Skip to content
Thoughtful, detailed coverage of everything Apple for 34 years
and the TidBITS Content Network for Apple professionals

Looking Back across Thirty Years of PCalc

From PCalc developer James Thomson on the calculator’s 30th anniversary:

I was looking for a small project to learn how to program my new Mac properly, and I remembered the graphics I’d done for the control panel, and thought that they would work well for a calculator as well. Take note of “a small project just to do X”, this will be referred to many times during this story.

The built-in Mac OS calculator of the day was a very simple affair, and so I decided I would write a calculator that could do binary and hex, to help me with my programming. And so the idea for PCalc was born.

Who would have expected that a calculator app would thrive for 30 years, evolving through multiple Mac chip architectures and Apple operating systems and gaining easter eggs, in-app games, and spin-offs along the way? Read on for all that, PCalc’s connection to Douglas Adams of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and more great stories.

Read original article

Subscribe today so you don’t miss any TidBITS articles!

Every week you’ll get tech tips, in-depth reviews, and insightful news analysis for discerning Apple users. For over 33 years, we’ve published professional, member-supported tech journalism that makes you smarter.

Registration confirmation will be emailed to you.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA. The Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

Comments About Looking Back across Thirty Years of PCalc

Notable Replies

  1. 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!

  2. 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!

  3. 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.

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

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.


Join the discussion in the TidBITS Discourse forum


Avatar for ace Avatar for romad Avatar for jbr Avatar for jzw Avatar for chengengaun Avatar for raleighthings Avatar for ulf Avatar for Technogeezer