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Issue No.04 - October-December (2006 vol.28)
pp: 32-47
Thomas J. (Tim) Bergin , American University
ABSTRACT
Since Electric Pencil first debuted in 1976, more than 400 other word processing packages have emerged, most fading into oblivion. This article--first of two in this issue that together recount the history of microcomputer word processing software--focuses on three of the earliest word processing software packages, Electric Pencil, EasyWriter, and WordStar, which was the mid-1980s leader in the CP/M, PC-DOS, and MS-DOS operating system environments
INDEX TERMS
word processing software, Electric Pencil, Easy Writer, WordStar, Word Perfect, Microsoft Word, Microsoft Windows, Michael Shrayer, John Draper, Seymour Rubinstein
CITATION
Thomas J. (Tim) Bergin, "The Origins of Word Processing Software for Personal Computers: 1976-1985", IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, vol.28, no. 4, pp. 32-47, October-December 2006, doi:10.1109/MAHC.2006.76
REFERENCES
1. The best history of personal computing is contained in P. Freiberger and M. Swaine, Fire in the Valley: The Making of the Personal Computer, 2nd ed., McGraw-Hill, 2000.
2. The finest discussion of application software evolution will be found in M. Campbell-Kelly, From Airline Reservations to Sonic the Hedgehog: A History of the Software Industry, MIT Press, 2003.
3. S.J. Liebowitz and S.E. Margolis, Winners, Losers and Microsoft: Competition and Antitrust in High Technology, The Independent Inst., 1999, p. 10.
4. The computer was named for the technical editor of Popular Electronics magazine, Les Solomon, who was a strong supporter of the Processor Technology efforts to design a computer.
5. M. Campbell-Kelly, "Not Only Microsoft: The Maturing of the Personal Computer Software Industry, 1982–1995," Business History Rev., no. 75, spring 2001, p. 127.
6. A strict interpretation of Annals "15 year rule" would prohibit discussion of events after 1991; however, a more convenient ending has been chosen based on events surrounding Microsoft Word for Windows.
7. P. Freiberger and M. Swaine, Fire in the Valley: The Making of the Personal Computer, pp. 41–49.
8. Ibid., p. 149.
9. M. Campbell-Kelly, From Airline Reservations to Sonic the Hedgehog: A History of the Software Industry, MIT Press, 2003. p. 217.
10. The Homebrew was an early user "information exchange" between people interested in computers. The first meeting of the Amateur Computer Users Group (aka Homebrew Computer Club) took place on 5 March 1975 in Gordon French's garage in Menlo Park, Calif.
11. Bob Marsh and Gary Ingram founded Processor Technology to manufacture microcomputers in 1975; the other manufacturers at this time were Micro Instrumentation Telemetry Systems (MITS), which built the Altair, and Cromemco, founded by Harry Garland and Roger Melen.
12. P. Freiberger and M. Swaine, Fire in the Valley, p. 146.
13. See "Electric Pencil," in P. Freiberger and M. Swaine, Fire in the Valley, pp. 186–192.
14. For an insight into Michael Shrayer, see "Confessions of a Naked Programmer (Reminiscence—Software, Stores and Magazines)," Creative Computing, vol.10, no. 11, 1984, pp. 130ff; http://www.atarimagazines.com/creativeindex /.
15. P. Freiberger and M. Swaine, Fire in the Valley, p. 187.
16. See, for example, Byte, vol. 3, no. 7, 1978, p. 77.
17. The Electric Pencil Word Processor, operator's manual, copyright 1977 by Michael Shrayer, can be found on Ira Goldklang's site: http:/www.trs-80.com. The operator's manual is in upper and lower case; printing was done on a Diablo 1620 using an OCR-B printwheel and a carbon film ribbon.
18. For example, the Apple and Radio Shack machines had proprietary operating systems; the IMSAI, Cromemco, Kaypro, and Osborne machines had a version of CP/M.
19. The periodical literature uses Electric Pencil II, although the title on the operator's manual is The Electric Pencil2.0z; see http:/www.trs-80.com.
20. A.R. Miller, "The Electric Pencil for CP/M," Interface Age, vol. 3, no. 8, 1978, p. 148. Additional reviews of Electric Pencil can be found in J.A. Greenleaf, "Michael Shrayer's Electric Pencil," Personal Computing, vol. 11, no. 5, 1979, pp. 73–74; and R. Hallen, "Super Word Processors," Microcomputing, June 1980, pp. 214–217.
21. Electric Pencil II advertisement, Byte, vol 3, no. 7, 1978, p. 77.
22. R. Hallen, "Super Word Processors," p. 215, opined that "Just about any text-editing facility can be used to create the data list …" Another unusual feature of the Sharpener is that it did not come with an instruction manual; the master disk contained some information files that could be read on the screen or printed out. It was not for the faint of heart!
23. M. Shrayer, The Electric Pencil 2.0z Operators Manual, appendix IV, "Future Electric Pencil Products," Oct. 1981, pp. 114–115. This manual was prepared using Electric Pencil 2.0 on a TRS-80 Model I (48K RAM and 4 disk drives), and an NEC (probably a daisy wheel) printer operating under the NEWDOS/80 2.0 operating system; proofing and spelling corrections were made with pre-release versions of the Blue Pencil and Red Pencil dictionary/correction programs from Cornucopia Software.
24. P. Freiberger and M. Swaine, Fire in the Valley, p. 291.
25. Esquire, Oct. 1971, pp. 116ff. Further insight into this interesting period can be found in A. Lundell and G.M. Haugen, "The Merry Pranksters of Microcomputing," at http://www.atariarchives.com/delithe_merry_pranksters_ of_microcomputing.php and "The Official Phreaker's Manual by Ron Rosenbaum at http://www.webcrunchers.com/crunchesq-art.html.
26. J.T. Draper, "The Creation of EasyWriter"; http://www.webcrunchers.com/crunch/Play/ ibmstoryhome.html. (Draper's homepage is at http://www.webcrunchers.com/crunchnav1.html .)
27. Forth is unique among programming languages in that its development and proliferation has been a grassroots effort of professional applications, developers, and hobbyists. See E.D. Rather et al., "The Evolution of Forth," History of Programming Languages, T.J. Bergin and R.G. Gibson, eds., ACM Press, 1996, pp. 625–670.
28. J.T. Draper, "The Creation of EasyWriter"; http://www.webcrunchers.com/crunch/Play/ ibmstoryhome.html.
29. This was at a time when most software was given away through the sharing programs of the various user groups for Apple, Radio Shack, Commodore, and other machines; thus EasyWriter and Electric Pencil would have been among the earliest software to be sold rather than shared.
30. S. Jong, "Word Processing Software Roundup," Personal Computing, Jan. 1981, pp. 26–33.
31. P. Freiberger and M. Swaine, Fire in the Valley, p. 346.
32. P. Freiberger and M. Swaine, Fire in the Valley, pp. 347–348.
33. A. Fluegelman, "Not So Easy Writer," PC, vol. 1, no. 1, 1982, pp. 35–39.
34. G. Williams, "A Closer Look at the IBM Personal Computer," Byte, vol. 7. no. 1, p. 62 (full review is pp. 36–68).
35. P. Freiberger and M. Swaine, Fire in the Valley, p. 221.
36. A. Wohl interview by T. Bergin, 2 Oct. 2005.
37. M. Campbell-Kelly, From Airline Reservations to Sonic the Hedgehog, p. 209.
38. This discussion is based on P. Freiberger and M. Swaine, pp. 231–249.
39. S. Veit, "The Computer Store Saga," Creative Computing, vol. 10, no. 11, 1984, p. 135.
40. P. Freiberger and M. Swaine, Fire in the Valley, p. 241.
41. E. Sigel and the staff of Communications Trends Inc., Business/Professional Microcomputer Software Market, 1984–1986, Table 2.2, "Estimated Revenues for Leading Business/Professional Microcomputer Software Publishers and Distributors," p. 19.
42. M. Campbell-Kelly, From Airline Reservations to Sonic the Hedgehog, p. 217.
43. For an interesting, short biography of Rubinstein, see R. Levering, M. Katz, and M. Moskowitz, The Computer Entrepreneurs: Who's Making It Big and How in America's Upstart Industry, New American Library, 1984, pp. 214–220.
44. W. Rubinstein, "Recollections: The Rise and Fall of WordStar," IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, vol. 28, no. 4, pp. 64–72.
45. According to M. Petrie, "A Potted History of WordStar"; http://www.wordstar.org/wordstar/history history.htm.
46. M. Petrie, "A Potted History of WordStar," WordStar Is Born section; http://www.wordstar.org/wordstar/history history.htm.
47. See E. Myers, "Wanted: Software for Micros: The Success or Failure of Microcomputer Companies in This Decade Will Be Determined by Software," Datamation, vol. 27, no. 8, 1981, pp. 56–60.
48. Indeed, Rubinstein took no salary during the first nine months of MicroPro's existence.
49. J.C. Dvorak, "Whatever Happened to WordStar?" Computer Shopper, July 1998; see http://www.econ.ucsb.edu/~tedb/eep/newswordstar.ne.txt .
50. M. Petrie, "A Potted History," WordStar is Born section; http://www.wordstar.org/wordstar/history history.htm.
51. WordStar advertisement, Personal Computing, vol. 5, no. 1, 1981, p. 9. In comments on WordStar, Rick Chapman reminds us that "WYSIWYG" in 1978 did not mean what it means today in a Windows environment (see M.R. Chapman, In Search of Stupidity: Over 20 Years of High-Tech Marketing Disasters, Apress, 2003, p. 49).
52. At this time, most users had to print their material many times to see the effect of formatting commands, which were embedded in the text but not shown on the screen; some later packages, such as WordPerfect, let users toggle between versions of a document displaying or suppressing such format commands.
53. Waldrop and other authors believe WYSIWYG was introduced by the Bravo text editor at Xerox PARC; Wikipedia attributes "WYSIWYG" to a newsletter published by Arlene and Jose Ramos, called WYSIWYG, which was created for the emerging prepress industry going electronic in the late 1970s. Some authors believe that the origin of WYSIWYG was a re-use of a popular line used by comedian Flip Wilson doing "Geraldine," a character on the Flip Wilson Show in the early 1970s.
54. A "killer application" is an application that is so compelling that it motivates people to purchase a computer to be able to use the application. Although numerous sources identify VisiCalc as the first killer app, I believe that Rubinstein's assertion is at least as compelling.
55. In 1984, WordStar had 23 percent of the word processing market. See R.T. Fertig, The Software Revolution: Trends, Players, Market Dynamics in Personal Computer Software, North-Holland, 1985, p. 164.
56. E. Sigel and the staff of Communications Trends Inc., Business/Professional Microcomputer Software Market, 1984–1986, Table 3.3, "Best Selling Applications Software Programs," fall 1983, p. 38. Sigel's Table 3.6, "Representative Word Processing Programs for the IBM PC," Oct. 1983, listed 30 programs from 30 publishers and the comment that "this list by no means covers all the word processing programs available for the IBM PC." (p.40).
57. E. Sigel, Business/Professional Microcomputer Software Market, Table 4.5, "Nine-Month and Projected 1983 Space Advertising Expenditures of Leading Business/Professional Software Companies," p. 55.
58. E. Sigel, Business/Professional Microcomputer Software Market, Table 6.1, "Revenues and Share of Market for Leading Business/Professional Microcomputer Software Publishers," p. 74.
59. E. Sigel, Business/Professional Microcomputer Software Market, MicroPro Corporate Summary, p. 120. This summary listed Rubinstein as chairman, Glen Haney as president and chief executive officer, Frank P. Frost as vice president of domestic sales, and William G. Crowell as vice president of product management and development.
60. Quoted in J. Dvorak, "Whatever Happened to WordStar?"; http://www.econ.ucsb.edu/~tedb/eep/newswordstar.ne.txt .
61. R. Levering et al., The Computer Entrepreneurs, p. 220.
62. M.R. Chapman, In Search of Stupidity, p. 50.
63. M. Petrie, " A Potted History," WordStar for Windows section; http://www.wordstar.org/wordstar/history history.htm.
64. M. Petrie, "A Potted History," Rise of [a] NewStar section; http://www.wordstar.org/wordstar/history history.htm.
65. T. Datz, "A Brighter Star?" PC World, vol. 3, no. 4, 1985, pp. 116–126.
66. M.R. Chapman, In Search Of Stupidity, p. 10.
67. Ibid., p. 55.
68. M.J. Miller, "First Look: Long-Awaited. WordStar Update Brings Program on Par with Competitors," InfoWorld, vol. 9, no. 7, 16 Feb. 1987, p. 47.
69. Ibid., p. 56.
70. Ibid., p. 58.
71. M. Petrie, "A Potted History," MicroPro Sued over WordMaster section; http://www.wordstar.org/wordstar/history history.htm.
72. J. Steffens, Newgames: Strategic Competition in the PC Revolution, Pergamon Press, 1994, pp. 210–211. Steffens' data shows the Intel percentage increasing to 76 percent by 1992 (where his data stops).
73. "The Shakeout in Software: It's Already Here," Business Week,23 Aug. 1984, pp. 96–98.
74. M. Campbell-Kelly, "Not Only Microsoft: The Maturing of the Personal Computer Software Industry, 1982–1995," Business History Rev., vol. 75, spring 2001, p. 108.
75. R.T. Fertig, The Software Revolution: Trends, Players, Market Dynamics in Personal Computer Software, North-Holland, 1985, p. 164. (To simplify Table 2, I deleted some packages.)
76. S. Liebowitz and S. Margolis, p. xi.
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