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So this question just got closed as off-topic, I looked at it because an answer had been flagged, and then answered myself because I realised that some software I use could help.

I'm just curious to know why people regard it as off-topic and if that's a consensus? Personally I'd think questions about using hardware from over 20 years ago as fine for this site. It's tempting to think with PC hardware that machines from the early 2000s are similar to those we have now because of the gradual evolution, but they really are quite different in many ways. Thoughts?

XW8000 workstation boot from USB

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Preface Inserted:

A comment Matt made

Oh I didn't mean it was on topic just because I knew of an answer, merely that I feel like if a question is borderline and we can help, we should.

helped me understanding the core of the question:

Does the border between on and off topic change if there is a chance one at RC.SE can answer

Clear Answer: NO

On-topicness is defined independent of it being answerable in general or on RC.SE in particular. Thus the later can not change the borderline.

In theory some borderline off topic questions may be reworded to ask for an on topic answer. But to my experience there are only a few where this works out without twisting the question itself.

I do understand that willingness to help is a great thing. In fact, it's the very purpose of a site like RC.SE and the very reason I'm here (*0). Just it's not the topic RC.SE handles. It's not a generic site of 'ask anything' but a site to find help with knowledge about vintage machinery, hard and software. Keeping sane content is a must for a well maintained site.

Bottom line: Will to help doesn't change on what side a question falls.

(The remaining answer may be a bit too long now)


The (original) Long Part

I was considering to vote to close - but more because of missing information. The question is rather short on relatable information what is provided and what has been done (*1).

Content wise I felt that in general it might off topic or borderline at best:

  • The machine is in no way outdated or special
  • USB-booting of a PC is not really a retro issue

Equally, if not more important:

  • It's about installing a modern OS (Unbuntu)
  • Using an EOL release doesn't really change it.
  • Especially not as the list includes 14 and 22, still supported mainline versions

Except that:

  • USB development was sluggish at first
  • Items we now consider standard did only evolve over a (comparable) long time span
  • Almost like early PC development had several sages
  • This might be a machine/BIOS issue because of being fro a time before boot from USB was standard.

And it's that combination which did shift predication for me from Off-Topic into Special Case / Borderline On-Topic.

As a result of this analysis I decided to write an answer pointing out what I think maybe an issue on what information and what may help to clarify this.


My take on your points:

_(Oops, got longer than expected):

[..] answered myself because I realised that some software I use could help.

Just because one knows a way to help doesn't make a question on topic. I have some basic knowledge on steam engines (*2), motorcycles and powered flight. Still, my ability to answer such questions will not make it on topic for RC.SE. Same goes with knowledge about modern computers.

I'm just curious to know why people regard it as off-topic and if that's a consensus?

Already first review did show a 50:50 result. These are usually more active gents. The later closing was initiate ein part by the same, but as well other active members. Having that done so quickly does show at least a good support.

To my understanding the general consensus is that any handling of modern software running on modern computers is off-topic. This includes any emulation software or support software. The only exception, especially with emulators, is if it's about an issue with the emulated hard/software that does/would do the same way on the real classic system.

DOSbox (*3) makes a nice example here. Questions about

  • DOSbox and operating it are clearly off topic
  • a program used under DOS box may be on topic
  • behaviour of DOSbox are off topic

except

  • differences to real x86 and DOS can be on topic
  • questions need to focus on learning about the genuine DOS or x86 isues/handling

Same goes for hardware. Same as anything about real old hardware (like he recent bus speed discussion that morphed into a CGA themed one) is on-topic, makes all new stuff off-topic. An exception to this is new old stuff. Like questions about building a new Z80 computer.

I'm a bit biased on either, as I do love to tinker with new-old hardware myself, so I always have to force myself to ignore what I like (or dislike) in a question but focus on above criteria for voting.


Sidenote about my own RC.SE journey:

The whole emulator issue was also a learning point for me.

By default i shun emulators. I prefer the real thing. Including doing development in original environment - like I do 9900 assembly programming on a genuine 99/4. Using that is half the fun (ok, given, I also use my modern oscilloscopes, logic-analysers and tracers, stuff I haven't dreamed about back then).

So in the beginning I was at fundamental opposition against even mentioning emulators on RC.SE. But I also noted that others embrace those - even over the real machine. This was part of several quite extensive discussions in comments and on meta.

The resulting guideline to use the real hard/software as a definitive border came to be and is what I would consider a well forged one, as it does not only make sense, but is as well clearly defined and practicable. It makes sure that the site doesn't get flooded by random hard and software issues, while giving a good help what to accept even if one personally doesn't like it.

A similar learning curve happened for me with games.

Don't get me wrong, I game since Apple II times. In fact, my best fitted machine was always my gaming rig - which often had to double as remote compile service for my work system as it simply always had more and faster CPU, more and faster RAM and the fastest drives I could get :))

Still, I didn't really feel that RC.SE is a place for gaming issues/questions. There are many great sites out there (and on SE) focusing on games way deeper than RC.SE ever can. So game questions are not only better suited there, but if they reach RC.SE, they come usually due missing research on the net (*4).

I learned that common understanding is different and at least for common 'identify a game' questions a majority sees them as appropriate. So I go with it. Having an opinion doesn' mean it's always the only one true (*5).

Back to the question.


Personally I'd think questions about using hardware from over 20 years ago as fine for this site.

This is in fact a hot debate topic since more than 20 years, way longer than RC.SE existed. So let's add some Grandpa story:

When we started VCF, just before the turn of the millennium, we thought of a 10 year clause as a very good one to separate out modern, useful, non vintage machines. At that point in time that sounded perfect sensible as computers rarely were used for more than 5-10 years, outdated and stripped of support usually way before that. I mean, in 1998 even the most die hard S100 & CP/M fans had changed for something more recent.

It was essentially a rule to define 80's and before computers as on topic.

As time progressed Computers, especially the main lines like PC and Mac became more durable and longer supported, not really ageing as before. This was not at least due most needs for everyday software could be supplied by basic machines. Improvements became gradual and didn't create obsolescence as before.

On the other hand non mainstream machines did still show up and vanish during the 1990s

By the mid 2000s the 10 year rule was changed into a 10+ but better 20 year rule, but that didn't really settle it.

Sounds similar? It is and it's a struggle in my mind since a quarter century.

Of course, VCF is about real hardware, its preservation and scientific research about it and the culture it generated. So some details vary compared to RC.SE, while the overarching issues are the very same - and yes, by now we not only accept PC's but as well complete new development as long as they are done in spirit of back then.

Udo's Möllers 32632 might be a great example for this. A new CPU design implemented on today's FPGA with today's tools on complete new hardware. Nonetheless as retro as it can get.

Hope this shows a bit where I come from on this issue.

It's tempting to think with PC hardware that machines from the early 2000s are similar to those we have now because of the gradual evolution, but they really are quite different in many ways.

Are they? Or does isn't that just the other extreme as to assume they are still the same?

In the end, all PCs are kind of a quantum system - being the same or not is all defined how it turns out when probed. Already an AT is incompatible with a XT, by the very nature that there are observable differences. Did hat turn all XT in 1984 into Retro-Computers? Would not think to find many to agree.


*0 - That and dumping all the crap I've memorized over too many years :))

*1 - Having questions (and answers) made in a way that readers not familiar with that specific topic can get a basic understanding what it is about and what is asked is a pet peeve of mine. Beside increasing chances for an answer writing a thoughtful question might also help the OP to understand his problem better. And yes, it improves long time usability of our common product.

*2 - 3..2..1.. Comment about steam powered computers and fluid dynamics coming in :))

*3 - It's just that a real nice example about DOSbox neither being a PC not DOS came up recently. One where the comments made me aware of some subtile differences between DOS versions (you got to love the collected wisdom and ability to doublecheck of RC.SE).

*4 - Doing research before asking is still not only a good idea, but required by rules.

*5 - I'm still a bit more concerned about game programming questions. They are almost always about well documented systems (like NES or GB),systems where there are incredible well managed information rich specialized systems exist. In fact, for a good number of answers in that area all I did was to look up those sites found on he first google page to verify my memory.So why ask them here at all?

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  • Oh I didn't mean it was on topic just because I knew of an answer, merely that I feel like if a question is borderline and we can help, we should. I didn't want to appear like I was posting here purely because I'd answered the question and then it got closed :) I tend to use emulators just for convenience when debugging, but I do prefer hardware. There's a reason I have a 20" CRT on my desk next to my 4k modern monitor
    – Matt Lacey Mod
    Mar 12 at 16:09
  • @MattLacey sorry if that's read that way, it wasn't intended so. I for example do sometimes fell the urge to answer an off topic question, because I know (well believe to know ), and have to restrain. That first sentence of yours gave me a way better understanding about what the difference between here is. Wasn't as clear to me when reading the question. Let me add a preface.
    – Raffzahn
    Mar 12 at 16:13
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Personally I'd think questions about using hardware from over 20 years ago as fine for this site.

I guess it comes down to what exactly "Retro" means. As I said here and here, I am not interested in including out-of-date wintel computers as Retro, they are just out of date.

I'm just curious to know why people regard it as off-topic and if that's a consensus?

The question is about booting from USB, which is in no way retro, even if the computer is a little long in the tooth. Otherwise I think RC.SE runs the risk of being "like superuser, but for kit that's been picked out of a skip".

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    USB is nearly 30 years old though, and it's talking about booting from on USB on hardware that's too old to support that. I had a similar stance on PCs for a long time, then I picked up a Pentium machine and realised just how far we'd come. It is like using a different platform.
    – Matt Lacey Mod
    Mar 13 at 12:37
  • @MattLacey You're using the word "old" but you're not using the word "retro", the same as me Mar 13 at 14:51
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    Well that's mostly because "30 years retro" wouldn't make any sense, neither would "too retro to support". I get your point, and of course USB is still in use, but I still think that the machine in question is more retro than it is simply out of date.
    – Matt Lacey Mod
    Mar 13 at 16:38
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    "like superuser, but for kit that's been picked out of a skip". Lovely. I will steal that beautiful crafted remark :))
    – Raffzahn
    Mar 19 at 16:54

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