Software

Ancient word processors highlight the lack of modern software diversity

One of the claims of superiority that Microsoft claims with Windows over the Mac is the amount of software that's made to run under Windows. Even though there are thousands of programs available, the actual diversity of software seems to have diminished compared to the 80's. Word Processors are an excellent example.

One of the claims of superiority that Microsoft claims with Windows over the Mac is the amount of software that's made to run under Windows. Even though there are thousands of programs available, the actual diversity of software seems to have diminished compared to the 80s. Word processors are an excellent example.

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If you look at software running in the modern office, more often than not you'll find the same software on every machine. At a minimum, most machines run Windows (XP or Vista) with some version of Microsoft Office to do the mundane things like word processing and spreadsheets.

Even in shops that use Macs, more often than not the productivity software used is Mac Office. Office is so important to Apple that they've even made deals with Microsoft to make sure new versions come out. Arguably the lack of Microsoft Office for Linux is one of the things that keeps Linux from making greater inroads on the desktop.

It wasn't always that way. If you went from company to company, you'd find a great diversity of software. One shop would use Lotus 123, another SuperCalc, and another Quattro Pro. Same thing happens with WordPerfect, Word, and DiplayWrite.

The competition and diversity of software helped to make software better. Companies focused on features, stability, speed, and support.  In word processors, for example, you'd see comparisons between the number of seconds it would take to do search and replaces between Word and WordPerfect. WordPerfect in particular spent a lot of money on customer service and had one of the best support teams in the business.

Today, we get innovations like the Ribbon.

Word processors of olde

Word processors are a prime example of the lack of diversity in office software. Today your main choices are Microsoft Word, OpenOffice Writer, and to a lesser extent KWrite, Abi, and Lotus Symphony for Linux and iWork on the Mac. As I said before, Micrsosoft Word is by far and away the market leader.

In the late twienth century, however, Microsoft Word was barely a blip on the radar. Microsoft Office had less than a 10% market share in 1991. The market leader for word processing was WordPerfect, but it had nowhere near the dominance that Word has today.

Other choices for word processors included:

  • WordStar
  • XyWrite
  • PFS:Write
  • DisplayWrite

With the exception of WordPerfect, which is now owned by Corel, the old-time word processors are gone.

What went wrong?

What happened to software diversity and lead to the extinction of former market leaders? The short answer is Windows 3.0. Companies that dominated Microsoft applications in DOS almost universally missed the boat when Windows 3.0 shipped.

Part of the problem was that Microsoft was doing a bit of a head-fake with IBM and OS/2. As Microsoft was developing OS/2 with IBM, it was also working on Windows 3.0.  Software publishers were told by IBM, the then market leader in PCs, and Microsoft that the successor to DOS was going to be OS/2. So, companies like Lotus and WordPerfect Corp. created OS/2 versions of their applications and didn't initially create Windows versions.

Windows 3.0, followed by the wildly successful Windows 3.1, caught them (as well as IBM) flatfooted. Microsoft already had applications tuned for the operating environment when it shipped, and ISVs had to play catch up. It didn't help when Microsoft used hidden API calls in their applications, which made them much faster than competitors who used only official Windows APIs.

Finally, a string of bad business decisions drove the final nail in the coffin. Ashton-Tate messed up shipping new versions of dBase, which caused the leading database to disappear. Lotus got scooped up by IBM, primarily for Notes, and 123 disappeared. WordPerfect got bought by Novell, which had no idea what it was doing with desktop apps, and was turned around and sold to Corel for a massive loss. Corel couldn't compete with Microsoft's bottomless cash pit. One by one, competitors crashed and burned as Microsoft continued to gain market share.

What was your first word processor?

Unless you're running Linux, chances are the word processor you're using is some version of Microsoft Word. Although WordPerfect still exists as a shadow of its former self and there are alternatives like OpenOffice Writer, most folks use Word today.

What was the first word processor you used? Take the poll below and compare your results to other TechRepublic members. See just how far back you go!

75 comments
MichaelGP3
MichaelGP3

Leading Edge Word Processor. A superior product. I still have my 5 1/4" program diskettes. Alas, no 5 1/4" drive to use them on.....

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

remember it's name, Wordstar is the first I can remember the name of. The first two were mainframe Word Processing applications run on dumb terminals. The next ran on an old Prime Master / Slave system, then I was using a Wordstar system. Boy, are we talking ancient. Oh, I didn't count the electronic Brother typewriter than remembered a couple of pages either.

jos.paglia
jos.paglia

Having chosen "Other"... I did my first word processing on a Commodore 128 with a product called (if I recall) Personal Writer. It was part of a suite (included database and spreadsheet), that would also run on the 64, but was capable of taking advantage of some of the 128's features (80 column mode, extra memory, etc) I just did a quick Google for it, but didn't find anything relevant. Too bad. It was a nice little program that got used for many years...

El Bogarto
El Bogarto

We used the Apple IIe (and IIc) as well as the original Powermacs. The Powermacs ran Clarisworks...and flight simulator. ;)

pocodulio
pocodulio

Multimate was the first word processor that I used.

cupcake
cupcake

My first foray into word processing was actually on a dedicated word processor and let me tell you, at that point, anything was better than having to retype the entire document for one error or change! Other than that, I recall WordStar for DOS and I think I used MacWrite when I switched over to Macs.

wendygoerl
wendygoerl

For the record, my first word processor was a little (RAN on one 5.25" disk!) shareware thing called MindReader. Couldn't do fancy fonts or sizes, but you could spell "supercalifragilisticexpailladocious" as "sup;" long before the "big guys" learned to check the dictionary as you typed. In college, we used WordPerfect because its equation writer was the smallest headache for genereating equations, and I still use WordPerfect for most of my processor work. But the reason I haven't gone Linux isn't Mocrisoft or Corel, it's Adobe. Anything that involves illustration, I'd rather do in PageMaker; definitely anything with multiple text streams; and if I happen to have PageMaker open when I remember I need to write a letter, I'll do it in Pagemaker rather than bother opening a word processor. And when I;m thinking of writing a book, it's actually a bit of a decision if I'm going to open WordPerfect or PageMaker, because with WordPerfect, I either have to save the chapters separately (and constantly shuffle between files) or paw through a really big file looking for the point I want. With PageMaker, I can think in "final format" and not worry about whether I remembered to assign a page break at the end of the chapter, or if it somehow got separated from the test it was supposed to be attatched to.

willcomp
willcomp

Started with PC Write -- it was shareware and reasonably priced to purchase. I still have the printed manual. Strictly ASCII text and an excellent editor as well as word processor. Eventually gravitated to Word Perfect 5.1.

bkleonard
bkleonard

My first word processor was briefly Smart System(an office productivity suite) then along came Ashton-Tate's Framework and I jumped ship. Anything that I do not need to give to the "outside world" I still do in Framework(Version 8 of course); primarily because of it's outlining functions and the fact that the files can easily contain text, spreadsheets, graph and graphics as well as database fields; all with minimal overhead. It is still being produced by the original developers who now run a company called "Selections & Functions" and they are on the web at Framework.com

User94327
User94327

I also remember my 1st PC came with GEM Desktop and using GEM Write to produce a few documents.

treibs
treibs

I used Magic Wand and later WordStar running under CP/M, then WordPerfect running under MS-DOS. I still run WordPerfect 5.1 for MS-DOS for some merge applications that do not run as well in more modern word processors, and keep an old MS-DOS machine around for that purpose. Now I use mostly recent versions of WordPerfect for Windows, but sometimes use OpenOffice Writer for Windows and for Linux.

Lazarus439
Lazarus439

I've user Wordstar, WordPerfect (DOS and Windows versions) and several other word processors. I don't miss having to know how to do the same thing 10 different ways! Had it not been for Microsoft's hard ball and its competitors' ineptitude, the most of competing programs would not have survivied anyway. The continually emerging requirements for file compatibilty would have doomed them. With no common file formats, the companies which buy the software would have reduced the number of viable programs to just a few anyway because of the need to share files with customers, clients and other external entities. Think Beta/VHS and HD DVD/Blue Ray. The pro-Windows arguement about software diversity is not about how many different programs will do the same thing, e.g, process words, but how many different things are there than there's some program (maybe more than one program) can do.

911
911

When discussing legacy word processors, don't forget PC-Write. PC-Write was the original shareware, and developer Bob Wallace became quite wealthy from his 'free' PC-Write). PC-Write was feature-rich, yet fast and nearly bug-free. It had a loyal following of 100s of thousands of paying customers (plus 50 times as many freeloaders). PC-Write's downfall was Wallace's inability to produce (or disinterest in producing) a solid Windows version of PC-Write. There were at least 3 problems, 2 of which were not technical in nature: (1) Mr. Wallace disliked using a mouse (2) he sold his company - but stayed on as an employed programmer. Neither was conducive to moving forward and making a good Windows version. (3) the technical problem with PC-Write, Wallace, and Windows: Bob Wallace was the finest PASCAL programmer anywhere and one of the best assembly language programmers. Coding for Windows demanded proficiency with C and C++. Assembler and PASCAL of the early 90s (and his baby, PC-WRITE) were not a good fit for the brave new world. Think about it: multi-millionaire, no longer running his own company, needing to shift gears to become a novice in a new programming paradigm, and increasingly interested in psychedelic drugs.... why bother? A good programmer with a future vision could have kept PC-Write viable - it would probably still be around today. It was that good. As people found Windows-based word processors, PC-Write fell behind and became a money pit for the guy who bought Wallace's company, Quicksoft. Come to think of it, the same happened to WordStar and WordPerfect, and all of the other DOS-era also-rans. Beyond PC-Write.... I started with Speed Script on Commodore 64. On PCs, I first used WordStar, but WordPerfect quickly became my mainstay for serious, end-product writing. WP offered free, high-quality support from skilled technicians who spoke English as a first language. More importantly, WordPerfect had awesome power. Wordstar imploded and WP got better and better. Among the elegant features of WordPerfect still not implemented well in Word was "Reveal Codes." Reveal Codes showed you the behind-the-scenes formatting codes. When something didn't display correctly you could use that feature to find the codes and fix the display/print - it was awesome. What Word calls "Reveal Formating" is the usual Microsoft 'me-too, me-too-late' method of designing products. WP's reveal was simple & effective. Tasks that were so simple in WP are so complicated in today's Word. The DOS versions of Word were very buggy and had a bizarre interface. Today's Word is the standard, and I use it, although I'm using OpenOffice a lot more these days. As for spreadsheets of old(e), Quattro Pro and SuperCalc had features that Excel STILL can't manage. Example: moving a column. In those old guys, you highlighted the column, placed your cursor where you wanted to move the column, and hit ENTER - rather like today's drag-and-drop. Excel STILL requires several steps to accomplish the same common task.

mikifinaz1
mikifinaz1

Look at the "free software" movement. There people just make software they want and others who want it get it. There is not cost to free in a very real sense if you are doing it because you love it. Almost all the products you mentioned were built to make money. To make money you have to sell enough copies to make a profit so "niche" software is left behind. The other hurdle is that the dirty little secret of software is making it is not easy. When making software is at the level of the old roll your own HTML then there will be more diversity.

saidco
saidco

TypeWrite (AM Jacquard)

tchall
tchall

You forgot to include Peachtext... with NO formatting on the entry screen... all the formatting commands embedded in a solid block of text... Ah, THOSE were the days!!!

tufte
tufte

I used ChiWriter starting in 1988. It was a great word processor for technical work. I kept with it until 1998 (4 years after they stopped selling it). I still have ancient documents archived in it, and it still runs them fairly well under XP - although to use them I have to convert them to WP 5.1, and then import them into Word.

usr19x@
usr19x@

Long before Quark was known for xPress, they had a word processor for Apple][ called WordJuggler. It had a lot of advanced features including a cache for copy/cut that allowed you to select an item from the cache to insert into the document. WordStar was great for DOS, I used it in conjunction with an early version of Adobe PageMaker that came bundled with a run-time version of Windows(1 or 2 ?) in the early PC prepress systems I set up (nothing like early windows on a 286). WordPerfect was very good in both DOS and Windows until version 8. By then Word had become the "default" as it was given away with most new Win3 and early win95.

matthew.lunsford
matthew.lunsford

My first wordprocessor was Applewriter in a lab on campus. When I bought my first computer, a Zenith w/o HD and a 5.25" floppy I moved to PC-Write. Later I bought a laptop, no HD and two 3.5" floppy drives. It came with Wordstar. That setup wrote many a paper when I was doing my graduate work. I really liked WordStar and the idea of having key-combinations so that your hands never had to leave the keys! Today Office 2003 and 2007 both at home and work. Playing with OPenOffice both places too. Curious, is there a modern WordStar equivalent that runs under windows?

chuckmba@adelphia.net
chuckmba@adelphia.net

Being in the military we were fortunate enough to have a word processor, spreadsheet and database ensemble called Enable that came with came on government computers from Zenith. It was terrible. After I had a report destroyed by an accidental cut and paste I switched to WordPerfect. I think one of WordPerfect's biggest mistakes when producing a windows version was shifting all of the function keys. Instead of a shift F7 it was now a shift F8.

daneke
daneke

I used CANDE (Command and Edit) for Burroughs - ran on all different stack based o/s - mini, small, medium, and large. When they acquired Redactron (a leder in word processing dedicated equipment) our team wrote converson software to move files between systems.

mick
mick

Bank Street Writer on a Commodore PC10-2

joefine48
joefine48

Mine was MS Works for DOS, 1989.

kurt.houghtaling
kurt.houghtaling

My 1st word-processor was AtariWriter (wrote my MS thesis with it).

james.henley
james.henley

Anyone remember Volswriter "the first word processor developed for the new IBM PC". After using vi on a Unix box, it was realy slick. Then I switched to Jim Button's PC-WRITE.

techrepublic
techrepublic

The first WP (besides Wang WP, which came too late to PCs) my wife and I used seriously was WriteNow on the Mac. She is still using WriteNow 4.0 (mostly because it still runs on MacOS X 10.4 [but apparently not 10.5, Leopard]. Nothing else seems able to import its obscure file format. She is also using Word (MS Office V.X), since many of her students use Word. I eventually switched to ClarisWorks/AppleWorks, but that's now deprecated as well. I write so little (in letter form) these days that I seem to get by with HTML pages (SeaMonkey), and for text: TextEdit or Wordpad!

mjrogers
mjrogers

Scripsit on a Tandy Model I clone.

michael
michael

Leading Edge Word Processor

jabraham
jabraham

Has anyone used the Open Access suite? I was turned onto this SW by a consultant in 1985 or '86. It was a good package with DB and SS software packages included. We coupled it with Harvard Graphics a few years later.

alliancemillsoft
alliancemillsoft

I STILL use WP, but I have had to load Word as well, because so many idiots used to send me Word files like everyone should have it. Why use WP? Hey, it's just a word processor .. get over it. I always publish docs in PDF anyway, which WP does quite nicely with Internet links and embedded fonts if I want it. And unlike Word, WP always gets the page numbers right, and I know where to ALWAYS find the commands.

Charles
Charles

Aside from the Word Star I used on my Osborne, my first real PC word prossessor was PC-Write and its trim cousin, PC-Write Lite. The latter was perfect for my job as a journalist: fast, clean and just the ticket for what I needed. My current versions of Word (2007) and Word Perfect (X3) are massive programs that offer a ton of features I will never use.

jevans4949
jevans4949

The first microprocessor word processor I used was Worstar on CP/M. I also wrote my own for a pre-IBM home machine. The first time I bought MS Office with my own money was the XP version. The reason? I was starting a business where I would need to receive WP files from the general public. Pointless to get any other. Every year, this requirement becomes more critical. Maybe if the new ODF standard really takes off, this will open up the market again. Provided the average user can figure out how to save with it.

douglasalt1
douglasalt1

Any one remember Ashton Tate's Multimate with its lovely keyboard template? Start of my user support career with a private client stockbroker meant I had to learn this fast. Quirky but able to do the job.

skrap
skrap

I used my C64 and OmniWriter right through college to 1992. The 80-column mode took a bit of imagination/squinting. After that, I had an Apple, but didn't do Word Processing with it. Didn't really come back to Word Processing again until 1996, with Word for Mac, which definitely felt different from OmniWriter. I work with DTP solutions using Word for Windows now. IMO, Word works well, but you have to use the right features for every job. There are 5 different ways to accomplish different tasks, but this is a best way. Do it another way and you can have a crashy mess on your hands. Hmm -- diversity WITHIN Word. That's scary.

TroyW
TroyW

Wordstar, followed by Wordworth, then Final Copy II, Final Writer. Ahh the days of the Amiga... The I "upgraded" to a Windows PC with Word.

robinmeikl
robinmeikl

Back in 1987 if memory serves me correctly I think I used something called "Perfect Writer" or similar on an Oliveti PC perhaps an M20 using MS DOS 3.x.

boxfiddler
boxfiddler

but 'ancient' has been driving me up a wall for a couple of days now. The Parthenon is ancient. The Pyramids are ancient. Stonehenge is ancient. Word processors didn't exist when I was a kid. I'm definitely not 'that' old.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

The first word processor I used was Peachtext, on a Zenith 120 running CP/M. Much more intuitive for editing than WordStar, with a separate print formatter. Then came WordPerfect... Oh, well!

bkleonard
bkleonard

You might be able to use them. The current BIOSes (& Win 7) still support 5.25 drives. If you've got a bay open pop one in(same as mounting a optical drive); the drives & cables are still around. Of course there's NO telling how, or if, the program will run a modern processor speeds.

santeewelding
santeewelding

Tucked away in a box with its 2KB capacity, upgraded from the previous 1.5KB. Talk about choosing words and punctuation carefully, and with a once-through ribbon.

lmarcus
lmarcus

The first word processor I used on a PC was Samna. As I recall, Samna was used a lot in government. When Windows came out, the DOS-based Samna became Windows-based Ami Pro. Another word processor I enjoyed for the short time it was around was Lotus Manuscript.

RichMJones
RichMJones

Thanks for this reply. A topic for another time: "Coding for Windows demanded proficiency with C and C++." I don't think C, and certainly NOT C++ as being proficient (not the same meaning), I suppose the universality of character based languages allows them to be used for anything, without having to evaluate good or bad software design and future transitions needing maintainability. Show a resume with C++ proficiency and you get a job, producing code rapidly, but not contributing to future maintainability, if fact basing survival on the dependable obsolescence of your life's work.

ozi Eagle
ozi Eagle

The first word processor I can remember using was a DOS based one that I got a copy of. I can't remember what it was called, but PC Write kinda gently rings a bell. After this I used the one included with Symphony (prelude to 123), Then WORDPERFECT V5.1, for DOS. A great program. Upgraded to V7 with windows 95 and had to upgrade to V10 with XP. I still use V10. I notice that V12 is now being offered to users at half price. I find it much more user friendly than word, and yes I have also had to install word to read others docs. Herb

John Sheesley - TechRepublic Pro
John Sheesley - TechRepublic Pro

PerfectWriter was a stripped down version of WordPerfect. At the time discrete word processors, spreadsheets, and databases were priced in the $495 range, which put them out of the price range of most people and encouraged piracy. Rather than lowering prices, companies like WordPerfect came out with simpler and lower priced versions. PerfectWriter was an example of this.

RichMJones
RichMJones

Education: Ok, A good reply would be to educate us readers about the origin of writing the specific transitions between graphical iconography and repeatable glyphs and then writing (Homer, etal) The contex of "ancient" should include the element of new discovery, e.g. I found that I could not produce readable handwriting, so I had to get a type writer, to get out of High School. (Ancient times i.e. 60's, precluded, unreadable handwriters from academics.) But when education remided us that typesetting is well within the "ancient" times (my) definition. It seemed ok to use "ancient" in this contex, note also that "history of His Story" often refers to the tellers version of history and it is the victors who write history to tell "His Story". Thanks for your reply.

brattonr
brattonr

My first word processor on a "PC" was PeachText, but for the longest I used ScriptSit on a TRS-80 Mod I. Got thru college doing my reports using it.

RichMJones
RichMJones

Your quote, see below, is a good summary of history, but this was avoidable. "The continually emerging requirements for file compatibility would have doomed them. With no common file formats, the companies which buy the software would have reduced the number of viable programs to just a few anyway because of the need to share files with customers, clients and other external entities." This was a "continually emerging... common file formats..." For 35 years I have pointed out to anyone who would listen. "The output of any program should be readable by any another program." Subtract the word "any" or add in the program's context and it is possible to see that a word processing program's output include a form (export) made compatible with the (import) capability of another word processing software. I had advantage over this persistent state of affairs in that all the first programs I wrote specified two formats call them A, B, in 4 combinations. To run normally both formats were specified as A (in/out) the same. To upgrade A (in) and B (out) enabling a new format with old data. To revert or downgrade B (in) and A (out). And in the post conversion the B (in/out). This does not preclude a separate upgrade module to handle conversions across generations of upgrades; it only requires that the original be converted to the upgraded, but also that the upgraded version be reverted to the original format. This is intended to save time, but it not intended some economical sort of universal translator, although you could wish the format was expressed in standard generalized markup language (SGML) with BNF format specifications. You may wish but it's too late. Note I did not invent this notion, it would come to any programmer doing an upgrade, and it did come from the "Software Tool" book, circa 1974, by a noted author, Brian Kernighan. When the market place grows tired of reinventing the wheel and becomes dissatisfied with monoculture sofrware, let me know.

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