Early days of word processing software
The ability to compose, edit, store and print text documents is an indispensable computing task. Yet while simple text editors have existed since the dawn of the computer age, it was years before more sophisticated tools started to appear.

The Electric Pencil

Altair enthusiast and programmer Michael Shrayer wanted to create manuals using his PC. However, the simple editors available at the time simply weren't up to the job, so he decided to write a new application.

The result was a word processing program called Electric Pencil. Released in 1976, it required just 8K of memory to run on an Intel 8080 or Zilog Z-80 processor. After strong sales from PC owners, Shrayer ported the initial code to dozens of other operating systems.

Seymour Rubenstein's official position was director of marketing for IMSAI. However, he'd also started to develop a word processor for the company's IMSAI 8080 computer. Determined to pursue the idea further, he left and piled his savings into a start-up called MicroPro International and, in the process, Rubenstein successfully headhunted IMSAI software programmer Rob Barnaby to join his embryonic company. Barnaby would later create the 1979 version of WordStar for CPIM (a popular operating system of the time developed by Gary Kildall, the founder of Digital Research).

Rubenstein then asked team member Jim Fox to port the WordStar code from CP/M to Microsoft's PC DOS, and when WordStar 3.0 for DOS hit the shelves in 1982, sales started to climb. By the mid-1980s WordStar became the most popular word processing system in the world. One of its advocates was Arthur C Clarke, who suggested it reignited his passion to write.

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At around the same time Softwood Systems were promoting a word processing application called MultiMate for Microsoft DOS. The market plan revolved around business users, with a focus on insurance companies, law firms and similar companies.

A key sales driver was that MultiMate enabled customers to migrate from expensive, single-purpose Wang Word Processor workstations to the much cheaper and more versatile PC platform, so the application's keystrokes were specifically designed to be familiar to Wang users. Riding on the back of strong IBM PC sales, orders soon reached $1 million a month.


Yet the marketplace was easily big enough to support another competitor. WordPerfect started life as a university project by student Bruce Bastian and Professor Alan Ashton. In 1986 the IBM PC version 4.2 soared in popularity it introduced features critical to law and academic customers.

WordPerfect 5.1 enhanced its reputation with an improved user interface and support for embedded tables, while version 6.0 incorporated dual graphical editing and print preview modes. In fact, WordPerfect became so successful that for years rival applications were obliged to support the WordPerfect document file format.

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The widespread adoption of bit-mapped screens and graphical user interfaces changed the game, though. Programmers could now create 'What You See Is What You Get' (WYSIWYG - or Wizzy-wig) document views. Two leaders of this trend were Apple's MacWrite and Microsoft Word.

MacWrite only ran on Apple Macintosh computers and supported just a few Apple printers. However, Microsoft ensured Word was available for IBM PCs, PC clones, Apple Macs and the Atari ST. Word also supported printers from a wide range of manufacturers - tactics that led to worldwide domination.