What is the package from IBM newbies

A little history of word processing

Electric Pencil, WordStar, Superwriter, Euroscript ... sigh. For someone who makes a living from writing longer texts, the list of word processors they have used over time is something like a reminder of previous relationships. We lived, saved and laughed together. Or sometimes suffered and cursed when the text once again disappeared into nirvana between the operating system and the data carrier.

Strange memories are left behind. For example to the ESC key with which the text was sent to the tape cassette to be saved in Electric Pencil. Or to WordStar's elegant cursor control without a mouse, or to “laapd mail.dru”, which was used to load an “e-mail printer file” into Euroscript that set hard line breaks.

The introduction of word processing into everyday life has brought about many changes. In 1981 I wrote the 257 pages of my master's thesis on a typewriter. Simply inserting a few changes in the first chapters was not possible or only possible with enormous effort. What was written was final. With the computer and word processing it looks very different. The text is variable, thanks to copy & paste, even the thoughts that have become entrenched while writing are fluid. That can be liberating, but it can also lead to a flattening and negligent volatility, as Stefan Weber did in his book “The Google-Copy-Paste-Syndrome. How network plagiarism endangers training and knowledge. ”(Heise Verlag) formulated.

Painful memories

c't Retro 2019

This article is part of the c't edition 27/2019

Anyone who talks about the development of word processing cannot be silent about the disasters they have experienced. By no means all word processors automatically create backup copies or in between - such as Word - prompted the user to save. Dramas took place where long texts could no longer be saved due to a lack of free space on the floppy disk. Where when trying to save a text the word processor was accidentally deleted.

Dark tales from the engine room of the hyphenation that had been started, which in a diploma thesis cleaned up so that the footnotes disappeared. Screams of desperation in the face of incompatible file formats that, when attempting to save at least one text file, split it into useless individual parts. Dull memories of the difficult collaboration with publishers are awakened, who immediately took the next step and required the delivery of texts in a layout program such as QuarkXPress.

Quiz question: Who was the biggest software company in 1984 with the onset of the PC boom? Microsoft? Unfortunately wrong, because with 60 million dollars MicroPro International led the list as the manufacturer of WordStar, the best-selling word processor of the time. Written entirely in assembler by the programmer Rob Barnaby for the CP / M operating system in four months and with a slim 137,000 lines of code, WordStar was the standard word processor par excellence.

MicroPro sold them through computer dealers who also obliged them to explain the program to the buyers. With the launch of the IBM PC, the company immediately had an extensive network of dealers who could provide assistance to newcomers on the computer. WordStar has been translated into 42 languages, a number that only surpassed Windows 95. Electronic word processing, however, is much older than WordStar, desktop computers and PCs.

1950: Double punched tape

It all began with the Flexowriter from Friden, an electric typewriter with two attached punched tape readers that was offered in early 1950. It made form letters possible for the first time. To do this, a letter address was first read into the system from a punched tape and the device was stopped by a control character. The second punched tape then deposited the text of the letter. The Flexowriter quickly developed into the toughest competition to the IBM Selectric typewriter.

IBM successfully countered the attack with the MT / ST system, the "Magnetic Type Selectric Typewriter". Its task was "Word Processing", a term introduced by the former fighter pilot Ulrich Steinhilper. He worked as the Germany manager of the typewriter division of IBM and was concerned with the question of how one could call the mixture of text and data in modern mail merge functions. In 1956 he got the idea to speak of word processing analogously to data processing, a term that IBM immediately picked up and marketed.

In Germany, the system was sold as a "magnetic tape typewriter" (MB 72), which describes how it works well. The MT / ST was a ball head machine with a side table on which a massive mechanism controlled two tape drives that were equipped with memory cartridges. Up to 28,000 characters, around twelve A4 pages, fit on a magnetic tape. Texts once written on the tapes were processed by the racing ball head with 900 strokes per minute.

The MT / ST made it possible to rewrite or copy paragraphs and to move blocks of text. The serial letter turned out to be the most important feature: One volume contained the control file with the addresses, the other the form letter. Extensive corrections were no longer a problem with the MT / ST because the latest version could always be saved on the second tape station.

The marvel cost 42,719 marks, but most companies preferred to rent the machine for 1,044 marks a month and invest heavily in their extensive band collections. IBM's largest customer in Germany was Allianz insurance, whose clerks no longer had to dictate texts. Instead, they looked for the corresponding numbers of the text modules from an extensive set of empty phrases and just entered the numbers. The “death band 14 23 56”, for example, generated a condolence letter to the relatives of the deceased, which also promised the speedy processing of the insurance benefit and requested the necessary documents.

1969: Find and Replace

IBM used the great success of MT / ST to bring a successor based on magnetic cards onto the market in 1969. The MC 72 magnetic card writer could do much less than the MT / ST: Instead of two drives, there was only one card slot. The flexible magnetic cards, which were exactly the size of punched cards, were so flat that they could easily be attached to the files. This brought the 31,790 mark system (monthly rent 725 marks) the breakthrough in large law firms.

On the magnetic cards (50 tracks, 100 storage locations, each track corresponded to a line of text) it was possible to search specifically for individual words, which could also be automatically replaced by other terms. The important "Search and Replace" function had found its way into the world of word processing. The MC 72, on the other hand, was less suitable for extensive serial letters. It required a dedicated data line and the help of an IBM data center.

In this situation, a company called Redactron started in the early 1970s with their "Dual Media Edition Typwriter". The device could process magnetic tapes, magnetic cards from IBM, Remington and Burroughs as well as older text storage with an additional, installable punch tape reader. The programmer Howard Koplow studied the system at Wang Laboratories and in 1976 built the Wang Office Information System (Wang OIS) based on the Redactron concept. Koplow had previously developed interfaces with which Wang desktop computers were connected to an IBM Selectric in such a way that numbers from the computer could be copied directly into the text.

The next level was the Word Processing System 700, the coupling of a desktop computer with an IBM Selectric and two cassette recorders as storage media. Whenever a line was written, it was also saved. Up to 20 pages fit on one cassette. That seemed like a lot, but it wasn't enough for the needs of a law firm, for example.

The Wang era

So Koplow invented a master station with hard disk storage. Several of them could be connected to a virtual server using coax cables. Then he and David Moros wrote a user manual for an ideal word processor. This was intended for frequent writers and provided numerous functions for office work. This manual alone convinced the company founder, An Wang, to have a word processing terminal developed on the basis of the Intel 8080 (later Zilog Z80). Koplew wrote the software, both the operating system and the actual word processor, in assembler.

The Wang OIS (Office Information System) dominated word processing from 1976 until the mid-1980s - a Russian clone called Iskra was also very successful in the Eastern Bloc. According to statistics from Bloomberg, 80 percent of the 2000 largest US companies used Wang office systems. In 1984, the same year that WordStar software led MicroPro to become the PC market leader, Wang posted a profit of $ 210 million based on sales of $ 2.2 billion. Then the crash occurred because the PC could be used much more flexibly.

When the US insurance company Connected Mutual Life replaced their Wang equipment with a thousand PCs, they quickly had a clone of the Wang word processor created, which was quite successful under the name Multimate. The special highlight: A film with the Wang function keys such as "Replace" or "Move" was placed over the IBM keyboard so that former Wang users could continue working immediately.

The small computers also text

While Wang dominated the offices, the scene of hobby programmers and hobbyists occupied themselves with self-made computers based on the Intel 8080 and other microprocessors. Companies such as IMSAI, Cormenco and Apple started selling kits from 1976, from which committed hobbyists put together computers that could be programmed in BASIC, Forth and Assembler.

One of the most popular program collections that was exchanged among hobbyists on the American west coast was “Software Package 1” from Processor Technology for the “Terminal Computer Sol” it offered. This package for the Intel 8080 processor has been extensively expanded by the scriptwriter Michael Shrayer and given away as an "Extended Software Package" among the hobbyists of the Homebrew Computer Club. At one of their meetings, several visitors offered Shrayer payment for porting or upgrading to their respective computer systems.

Shrayer quickly recognized the need. From the collection of all tools developed by assembler, the word processor Electric Pencil was created, which Shrayer sold via mail order. Undauntedly, he adapted the program for every imaginable microcomputer and thus produced a total of 78 different versions. One of the last of these ran on the IBM PC. Shrayer pulled out of business after selling 250,000 copies. His program was already so well known that it was a synonym for word processing. Electric Pencil had become a generic term, like Kleenex or Coke.

Shrayer could have opened up the market for word processing on microprocessor computers on his own. However, that did not happen. Because the Electric Pencil sold in Germany by Hofacker Software for 280 D-Mark was a wonderful word processor. Due to the lack of annoying menus and screen markers, it was also suitable for small screens such as that of the first Osborne system. But it wasn't a text printing company. In order to get good results with the dot matrix printer on paper, patience and several printouts were necessary. Some of the cryptic formatting directives produced unpredictable results.

The competition is awakening

The success of Electric Pencil and the increasing affordability of microcomputers brought more and more competitors to the scene. For example, the Easywriter word processor for the Apple II, written by John Draper in 1979 and named after the film Easy Rider. Draper, also known as "Captain Crunch" as a hacker, was imprisoned for abuse of communications services. He had used a whistle to make free calls around the world. In prison, he was placed on an open-ended rehabilitation program. This allowed him to work on Easywriter at night and test the program during the day at the company that employed him.

The word processor written in Forth was command-compatible with the formatting instructions of Electric Pencil and was originally only intended to be used to document the Forth programmed by Draper for Apple. Since the Apple II could only display capital letters and 40 characters per line on the monitor, Draper used the "reverse video" display for real capital letters. That looked a bit strange on the screen, but the paper printout was decisive. The printer drivers written by Draper in prison supported the proportional font of type wheel printers. This brought word processing to great success, especially since the 80-character version called Easywriter Professional was quite fast on the PC thanks to Forth and was also taken over by IBM.

The rise and fall of WordStar

WordStar's star rose in 1978. The CP / M version was already very successful. This was due, among other things, to the optionally available help function and the rapidly growing selection of printer drivers. WordStar was aimed at experienced typists and offered cursor control that was aimed at the left hand, while the right hand took over the less frequently required command inputs.

In 1982 the PC version appeared with the slogan "What You See Is What you Get" (WYSIWYG). At that time it was only meant that lines and paragraph breaks were displayed reasonably accurately (if you limited yourself to a 10-point font) and that you could set margin settings and tab stops on the screen. With WordStar, MicroPro International grew to the largest independent software company by 1984. Even a large corporation like AT&T had to beg and pay a lot of money to have the program ported to Unix, which was owned by AT&T at the time.

After the appearance of WordStar 3.3, the luxury of building up a second development team alongside the WordStar programmers, which was supposed to cover the market with a competing word processor called WordStar 2000, was afforded. WordStar 2000 supported a handful of laser printers and was therefore not marketed as a "Word Processor", but as a "Word Publisher", but sold at the same price as the WordStar 4.0, which has since been released. Since this worked to some extent, the management decided to do without the database with more than 300 printer drivers for the version of WordStar 5.0 and to rely entirely on the differently structured and smaller printer library of WordStar 2000.

This turned out to be a fatal error, because initially WordStar could not print at all due to the incompatible printer database, which greatly delayed the appearance of the program. These mistakes by management and product management ultimately sealed the fate of MicroPro. The users switched in droves to WordPerfect, Microsoft Word or one of the numerous competitors who appeared, such as Papyrus, Starwriter or TexAss Window.

Here comes the mouse

Microsoft, however, continued to rely on WYSIWYG. The PC version of the "Multi Tool Word" originally developed for Microsoft Xenix could at least display bold, italic and underlined fonts on PCs equipped with certain graphics cards. Word was also the first popular word processor that could be operated with a mouse. The programmer Charles Simonyi, who switched from Xerox to Microsoft, wrote the first graphically oriented word processor at Xerox with Bravo and adopted some of his ideas in the development of Microsoft Word and Multiplan. Most of them went into Microsoft Word for the Macintosh, introduced in 1985, which sold far better than the PC version under DOS for four years.

In the USA, this only came to large numbers when Microsoft bundled word processing with Microsoft Bookshelf, a CD-ROM with reference works. This included Houghton Mifflien's spell checker, the Chicago Manual of Style, Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, and the American Heritage Dictionary. Bookshelf worked as a memory-resident program and could not only be called from Word, but from twelve other word processors. However, the tools did not cooperate with Word's graphics mode, which was becoming increasingly important at Microsoft. With the appearance of Windows 3.0 in 1990, work on the DOS version was finally stopped.

In addition to the big names, there were also one or two outsiders. For example, the Euroscript mentioned at the beginning has become an insider tip among writers, journalists and other prolific writers. This was the German version of the US word processor XyWrite, which was Germanized by North American Software. Euroscript not only did without WYSIWYG in any form, but also with menus or command key combinations. Instead, commands were typed into a command line. For example, to set a left margin of 5, you typed "LR 5"; the command for centering a paragraph of text was "ZE", for printing it was "DR" and so on.It took just as much getting used to as the representation of formatting instructions as small triangular symbols, of which a whole chain could appear in front of a line or a paragraph.

What Euroscript users particularly valued was the high speed at which the program worked, for example when searching for and replacing or reformatting even extremely long texts. In addition, Euroscript did not use its own file format, but instead saved pure ASCII files with formatting instructions embedded between special characters.

Home computers as office machines

Home computers hit the scene in the early 1980s. In order to get rid of the children's room image, the manufacturers like to refer to the devices such as a Commodore VC20 and C64 or Atari 800 as personal computers and emphasized their suitability for serious office work. A number of word processing programs and affordable printers appeared for the compact everyone's computer. Nevertheless, the Commodores, Ataris or Sinclairs could not assert themselves in offices. This was due to their playful reputation as well as the fact that many used audio cassettes that were not acceptable as a cheap storage medium in professional use. The usually low character resolution in text mode probably weighed more heavily. 20-25 lines with 40 characters each were just not enough.

In 1985, the British company Amstrad tried a pure writing and office computer that was largely based on home computer technology. The PCW 8256 with the 8-bit Z80 processor from Zilog was not aimed at children's rooms, but was intended to conquer typing offices. Similar to the original Macintosh, the computer, disk drive and monitor were housed in a housing with a separate keyboard. CP / M was used as the operating system, the word processor used was called LocoScript. A special feature of the PCW, which was marketed by Schneider in this country under the name "Joyce", was its high screen resolution. In text mode he even managed 90 characters per line, more than the usual personal computers.

In itself, the Amstrad computer would have been an attractive and, above all, inexpensive alternative to the IBM PC, since it did not cost more than the writing software on DOS computers alone. Unfortunately, it came way too late, because the Atari ST appeared in the same year. With a 16-bit processor, high-resolution monochrome monitor and a graphical user interface based on the Macintosh model, it quickly blossomed into an affordable office machine.

In terms of performance, it was clearly superior to the DOS computers of its time and not least thanks to highly innovative word processing programs, many of them like the popular Signum! from a German forge, it could well have overtaken the PCs. There were several reasons why that didn't happen. The most important one should have been the brand name. In the USA Atari stood exclusively for computer games, the ST was not taken very seriously outside of Europe. On this side of the Atlantic, Atari computers were in direct competition with DOS PCs for at least a few years, only to be completely ousted by them.

W.ordPerfect oversleeps Windows

Today, Microsoft's Word in various versions is by far the most widely used word processor, but between the decline of WordStar and the rise of Word, another program caused a sensation: WordPerfect, originally developed for computers by Data General, dominated the DOS word processing market between 1985 and 1991 . It was noteworthy that the manufacturer offered a free support hotline that was manned day and night. Sometimes over 1000 employees worked in telephone support, which in turn earned WordPerfect the dubious reputation of being difficult software. But that was also due to the fact that the function keys were assigned four times and some of the keys also worked unusually. For example, the help wanted to be called up with F3, while F1 instead of the usual Esc activated the cancellation function and Alt-F1 called the thesaurus.

Nevertheless, the DOS version had a large following until WordPerfect slept through the development of Microsoft Windows. It wasn't until 1991 that WordPerfect for Windows appeared, a very slow and buggy version that completely ruined the program's reputation. In 1994, incomprehensibly, Novell bought the ailing WordPerfect Corporation for 850 million dollars in order to put an office suite into the race against the very successful Microsoft Office together with the Borland products Quattro Pro (spreadsheet) and Paradox (database). The project ended in total fiasco, but it's a different story - that of the integrated programs that began with ValDocs for Apple and Framework for DOS. (Detlef Borchers / [email protected])

1993: Keyboards only for stubborn heads without home robots

“What will word processing look like in ten years?” This question was asked in 1983 by the American author Peter McWilliams, who, along with many other works, also wrote the “Word Processing Book” published in 1983.

“In ten years we will fondly remember the keyboard. While some stubborn heads (which I'm sure to be) will continue to use a keyboard to enter text, most people will have switched to voice input devices. These speech input devices (originally designed to communicate with home robots but quickly adopted by word processors) will be able to recognize every word known in the Proto-Indo-European languages ​​plus computer Chinese.

Anyone who listens to you when you process your texts with one of these ultra-modern machines will believe that you have a trained secretary at your side. "Write down a letter to the Wilhelmshavener Fischfabrik" or "Let's finish the article about Prince Charles" second divorce ". The machine will know how to create a letter file and look up the address of the Wilhelmshaven fish factory, or it will automatically call up the file about the royal divorce. The keyboard and screen may still be used to insert a word here and there or delete a comma, but most of the interaction will be on a verbal level.

The request, 'Read me the last paragraph', will prompt the synthesizer to recite your immortal words in any voice that can be chosen between Marilyn Monroe and Willy Brandt. /../ In 1994, printers will of course primarily be found in museums. All computers will be directly connected to each other via satellites, just as all apartments are connected by telephone today. Your letter will be sent directly to the gentlemen responsible at the Wilhelmshaven fish factory, who may prefer to have it read to them in the voice of Daniel Hechter. /../

And I'll be writing a new version of this book in ten years time and figuring out what the world of word processing might look like in 2004. It will be the last book of its kind that I will ever have to write. My 2004 word processor will write the book due in 2014 all by myself. "

This article is from c't Retro 2019.