Looking Back across Thirty Years of PCalc

Originally published at: Looking Back across Thirty Years of PCalc - TidBITS

James Thomson’s venerable PCalc is celebrating its 30th anniversary, so James has updated PCalc’s 20th-anniversary history with more details from the last ten years.


Wow, thanks for sharing this. I am one of those who uses PCalc and "don’t realise that the app has been around for a lot longer than [I] think (and not much “longer than [I’ve] been thinking”!). Somehow the story reminds me of Ken Thompson reminiscing about using pipes to connect dc (desk calculator) to a speech synthesiser back in 1970s.

May I take this opportunity to say Merry Christmas to friends who celebrate it, and Happy Holidays to those who do not!


PCalc is a great piece of software that I’ve been using for 25+ years now, making it the oldest app that I’ve been using continuously, starting with System 7 on a 68k Mac SE.

I remember finally being able to register a bunch of shareware from my first real salary after finishing grad school, some $100 for 6 pieces of software, PCalc included. (The others were Alpha, Gregg’s Browser, FileTyper, DialogView and PrintToPDF - all of which I had hacked via ResEdit to not have shareware limitations, for those that had them). And I gladly paid again for PCalc 4 a few years back. I hope it lives on for another 25 years!

Oh, I loved FileTyper! Was a heavy user of it and created several droplets. When I eventually switched to Mac OS X I missed it. Good :apple_six_colors: memories.

I learned something new about PCalc: the profanity filter! I can’t believe I missed it all these years! :rofl:

Ah, RPN.

Love it.

Wow… another RPN fan! It’s a shame that RPN has become somewhat of a lost art, although for intense chains of calculations nothing beats it.

Although I haven’t used PCalc’s RPN features, I’ve found that most algebraic notation calculators that try to implement RPN are clunky. They don’t hold a candle to the real HP RPN calculators and the rare number of apps that have cloned them faithfully.

Add me to the list of RPN devotees. In about 1974 I acquired my first calculator, a Sinclair Scientific, which used it, as did my next, an HP-35. I’ve used it ever since, and now I have enormous difficulty using “ordinary” calculators.

I have to touch the enter / = key to figure out which way I’m using a calculator.

I got my HP-41 (maybe 45) a week before finals in the spring of 1974. I’m convinced it gave me a 0.5 point bump in my final grades.

I’m a bit of an edge case. The HP would do polar and rectatangular math and flip between the coordinate systems. Which in electrical engineering was just flat out amazing compared to slide rules.


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