | (#828828)

I volunteer in the used book sale room of my local library... occasionally we get donations of old software, and being the only computer geek around, I often take home the DOS stuff to mess around with on my DOS machine. Ocassionally there's something cool (Walls of Rome, Wing Commander), but the other day we ended up with what appeared to be an unopened windows 2.0 box. I decided against it onthe grounds that win3.1's interface was clumsy enough; now, looking at those screenshots people provided, I'm really glad I did. :)

older stuff (1)

Rower227 (105028) | more than 13 years ago | (#828830)

I found a link to an article about a lot of old computers and their (often proprietary) operating systems...mainly 8-bit systems. The article is kind of long, and there's a lot of hardware issues that are worked into the discussion, but there's some neat OS stuff in there.
There doesn't appear to be much out there about any old mainframe father used to use a mainframe in college (late 1960s...punchcards and all) and claims that he doesn't recall what the OS was. Oh well, what else would you expect from a business major? =) []

Re:The earliest OS I know of is Unix. (1)

Ashran (107876) | more than 13 years ago | (#828832)

I've watched BUGS (that UK TV-Show) today while beeing bored. They used a lot of laptops etc .. all loaded with Windows 3.11 =) and one of the computers was "Full MXX, 100 Gigs of removeables HD and 10 gigs ram" .. and guess what it was running ;) Must be fun to have Drives A-Z. And 10 Gigs ram are a lot.. but if you are only able to utilize 640k of it ;)

Re:Not an easy one, this (1)

Vanders (110092) | more than 13 years ago | (#828833)

Yes, i'm aware of JCL and it's function. I dunno why i included. There was some point i was going to make about it, but i've forgoten what it is now.

Now, MVT is a new one on me. Time to hit Google methinks.

Re:But what is an OS anyway? (1)

Vanders (110092) | more than 13 years ago | (#828834)

No, that doesn't count. A programable machine does not mean it had an Operating System. The easiest way to define and OS is "a low-level software abstraction layer that seperates the function of the hardware from the application". This usually means you have a set of device drivers, and a kernel to provide basic functions.

The Colossus certainly didn't have that. :)

Re:what is really sad... (1)

Vanders (110092) | more than 13 years ago | (#828835)

This is one reason why PCs took over from the mainframes.

And of course, having a mainframe on your desk would be a pain. Bill Gates visions of "A mainframe on every desk" wouldn't be much to aim for either.

Re:Technically... (1)

Vanders (110092) | more than 13 years ago | (#828836)

Maybe it did. Is that why the sky is blue? BSOD : Blue Sky Of Death. Aaaargh!

Re:Screenshots (1)

markbthomas (123470) | more than 13 years ago | (#828840)

I think Windows 286 was windows 2.1, which had two versions: one for the 286 and one enhanced for the new 386 processer

Re:According to UC Berkeley (1)

hashdot (124699) | more than 13 years ago | (#828841)

Fact - the first operating system must have been on the first computer and I'd say the abacus would most likely have been first.

Re:Screenshots (1)

pallex (126468) | more than 13 years ago | (#828843)

thats horrible. Looks like Gem on the st, same font and everything!

Re:Th Annals of the History of Computing (1)

pallex (126468) | more than 13 years ago | (#828844)

I saw a quote on a post at /. the other week, but the ability to search /. is crap.

it was something like ` i had to fix a bug in my code and i realized the possibility that my code wouldnt work first time and i`d spend hours of my life debugging programs`. i think it was dated 1956. i could be wrong.

any ideas who/when etc...?

Re:Asck Slashduth (1)

dabadab (126782) | more than 13 years ago | (#828846)

Another guy mentioning the awful spelling got +3 insightful. And I think it is worth to have your voice to be heard not only closely on topic, but also on "meta-topics" (such as bad spelling on the front page)
BTW, I DO have moderator access right now, too bad I can't moderate myself ;)

Perhaps I should submit the question in my original post and then I could do on-topic posting :)

Re:Screenshots (1)

chrischow (133164) | more than 13 years ago | (#828851)

real l33t d00d!

funny... i prefer that UI to W95!

now the best was running Windows 3.0 in B&W CGA mode...

CP/B (1)

dpilot (134227) | more than 13 years ago | (#828852)

Control Program for Babbage?

Required a minimum of 50 gears and 100 toggles in order to run. 15 wheel graphical display.

Re:The earliest OS I know of is Unix. (1)

luckykaa (134517) | more than 13 years ago | (#828853)

But, couldn't it have been NT 3.5? I think Bugs is great - the way half the time they seem to have some technological accuracy, and half the time they come up with ludicrous ideas that make no sense at all.

Re:But what is an OS anyway? (1)

Farq Fenderson (135583) | more than 13 years ago | (#828854)

My first encounter with the words 'Operating System' also involved the word 'disk'. My point is, in my mind, an OS is simply a System used to Operate the computer.

What we refer to now as an OS and what once was an OS are likely terribly different things. MSDOS wasn't the only Disk OS or DOS. I remember TRSDOS, among others. DOSen generally would perform basic disk maintenance as well as loading programs from disk into memory, to be executed. It's more likely that the first OS had no application library features and was simply a media control system.

define an OS (1)

jeff_bond (135948) | more than 13 years ago | (#828855)

I reckon a simple program like a monitor/debugger could be classed as an operating system. It would have some sort of command input, and let you control and observe the behaviour of the system.

I doubt if anything as complex as this could have run on a vacuum tube machine though.


Re:But what is an OS anyway? (1)

jeff_bond (135948) | more than 13 years ago | (#828856)

An OS only needs to provide a library of function calls to applications to control the basic features of the hardware it's running on. It's got nothing to do with GUIs, command lines etc. These are all just applications running on the OS.

Lots of appliances have OS's in them. eg. mobile phones, video recorders, digi cameras etc.


Oh my god!!!... Please don't remind me!.. (1)

CptnHarlock (136449) | more than 13 years ago | (#828857)

And I actuallty had to use that sh*t!.. When I saw those screenshots my stomach tried to kill me.. My eyes tryed to escape.. My heart tryed to end the pain... jeezus... Gotta go get some fresh air..
"No se rinde el gallo rojo, sólo cuando ya está muerto."

Re:Well in a few years time... (1)

pe1rxq (141710) | more than 13 years ago | (#828860)

What is wrong with twm?????
I still use it, it even runs good on an old 386.


First OS (1)

Duke of Org (147376) | more than 13 years ago | (#828868)

This has tooken Eons of Deliberations by my giant computer, but I would say it is safe to say the First Os was...."42"

Re:Screenshots (1)

Boone^ (151057) | more than 13 years ago | (#828869)

Wasn't it... 320x480x16 was what it displayed, but you had to edit/create one at 640x480 as it was horizontally halved (640 -> 320) at runtime. It didn't runtime alias real well either. :P It took a while before I figured out that I should edit at 320x480, then double it, then let windows shrink it.

Technically... (1)

TheLocustNMI (159898) | more than 13 years ago | (#828876)

If you really think about it, the first OS has been the Universe, and the Universe seems a lot like Windows. Ever since 'booting' (ie big bang) since the 'epoch' (0 seconds afterward), it has slowly grown bigger and bigger, and no one really knows when it will stop. However we are all pretty sure that it will come crashing down and have to be rebooted sometime in the future.

Not the first, but it's the best! (1)

Suzuran (163234) | more than 13 years ago | (#828879)

[Slashdot ate the tabs! Darn!]


Salvager 215


SN ITS.1631. DDT.1513.
You're all alone, Fair share = 75%

(ITS does not know the date, so messages cannot be reviewed right now.)

[Log ends here]

Long Live the Incompatible Timesharing System! ^_^
(Of course, I bet that's too old for all you UNIX types to remember...)

Re:Screenshots (1)

DrData (173937) | more than 13 years ago | (#828886)

Here. [] Ain't Google wonderful.

Re:Win95 (1)

DavidOgg (200113) | more than 13 years ago | (#828895)

Windows 95 does not have a built in TCP/IP stack.

Amiga had true (TRUE true) 32 bit multitasking in 1985, (and there IS no 16-bit code on the Amiga, NONE, 95 has 16 bit crap all over it)

Plug and Play was only needed because the platform sucks, I never needed IRQ's for my devices on my Amiga or my Quark.

Breaking new ground? The only thing Microsoft broke was wind.

Re:Win95 (1)

SomeoneGotMyNick (200685) | more than 13 years ago | (#828896)


That's the truth.

When I got my Amiga, and for a period of time was selling Amigas, I would demonstrate the video/audio/multitasking capabilities to people who came in the store (Electronics Boutique). Of course, the clueless drones would look at it running a full speed animation, then try to find out where we hid the VCR. That's the general reaction of those who unloaded a large sum of money for an IBM compatible with CGA graphics. I'm pretty sure their reactions to the Amiga were jealosy ridden. They would say things like "Well, I don't need that..."

Months later after they spend more money on sound cards and VGA, they would be like "Look what I've got. Great graphics and sound." My first experience in computer founded hypocracy.

I've always enjoyed people's reactions that my 7MHz processor could allow me to download files and watch an anim at the same time (Oh, and drag the window down for a second to check the DL status without interrupting the anim). Their 386-16's were breaking sweat on anything that was done.

The simple math is.... (1)

twisteddk (201366) | more than 13 years ago | (#828898)

That You should define an OS, as HARDWARE INDEPENDANT. We all know it usually isn't, but in the "early days" it was revolutionary when Intel though up the x86 architechture that truely allowed programmers to reuse their code on new machines, regardless of the "new and improoved" CPU/harddrive/whatever. In "the old days" we (Ok, my brother did the most work) had to rewrite all code for a new CPU, even a new network interface would screw things up. The microcode interface was REVOLUTIONARY (It still is if You ask me), as the old instructions would just be interpreted difrently, but do the same thing they've always done.

Though I do not know which was the actual FIRST OS to implement these changes, I know the first machine we got to work on with this interface was an IBM mainframe.

Re:Th Annals of the History of Computing (1)

w00ly_mammoth (205173) | more than 13 years ago | (#828900)

Yeah, that was von Neumann. I think the quote you're referring to comes from a time magazine article on him written by Nathan Myrhvold (top 20 inventors of the century or something), search for "godel" and stuff, you'll find it on time's site.

Re:Win95 (1)

Questy (209818) | more than 13 years ago | (#828903)

You *can't* be serious... UNIX was running around the beaches of computerdom in the late 60's to early 70's with all the above features included. these days.....

monitors (1)

Pink Daisy (212796) | more than 13 years ago | (#828908)

I'd say that monitors on punch card systems probably constituted the first OS's. Simple, primitive, and not providing the services of modern OS's, but still. I'm just saying this because it's the first organized step that my OS prof gave in his "history and motivation of the OS" lecture, though. I don't consider an individual program that runs nothing but itself to be an OS, and that's all that I can think of preceeding such systems.

Re:The earliest OS I know of is Unix. (1)

maslow no.4 (215100) | more than 13 years ago | (#828910)

Hum, your not entierly correct...

See to begin with, windows 3.11 was written to run in dos and dos was only written to run on a 32 bit processor. It was never ported to a 64 bit processor (that I've every heard of). Since a 32 bit processor can ony address 4 GB of ram, i hightly doubt that the machine in question either a) was running windows 3.11 and dos b) actually had 10 GB of ram.

as the previous comment to mine says, could have been winNT 3.5? Can anybody clarrify this situation? I know WinNT 4 has been ported to 64 bit machines, but was WinNT 3.5 ever ported? probably, but i'm not certain, so I won't say

Re:Screenshots (1)

maslow no.4 (215100) | more than 13 years ago | (#828911)

please post some early mac screenshots. that would be interesting, because i seem to remember the early mac looked similar to the early windows. afterall microsoft did write both of them didn't they?

Re:I've found it! (1)

jelly69 (217602) | more than 13 years ago | (#828914)

Talking to an old-timer from my department (he's 63 and worked for IBM for 35 years), we determined probably the first O/S was IBM 709/7090 and/or the IBM 1401/1410 that came out around the same time.

Re:Screenshots (1)

DrQu+xum (218745) | more than 13 years ago | (#828918)

Wow - looking at those old Winblows snapshots was like walking down Repressed Memory Lane. :) IIRC, Win 3.0 allowed users to mess with the original opening screen...
A run-length encoded bitmap file, 640x480x16.

Re:Screenshots (1)

DrQu+xum (218745) | more than 13 years ago | (#828919)

I was speaking of Win3.0, not 3.1. The 3.0 screen was a dark-blue/black mesh with the M$ logo at top and just the words "Windows version 3.0" in white letters in the middle. No flying windows logo, no fancy sh*t at all.

Re:Win95 (1)

fatflash (218949) | more than 13 years ago | (#828920)

The first open OS (for multiple systems), predecessor to many of the actual OS's was none other than OpenVMS.

Remember Sinclair zx80?(1982).

OpenVMS was designed entirely within Digital Equipment Corporation in 1976. The principal designers were Dave Cutler and Dick Hustvedt. OpenVMS was conceived as a 32-bit, virtual memory successor to Digital's RSX-11M operating system for the PDP-11. Many of the original designers and programmers of OpenVMS had worked previously on RSX-11M, and many concepts from RSX-11M were carried over to OpenVMS.

Re:Well in a few years time... (1)

mkachan (223539) | more than 13 years ago | (#828921)

Yes, and aren't we at war with Eurasia?:-)

I've found it! (2)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#828927)

According to ml the first Operating System was the IBM 709/7090 in 1960. It had Standard file usage routines (SYSIN, SYSOUT, SYSUT1, SYSUT2, SYSUT3) and supported programming languages (quite which languages it doesn't say). Hmmm... wonder if there's an emulator? Alex DeLarge

cool (Re:Screenshots) (2)

linuxci (3530) | more than 13 years ago | (#828929)

It sucked more than I even remembered ;) BTW [] has a history of MS-DOS/Windows and has screenshots for V2 V3 and V3.11 too.

Screenshots (2)

linuxci (3530) | more than 13 years ago | (#828930)

Anyone gotta link to some screenshots of Windows 1.0 - I've seen it before and it was a joke, I wonder if the people who haven't seen it have realised how bad it was. Windows 3.1 was a big improvement on it's previous versions. It sucked (badly) but it sucked a lot less! I didn't start using Linux until aroung the time Win95 came out. Hmm if Linux development started a bit earlier or had gained momentum quicker it's growth would have been amazing.

Well, well. (2)

pwhysall (9225) | more than 13 years ago | (#828934)

It appears that daring to complain that a /. editor can't be bothered to read all the way through a 4-line story is "flamebait". Or perhaps "redundant". No, it's a legitimate complaint. Is it really too much to ask that the editors actually edit?

Because it's becoming quite clear to me that Slashdot has abandoned any notion of quality journalism in favour of posting stupid questions that could be answered in 5 minutes on Google... tm

Ah well. The advertisers get their clicks and that's what matters these days.

Re:The simple math is.... (2)

Detritus (11846) | more than 13 years ago | (#828938)

Intel didn't do anything that was revolutionary with the 8086. The IBM 360 series supported a common instruction set and programmer's model across a wide variety of hardware implementations. DEC did a similar thing with the PDP-8 and PDP-11.

The 8086 was an much improved version of the 8080 and MS-DOS was a clone of CP/M-80, nothing revolutionary there. The 8087 was a true innovation, the predecessor of what became IEEE floating point.

Separation of Kernel & Shell (2)

Detritus (11846) | more than 13 years ago | (#828939)

UNIX was the first operating system that I had seen that made the user command processor an ordinary program that could be modified or replaced by the user.

Are there any earlier examples of this?

Other operating systems that I had used, such as RT-11 and RSX-11, put the user command processor in the kernel or made it a special privileged task that directly mucked around in the kernel.

Re:IBM (moot point anyway) (2)

finkployd (12902) | more than 13 years ago | (#828940)

Yes, in those days, they actually had an IBM engineer working full-time on the client site.

That still goes on, most of the larger shops have a full time IBM CE on site.

The scenerio you described is right on the mark. That happened constantly, and usually the code contributers were happy about. Remember in those days, everything was "open source". It wasn't until IBM dropped MVT for MVS and HASP for JESx that things got closed up.

My shop (PSU) was responsible for a good portion of the development in JES2, the job entry subsystem used by most s/390 shops.


Re:Not an easy one, this (2)

finkployd (12902) | more than 13 years ago | (#828941)

then i should imagine that something such as OS/390 & JCL would be one of the first (Though there may be earlier still).

OS/390 is a pretty new name for MVS (multiple variable storage) and JCL is simply a Job Control Language, that's right, it's a language.

The earliest s/360 operating system I'm aware of is MVT (open source, IIRC), the job entry system was called HASP.


What is an OS ? (2)

Vapula (14703) | more than 13 years ago | (#828943)

The answer to that question may change a lot to what was the 1st OS.

- may it be the hardware and hardcoded software used to boot from a punch card/band ? I admit this is more the definition of the BIOS.. But, as far as the entry/launchin of programs was done with these cards, it was also the part that allowed to run programs

- May a simple hex monitor be called OS ? It allows to enter programs and to run them...

- Must there be the complex structure of task handling (even if only 1 task is supported, like in DOS), memory management,... ?

- what about computers like the ZX80 ? There was only the BASIC interpreter. May we speak of OS when speaking of these machines ?

Anyway, CP/M was before QDOS which was before MS DOS... for the rest, I can't tell.

Re:Screenshots (2)

jason_aw (28317) | more than 13 years ago | (#828946)

What are you talking about? Windows *is* a command-line DOS shell with heavy makeup ;-)

Re:Screenshots (2)

henley (29988) | more than 13 years ago | (#828947)

Now go look at early Mac screenshots and compare.

The point being, Windows 1.0 looked awful because pretty much all GUIs looked awful at the time, to our modern eyes. You've got 15 years worth of GUI development colouring your judgement there.

I mean, even those early PARC systems (dammit, the name escapes me) on which the Apple Lisa was based look pretty damn ugly now. However, in 1984 (or whenever) when all you were used to was a green-screen or CLI, any one of these things was a real glimpse into the future(*).

(*) = Except Windows 1.0 which looked like a command-line DOS shell with heavy makeup.

Re:Win95 (2)

Valdrax (32670) | more than 13 years ago | (#828948)

Well, UNIX is older than that (1969) and we should all know that it was based on the MULTICS project from before that. My money's on an earlier IBM OS. By your admission though, RSX-11M proceeds VMS (which was later renamed OpenVMS). You know, the chief architects of the WinNT kernel were big VMS designers, so you could argue using that logic that WinNT is the first OS too. <g>

I wish I had my OS class's textbook handy.

Apple IIGS? (2)

Valdrax (32670) | more than 13 years ago | (#828949)

Is anyone else reminded of the Apple IIGS's GUI system? Man, at least that one has seperate windows. I can't see Apple making its case about UI theft until at least Windows 2.0. I had no idea that it was so pathetic.

Re:According to UC Berkeley (2)

Foogle (35117) | more than 13 years ago | (#828951)

There's nothing even remotely constituting an operating system on the abacus. Every operation that can be performed with an abacus has to be manually done by actually interfacing with the hardware.


"You can't shake the Devil's hand and say you're only kidding."

Re:Screenshots (2)

CrayDrygu (56003) | more than 13 years ago | (#828958)

A run-length encoded bitmap file, 640x480x16

Actually, IIRC, it was something like 320x480x16. Either that or it was 640x480 but got shrunk. They did something weird to it.

And it wasn't that simple to mess with, either. You needed to create a new file, by using the COPY command to concatenate a bunch of binary files...

The last time I messed with that was, believe it or not, just two and a half years ago. I was actually using Win3.1 on my (t)rusty 486 back then. Yikes! =)


Re:Screenshots (2)

Pfhreakaz0id (82141) | more than 13 years ago | (#828961)

I'll do better. Somewhere, I have a .zip archive of the install floppies. I'll have to track down what Cd that's on, but I can put 'em on a page somewhere or something...

Re:Not an easy one, this (2)

dingbat_hp (98241) | more than 13 years ago | (#828968)

FORTRAN interpreters

Can't recall ever meeting an interpreter for Fortran. Were there such beasties ?

Just to do some flag-waving for the Brits, I'd say that LEO was the first machine with a recognisable OS.

The earliest OS I know of is Unix. (2)

Ashran (107876) | more than 13 years ago | (#828969)

But Windows 1.0 looks like it was made in Stondeage. =) I liked the sentence which I've read in some PC Mag. Windows 1.1 German is out. Now European users can do nothing usefull with it as well!

Re:Screenshots (2)

Ashran (107876) | more than 13 years ago | (#828970)

Notice the "Free Memory" on the screenshots..
Windows 1.1 - 618k free
Windows 2.3 - 405k free
Windows 3.0a - 396k free

Back then, they knew allready how to hog memory! =)

Re:Screenshots (2)

Nezumi-chan (110160) | more than 13 years ago | (#828972)

Screenshots, nothing. You can actually download a copy of it here [] in the Apps section.

On a related note, though, I used to have an old AT with something called GEM installed on it. Anyone remember that?

A Brief History of Computer Operating Systems, (2)

knurr (161310) | more than 13 years ago | (#828976)

Something I found... A Brief History of Computer Operating Systems The Bare Machine Stacked Job Batch Systems (mid 1950s - mid 1960s) A batch system is one in which jobs are bundled together with the instructions necessary to allow them to be processed without intervention. Often jobs of a similar nature can be bundled together to further increase economy The basic physical layout of the memory of a batch job computer is shown below: -------------------------------------- | | | Monitor (permanently resident) | | | -------------------------------------- | | | User Space | | (compilers, programs, data, etc.) | | | -------------------------------------- The monitor is system software that is responsible for interpreting and carrying out the instructions in the batch jobs. When the monitor started a job, it handed over control of the entire computer to the job, which then controlled the computer until it finished. A sample of several batch jobs might look like: $JOB user_spec ; identify the user for accounting purposes $FORTRAN ; load the FORTRAN compiler source program cards $LOAD ; load the compiled program $RUN ; run the program data cards $EOJ ; end of job $JOB user_spec ; identify a new user $LOAD application $RUN data $EOJ Often magnetic tapes and drums were used to store intermediate data and compiled programs. Advantages of batch systems move much of the work of the operator to the computer increased performance since it was possible for job to start as soon as the previous job finished Disadvantages turn-around time can be large from user standpoint more difficult to debug program due to lack of protection scheme, one batch job can affect pending jobs (read too many cards, etc) a job could corrupt the monitor, thus affecting pending jobs a job could enter an infinite loop As mentioned above, one of the major shortcomings of early batch systems was that there was no protection scheme to prevent one job from adversely affecting other jobs. The solution to this was a simple protection scheme, where certain memory (e.g. where the monitor resides) were made off-limits to user programs. This prevented user programs from corrupting the monitor. To keep user programs from reading too many (or not enough) cards, the hardware was changed to allow the computer to operate in one of two modes: one for the monitor and one for the user programs. IO could only be performed in monitor mode, so that IO requests from the user programs were passed to the monitor. In this way, the monitor could keep a job from reading past it's on $EOJ card. To prevent an infinite loop, a timer was added to the system and the $JOB card was modified so that a maximum execution time for the job was passed to the monitor. The computer would interrupt the job and return control to the monitor when this time was exceeded. Spooling Batch Systems (mid 1960s - late 1970s) One difficulty with simple batch systems is that the computer still needs to read the the deck of cards before it can begin to execute the job. This means that the CPU is idle (or nearly so) during these relatively slow operations. Since it is faster to read from a magnetic tape than from a deck of cards, it became common for computer centers to have one or more less powerful computers in addition to there main computer. The smaller computers were used to read a decks of cards onto a tape, so that the tape would contain many batch jobs. This tape was then loaded on the main computer and the jobs on the tape were executed. The output from the jobs would be written to another tape which would then be removed and loaded on a less powerful computer to produce any hardcopy or other desired output. It was a logical extension of the timer idea described above to have a timer that would only let jobs execute for a short time before interrupting them so that the monitor could start an IO operation. Since the IO operation could proceed while the CPU was crunching on a user program, little degradation in performance was noticed. Since the computer can now perform IO in parallel with computation, it became possible to have the computer read a deck of cards to a tape, drum or disk and to write out to a tape printer while it was computing. This process is called SPOOLing: Simultaneous Peripheral Operation OnLine. Spooling batch systems were the first and are the simplest of the multiprogramming systems. One advantage of spooling batch systems was that the output from jobs was available as soon as the job completed, rather than only after all jobs in the current cycle were finished. Multiprogramming Systems (1960s - present) As machines with more and more memory became available, it was possible to extend the idea of multiprogramming (or multiprocessing) as used in spooling batch systems to create systems that would load several jobs into memory at once and cycle through them in some order, working on each one for a specified period of time. -------------------------------------- | Monitor | | (more like a operating system) | -------------------------------------- | User program 1 | -------------------------------------- | User program 2 | -------------------------------------- | User program 3 | -------------------------------------- | User program 4 | -------------------------------------- At this point the monitor is growing to the point where it begins to resemble a modern operating system. It is responsible for: starting user jobs spooling operations IO for user jobs switching between user jobs ensuring proper protection while doing the above As a simple, yet common example, consider a machine that can run two jobs at once. Further, suppose that one job is IO intensive and that the other is CPU intensive. One way for the monitor to allocate CPU time between these jobs would be to divide time equally between them. However, the CPU would be idle much of the time the IO bound process was executing. A good solution in this case is to allow the CPU bound process (the background job) to execute until the IO bound process (the foreground job) needs some CPU time, at which point the monitor permits it to run. Presumably it will soon need to do some IO and the monitor can return the CPU to the background job. Timesharing Systems (1970s - present) Back in the days of the "bare" computers without any operating system to speak of, the programmer had complete access to the machine. As hardware and software was developed to create monitors, simple and spooling batch systems and finally multiprogrammed systems, the separation between the user and the computer became more and more pronounced. Users, and programmers in particular, longed to be able to "get to the machine" without having to go through the batch process. In the 1970s and especially in the 1980s this became possible two different ways. The first involved timesharing or timeslicing. The idea of multiprogramming was extended to allow for multiple terminals to be connected to the computer, with each in-use terminal being associated with one or more jobs on the computer. The operating system is responsible for switching between the jobs, now often called processes, in such a way that favored user interaction. If the context-switches occurred quickly enough, the user had the impression that he or she had direct access to the computer. Interactive processes are given a higher priority so that when IO is requested (e.g. a key is pressed), the associated process is quickly given control of the CPU so that it can process it. This is usually done through the use of an interrupt that causes the computer to realize that an IO event has occurred. It should be mentioned that there are several different types of time sharing systems. One type is represented by computers like our VAX/VMS computers and UNIX workstations. In these computers entire processes are in memory (albeit virtual memory) and the computer switches between executing code in each of them. In other types of systems, such as airline reservation systems, a single application may actually do much of the timesharing between terminals. This way there does not need to be a different running program associated with each terminal. Personal Computers The second way that programmers and users got back at the machine was the advent of personal computers around 1980. Finally computers became small enough and inexpensive enough that an individual could own one, and hence have complete access to it. Real-Time, Multiprocessor, and Distributed/Networked Systems A real-time computer is one that execute programs that are guaranteed to have an upper bound on tasks that they carry out. Usually it is desired that the upper bound be very small. Examples included guided missile systems and medical monitoring equipment. The operating system on real-time computers is severely constrained by the timing requirements. Dedicated computers are special purpose computers that are used to perform only one or more tasks. Often these are real-time computers and include applications such as the guided missile mentioned above and the computer in modern cars that controls the fuel injection system. A multiprocessor computer is one with more than one CPU. The category of multiprocessor computers can be divided into the following sub-categories: shared memory multiprocessors have multiple CPUs, all with access to the same memory. Communication between the the processors is easy to implement, but care must be taken so that memory accesses are synchronized. distributed memory multiprocessors also have multiple CPUs, but each CPU has it's own associated memory. Here, memory access synchronization is not a problem, but communication between the processors is often slow and complicated. Related to multiprocessors are the following: networked systems consist of multiple computers that are networked together, usually with a common operating system and shared resources. Users, however, are aware of the different computers that make up the system. distributed systems also consist of multiple computers but differ from networked systems in that the multiple computers are transparent to the user. Often there are redundant resources and a sharing of the workload among the different computers, but this is all transparent to the user.

Semiotics (2)

Yanna (188771) | more than 13 years ago | (#828978)

Technology has, somehow, changed the way we "define" things. According to the latest cultural trend, an operating system is: "the program that, after being initially loaded into the computer by a boot program, manages all the other programs in a computer. (editor's comment: wtf is that redundancy about?!) The other programs are called applications. The applications make use of the operating system by making requests for services through a defined application program interface (application program interface). In addition, users can interact directly with the operating system through an interface such as a command language. (according to

Now, an operating system, traditionally speaking, is a piece of "code" (to put it somehow), that allows a user to perform operations (thus, the OPERATING system). The evolution of semiotics in the last 15 or 20 years has made it possible that we only associate "operating system" with "software". (Sign and significant associations mostly related to social influences).

I will indulge myself with a digression: what if we divert our attention from the actual social influence of Operating system and take it one step further? What would be the first Operating system then? I mean, as in a "code that allows a user to perform operations through hardware".

Maybe I am wrong, but I found Blas Pascal's calculator from 1,642 as the first machine that fits that definition.

The first operating system was... (2)

navajojoe (218691) | more than 13 years ago | (#828979)

IBM DOS/VS on the Series 3 mainframe. It provided a software Kernel and a shell, albiet using core memory and punch cards for I/O. Support for tape was added in release 2.4 and finally removable disks in the next release. This OS was replaced by DOS/VSE on the 370 and 43XX series mainframes. Finally DOS/VSE was superceded by VM and MVS. The current incarnation is OS/390 which has a Unix Kernel.:)

IBM/360? (3)

ptomblin (1378) | more than 13 years ago | (#828982)

I'm pretty sure the IBM/360 was the first system to use a layer of abstraction to separate the programmers from the hardware, so that they could write programs that would run on a wide variety of computers. One result of that was that you had a few operating systems that ran on these machines.

Well in a few years time... (3)

linuxci (3530) | more than 13 years ago | (#828984)

In a few year time the average member of the public will be convinced that Windows was the first OS, DOS didn't exist and Microsoft invented the Internet in association with Al Gore.

I've seen a serious answer to the question somewhere but can't remember what it was. I'll have a dig about and if I find something I'll let you know :)

Re:Not an easy one, this (3)

Detritus (11846) | more than 13 years ago | (#828985)

Can't recall ever meeting an interpreter for Fortran. Were there such beasties ?

I'm not sure if you could call it a true interpreter, but WATFOR (Waterloo FORTRAN) was a "load-and-go" FORTRAN compiler that compiled directly into core from the user's source code. A history of Waterloo FORTRAN can be read here [] . From the user's point of view, it behaved like a FORTRAN interpreter.

In later years, I used DEC FORTRAN on RT-11. This compiled into threaded code with a large run-time package. I'm not sure how to classify it.

Probably CTSS (3)

hey! (33014) | more than 13 years ago | (#828986)

The Compatible Time Sharing System (CTSS) would qualify as the earliest thing I can think of that we'd recognize as a modern OS.

There probably is not a sharp dividing line between simple batch job management systems and a real operating system, but CTSS managed multiple processes by giving them timeslices so each process (user)would think it had its own computer -- in other words it abstracted the underlying computer and the fact that multiple processes were accessing the hardware.

There's an interesting parallel to programming languages. Algol was clean and elegant and lead to the recherche PL/1. C, in part, was designed by negating the basic premise of PL/1 -- that a language should be rich in features. Instead of cosseting the programmer with a huge array of facilities, C seeks to get out of the programmer's way by providing just the essentials.

Likewise CTSS was a great technical success and directly lead to the brilliant but overblown Multics. And of course, Multics begat Unix, or at least strongly influenced its designers to avoid what we would now call "bloat".

I think there's a kind of object lesson here which applies to some of the news we've discussing recently. Back in the day, computers were godawful expensive. This means there were unthinkable quantities of resources thrown into Multics, which while it pioneered many important concepts we now take for granted, was almost undoubtedly too big and complex. It certainly can't be considered a totally unqualified success -- for one thing its complexity required special hardware support which ruled out porting to other hardware. Unix again was developed originally on a shoestring which dictated a minimalist approach which fostered greater flexibility.

So -- resources are nice to have, if you have the acuity to use them wisely. But in the end simplicity and adaptability count for more.

Re:Th Annals of the History of Computing (3)

edp (171151) | more than 13 years ago | (#828987)

It was Maurice Wilkes, 1949:

  • As soon as we started programming, we found to our surprise that it wasn't as easy to get programs right as we had thought. Debugging had to be discovered. I can remember the exact instant when I realized that a large part of my life from then on was going to be spent in finding mistakes in my own programs.

OS/360, Try it for yourself! (4)

knarf (34928) | more than 13 years ago | (#828989)

Well, it might not be the very first OS, but is is (one of) the first which provides hardware abstraction, compatibility and scalabiity: IBM OS/360. And now you can try it for yourself:
  • The Hercules System/370 and ESA/390 Emulator []
    Hercules is a System/370 and ESA/390 emulator which can IPL and execute S/370 and ESA/390 instructions. It can also emulate CKD and FBA DASD, printer, card reader, tape, channel-to-channel adapter, and local non-SNA 3270 devices

So, for some REAL nostalgia, install this on your box, get OS/360 (freeware!), and before you know it you'll be running TSO with 5 users, each pecking away at their 3270 block-mode terminals. Oh, and it can also run Linux/390, so if you've got way too much time on your hand you can run Linux->Hercules->Linux/390->Hercules->OS/360 or something horrible like that.

According to UC Berkeley (4)

malahoo (128370) | more than 13 years ago | (#828990)

The 4th floor of Soda Hall, UCB's CS building, has mounted on the wall what I think constitutes my Alma Mater's answer to this question: a giant abacus with a sign that reads, "In case of System failure, shake to reboot."

BabbageOS ? (4)

mirko (198274) | more than 13 years ago | (#828991)

I am not surprise to read about this subject shortly after we spoke about this one [] , anyway, we have to look towards the first computers to check what guided their data streams and when it could decently be called an operating system.
In operating system, there is the world system and, IMHO, a system is supposed to be extendable.
Now here is my first attempt to answer your question :
From this site [] : Babbage's greatest achievement was his detailed plans for Calculating Engines, both the table-making Difference Engines and the far more ambitious Analytical Engines, which were flexible and powerful, punched-card controlled general purpose calculaters, embodying many features which later reappeared in the modern stored program computer. These features included: punched card control; separate store and mill; a set of internal registers (the table axes); fast multiplier/divider; a range of peripherals; even array processing.
Sounds like we got it.
Now, we could reformulate your question one of the following ways:
  • By assuming you expected one that would be stored distinct from the main processing unit:
    "What was the First Computer software Operating System ?"
  • By assuming you expected one that would be publicly available:
    "What was the First Computer commercial Operating System ?"
  • By assuming you expected one that would fit both previous conditions:
    "What was the First Computer software commercial Operating System ?"
Finally, I can't wait to imagine now somebody that might ask in some years about the first microprocessor ever, because as our vision of a microprocessor will have evolved (compare Transmeta's thing -or its equivalent, in ten years from now- to the i4004) thus making this question even more difficult to answer. :-)

Of course it's not! (4)

abe ferlman (205607) | more than 13 years ago | (#828993)

No source I've seen in print or on-line definitavely says "x" is the first OS.

Of course not - "x" is just a windowing system!

Sausage King of Chicago

IBM (moot point anyway) (5)

Noryungi (70322) | more than 13 years ago | (#828995)


My dad used to tell me how he (and a few of his friends) actually created a simple Disk Management system on an IBM mainframe. I can't remember which Big Blue machine they used, but programming was done with punch cards.

That was the time when, if you wanted your program to actually write something to the disk, you had to create your own routines to do this! Remember also that this was with "magnetic drums" -- to write any data to disk you had to know the hardware and the controller very well to optimize writing and reading (transfer rate were, of course abysmal).

So they just went ahead and created a clever little program to write and read data to these huge magnetic drums. From then on, all their progrmas would just call the disk management software instead of having to re-invent the wheel. Then they optimized it some more (32KB of RAM was huge in those times!) and simply used it all the time.

Soon after this, they received the visit of their in-house IBM engineer. Yes, in those days, they actually had an IBM engineer working full-time on the client site. Proudly, they showed him this clever little software. The guy asked for the source code, which they supplied, open source-like. The blue-suited engineer thanked them and walked away with the source. My dad and his colleagues just went back to work.

Next thing you know, IBM released, with its next-generation mainframe, a complete set of system utilities including a disk manager that looked suspiciously like the one they had created.

Why am I remembering this? Because my dad said many times that IBM (and, certainly, other computer makers) had used their ideas, as well as the ideas of many others, to create these "system utilities". He was not bitter or anything, he just mentioned that many other users probably had their own utilities for printing, batch execution, disk management, and others, and that IBM simply had used the best ones they could find... No one "invented" an "operating system": they just used more and more utilities and integrated them with one another.

Ah well. Just my US$ 0.02...

Not an easy one, this (5)

Vanders (110092) | more than 13 years ago | (#828996)

This is difinatly a difficult question to pin down. What are you going to define as "an OS"? If you mean Kernel & Shell, with a set of standard device drivers, then i should imagine that something such as OS/390 & JCL would be one of the first (Though there may be earlier still).

How about the first FORTRAN interpreters for mainframes? These were originally bootstraped in front of the FORTRTAN data, and in effect, created an abstraction layer between the program and the hardware. I doubt you could say FORTRAN is an OS under the "modern" difinition though.

There has to be an earlier example of a "modern" OS than OS/390 though. I can't imagine the idea was thought up by IBM before it was done in the lab.

Re:Screenshots (5)

uhlmann (139234) | more than 13 years ago | (#828997)

whoring for karma... ;-)
here are some screenshots of win 1.0 []

Just find the first computer.... (5)

DrWiggy (143807) | more than 13 years ago | (#828998)

Well, seeing as everybody is having problems defining the first OS, perhaps we should look at the first stored-program computer and see what that was running. The first "programmable logic calculator" and there were 10 of them in operation at Bletchley Park during WWII working on breaking the German Enigma cipher.

The "OS" on Colussus as I understand it, was simply the function of a group of valves. There was hardware checking other hardware, but to my knowledge there was no software running on Colussus other than the algorithm used to break Enigma. Input was by way of punched paper tape containing cipher read a few thousand characters a second (I've seen the rebuild running, and yes it is scary watching paper tape at that speed), output was buffered onto relays which meant a typewrite was printing out onto paper roll. The "processor" was just 5 characters of 5 bits held in a shit register. I suspect the "OS" was hardware and people making sure that none of the 2,500 valves blew up. All programming was by way of hard wiring, so it's hard to determine what the OS was here. There is some really cool information about Colussus here [] if you're interested.

Next there was ENIAC, which due to the fact the British Government kept Colussus an Official Secret, was considered for a long time to be the first ever computer. ENIAC seemed suprisingly similar (when I read the specs anyway) in terms of internal function to Colussus - no OS there at all. So, we still haven't found anything...

Then there was the Baby built by Manchester University in the UK. The rebuild of the Baby now sits in the Manhester Science and Industry museum. It's a curious piece of kit to say the least. It's memory consisted of a radar screen showing an array of bits, and whether each bit was on or not was picked up by a piece of gauze in front od the screen. Because phosphor on the screen takes a while to fade, you could just fire it, and not worry for a few hundred milliseconds about refreshing it.

The baby didn't require anything to hard wired at all. There was a group of toggle switches on the front to program the machine, and there was a sense of "state" when no program was loaded or running. Therefore, I think whatever it was running on the Baby probably has claim to being the first ever OS. There is some nice stuff on the Baby (or officially the Manchester Mark 1) over here [] for you to peruse at your pleasure.

So, my vote is that whatever was running on the Baby was the first OS. But then, I don't know as much about ENIAC as I do about Colussus and the Mark 1. Please feel free to correct me if the ENIAC had code running before a program was loaded.

Th Annals of the History of Computing (5)

gwernol (167574) | more than 13 years ago | (#828999)

According this this [] abstract of a paper in the IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, EDVAC had a recognizable operating system in 1952/53. I suspect this would qualify as the first OS...

Before 1950s (5)

w00ly_mammoth (205173) | more than 13 years ago | (#829000)

Ultimately, this is a controversial topic. Perhaps the strongest contender would be Konrad Zuse [] , who developed a programmable computer in the 1940s. Interesting first person notes from an inventor in Nazi germany.

In the ACM archives [] , there is a paper on "Monitors, an operating system structuring concept" by C.A.R Hoare. Since this is from 1974, I guess it's not too old, but still an interesting paper.

Many have been posting about OS/360 (or 390) but while MVS was a major step in OS history, it wasn't the first. It was released in 1964, too late for the first OS.

Also interesting is a time article on the first computer []

All the old stuff is fun to read.

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