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To quote our help centre:

Questions about modern, currently supported computers are off-topic. This includes questions about earlier versions of a current machine or OS.

If interpreted strictly that would appear to rule the following out of bounds:

  • any question about any version of Microsoft Windows, including those for the DEC Alpha, PowerPC, etc, or any question about the PC in general;
  • any question about any Macintosh, including those that run the Classic OS;
  • any question about essentially any version of UNIX or the standard UNIX compatible systems (as e.g. Solaris is still available, and was founded upon AT&T System V, and both BSD and Linux development continues apace); and
  • any question about either RISC OS or Amiga OS, both of which still occasionally see releases for mass-produced computers you can buy today.

Picking on the Macintosh example in particular, it therefore prima facie rules out discussion of an OS written directly in 68k assembly for a 128kb floppy-only machine from 1984 since there is no hard discontinuity in the OS; there is no single version that does not include most or all of its predecessor and does not retain the ability to run most of the same software.

Is there a consensus for restricting the scope of this exemption, or for removing it entirely?

I understand its motivations, but I would argue in favour of a change as it:

  • constricts the judgment of contributes too much as to what is acceptable; and
  • in any case, is very rarely enforced — implying a lack of general acceptance of the principle behind it. Examples: 1, 2, 3, 4.

Amongst other options, I can envisage a simple softening:

Questions about modern, currently supported computers are off-topic. This includes questions about recent earlier versions of a current machine or OS.

Or:

Questions about modern, currently supported computers are off-topic. This includes questions about substantially similar earlier versions of a current machine or OS.

Or you could simply remove the second clause:

Questions about modern, currently supported computers are off-topic.

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  • Why did you quote the Help Center? :-p Seriously, though, thanks for saying this – the Help Center pages are either stock or hodgepodge, and need lots of updating. – wizzwizz4 Oct 23 '19 at 9:26
  • @wizzwizz4 That clause was cited by user6464 (back in 2018) in the comments to retrocomputing.stackexchange.com/questions/8272/… as a reason why it might be deemed off-topic, but the question has hit the front page again because it's been edited to add the ibm-pc tag. So something struck me as amiss... – Tommy Oct 23 '19 at 13:57
  • I think I can live with the 'recent' addition (the first suggestion) as it leaves enough room to include certain aspects, while still not opening everything up again. The rule was added for good reason. – Raffzahn Oct 25 '19 at 12:29
  • Taking a step back, what we really want are questions that require specialized retro-knowledge, right? I think this makes it difficult to rule out any machine, OS, or software, at least until the question is answered! – snips-n-snails Oct 28 '19 at 18:56
  • Why the [] around the q? – S.S. Anne Oct 29 '19 at 19:49
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(My opinion on this - on request :))

In general, I feel that everything has already been said on this topic. To me the main point here is that cases can never be handled by rule enforcement, but by ruling within the (active) community. And ruing is not just needed during rule making, but even more so applied when ruling.

The mentioned case is a great example. The world of operating systems is (like any other RL issue) a hodgepodge of variation. Trying to draw an exact border with a few lines is not possible. And writing a big book about will still cover everything.

I guess we all agree that we do not want questions about Win10 - at least not before like 2050 or so (would be fun to live as long) - still I bet, a question about some emulator issue running on Win10 will be considered by many as on topic (we had similar issues in the past). I disagree, but I do see this as exactly the area where flexibility is what brings us ahead. Neither a hard rule, nor my (or anyone's single) ruling, based thereon, will solve most issues. Beside very clear one that is. And that's what common sense is about: keep the clear one to the rules and have the (active) community decide the rest.

There will always be cases where one may disagree (and I had a bunch of them over the years), but that's the price to pay for a working system. No reason to bicker after a decision has been made.


For the question asked:

As mentioned in a comment to the OP, I do think that the addition of 'recent', as vague as it is, does help by allowing a sensible decision on a case by case base. It would let us treat Win 98 (urks) as on-topic, while making Win10 clearly off-topic (for most issues). I do not think that dropping it at all will be helpful.

I mean, just look at this range. A lot of valid arguments can be made that Win98 is in no way a predecessor of Win10, and vice versa. We need to accommodate this to not strangle the site (no, I'm not going to touch the 'not enough questions part here :))

My vote goes for:

Questions about modern, currently supported computers are off-topic. This includes questions about recent [earlier] versions of a current machine or OS.

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I can't think of any computers or operating systems that that sentence properly rules out, and as such I'm reluctant to remove it. The text in question was directly stolen from Chenmunka's other answer to What topics can I ask around here?. (I have a vague recollection of something to do with late-XP-/early-Vista type machines.)

At the moment, I'd want to just remove it, but since I'm reluctant about that one of your softenings would be better – depending on why that sentence was written in the first place. Once we know what that sentence is for, we'll be in a better position to amend it.

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  • Agreed that if the original author can clarify that clause's intent, that's probably the smart way to proceed. @Chenmunka can you clarify? – Tommy Oct 23 '19 at 21:06
  • @Tommy That ping won't work, but I've asked in the BBS. In the meantime, other people should post suggestions, because we seriously need more eyes and thoughts on the Help Center articles. – wizzwizz4 Oct 23 '19 at 21:09
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    I think, like with any other rule, it needs to be subject to common sense. So keep it. – Raffzahn Oct 25 '19 at 12:26
  • @Raffzahn Common sense is much less common than you'd think, especially given we're dealing with people from vastly different social and cultural backgrounds. If (you think) you know what it means, or can think of some off-topic systems it excludes, it'd be very useful if you could write an answer or a comment or something. – wizzwizz4 Oct 25 '19 at 13:05
  • @wizzwizz4 I tried to abstain here on purpose. but ok. – Raffzahn Oct 25 '19 at 13:34
  • @Raffzahn You're not the first person to say that they're doing that – is there something I'm missing? – wizzwizz4 Oct 25 '19 at 13:35
  • Well, it's maybe more complicated than to be put in a few lines - we need to have a few beer for that - whenever you like ::)) Also I felt that the main points have already been mentioned. (Common sense is not about knowledge and not as much about culture as you think - it's more a way of acceptance that there is more than black and white) – Raffzahn Oct 25 '19 at 13:41
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I would suggest changing it to something like

Questions about computer hardware which is still being manufactured in commercial quantities are off-topic, and so are questions about earlier versions operating systems and application software which will run on such hardware without requiring special action such as emulators, virtual machines, etc.

By "in commercial quantities" I'm trying to permit things like cottage industries selling "replica" vintage hardware etc, which would be on topic using a common sense "I know it when I see it" criterion.

In other words, if I can buy a new PC today with no OS installed, stick the installation media for an "old" OS and an app in the drive and "it just works", that is off topic.

I'm not 100% happy with the wording above, but I think it's worth putting it up as a suggestion.

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    That would make "Z80 CPU address lines not stable", and many other Z80 questions, totally off-topic, since the CPU is still in current production and being used for new designs (albeit in the embedded systems area, mainly). The same might be said about my 6502 questions. My (perhaps not well justified) feeling is that we should not be that strict about blocking general programming questions about old architectures still in modern use. (I'm guessing that this is a wording problem, not intent?) – cjs Oct 25 '19 at 6:36
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    I think that would be too restrictive here. After all, much can be argued about waht a commercial quantity is. After all, there are successful operating systems that get continued development even thru there are just a few hundret installations - and I'm talking big development teams and double digit yearly investment. – Raffzahn Oct 25 '19 at 12:28

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