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Computing history has long been part of our scope. Retrospectives – looking back at then, from the perspective of now – are an important part of historical discourse, and we often get people trying to post retrospectives in answers or comments (see discussion of a recent example). Retrospective questions might include:

  • How does Quake's Fast Inverse Square Root technique compare to modern approaches?
  • Have the Microsoft Office redesigns resolved or exacerbated the priority inversion problems present in Microsoft Office 2003?
  • Why don't we use SGML any more?

Do we want to allow questions that solicit retrospectives?

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    "Priority inversion problems" of the second question are not what "priority inversion problems" mean to most programmers. I object to that author's appropriation of the term, just to be cute. And answers to that would largely be opinions. The last question's answer - similar to many other such questions - would also be largely opinion, of the kind "it was never a good idea outside of its initial domain, where we now have more appropriate solutions". First question is entirely appropriate here: has objective answers and definitely highlights changes from retro-times until now.
    – davidbak
    Apr 11 at 15:03
  • I need to find a controller card for an Apple II 5.25 inch floppy drive, the 20 pin connector wont work on the 34 pin controller card I have? - Why does this code trigger a TRAP on a PDP11/70? - Linker running on DOS 8086 to create Win32 PE .exe programs? - Could the Z80 do interference-free video as the 6502 could? - What was the 6502's reset behaviour when the RDY pin was low? [do you want to read those]
    – Mazura
    Apr 13 at 23:30
  • [or these:] Video game from the film “Murder Story” (1989)? - What were the major things that caused TCP/IP to become the internet standard protocol? - When did the floppy disk icon become the standard symbol for the “save” function in user interfaces?
    – Mazura
    Apr 13 at 23:30
  • @Mazura Personally, I'd want to read all of those – but I don't see how any of those relate to this question. Did you mean to post these comments somewhere else?
    – wizzwizz4 Mod
    Apr 14 at 0:47

2 Answers 2

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Yes, we should allow these. questions are about using retro hardware in a modern context, and we allow those. Questions about on-topic ideas in a modern context / from a modern perspective should be allowed, for similar reasons: keeping history in a separate, isolated context is not a good way to preserve it.

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    I agree. There is so much genuinely great content on this site that's borderline on-topic (and soemtimes off) that's still more than likely to be of interest to someone reading this site than not. If we don't allow such content here, a lot of us would likely never see it. Personal sites are great, but they don't always have staying power.
    – Matt Lacey Mod
    Apr 9 at 15:35
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My view is that contemporary perspective is always going to be present, we simply can’t help it, but it should not be the primary focus of a question.

One problem is that what is “modern” is a moving target. Look at Stack Overflow, which has always focused on state-of-the-art solutions, and yet it is now often called a museum of jQuery. Computing paradigms and concepts don’t age as quickly as specific libraries, but answers would still be more at risk of becoming outdated than those that explicitly focus on a limited, specific time frame.

Another is that, especially with the examples given here, I would expect such questions to be open-ended and subjective, which is not something the Stack Exchange model supports well. Were I to encounter any of these in the wild, I would have probably voted to close each as opinion-based.

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  • I fully agree. While it comes naturally - after all, we are the future of yesterday - it should not be encouraged in any way. In addition it does not only produce open ended and subjective answers, but will quite often end in what-if scenarios and obscuring what really happened back then.
    – Raffzahn
    Apr 14 at 10:25
  • Your point about "modern" is a good one. Can you see any way to resolve the open-ended / subjective issue?
    – wizzwizz4 Mod
    Apr 15 at 0:55

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