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Issue No.04 - October-December (2006 vol.28)
pp: 48-63
Thomas J. (Tim) Bergin , American University
Following development of the early word processing software packages--Electric Pencil, EasyWriter, and WordStar--and the IBM PC's arrival, the race among vendors began in earnest to win market share. Of the more than 400 software packages available in the mid-1980s, only a scant few survived. This article tells the story of how word processing software evolved in response to market pressures, new hardware capabilities, user demand, and corporate decision making.
word processing software, Bravo, WordStar, Word Perfect, Microsoft Word, Microsoft Windows, Pete Peterson, Charles Simonyi, Xerox PARC
Thomas J. (Tim) Bergin, "The Proliferation and Consolidation of Word Processing Software: 1985-1995", IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, vol.28, no. 4, pp. 48-63, October-December 2006, doi:10.1109/MAHC.2006.77
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. The use of manual and electric typewriters, typing systems with storage media, and both mainframe and minicomputer text/word processing systems influenced the evolution of word processing software. The companion article in this issue, "Remembering the Office of the Future: The Origins of Word Processing and Office Automation" by Thomas Haigh, provides this history with a special emphasis on stand-alone word processing systems.
4. J.C.R. Licklider, "Man-Computer Symbiosis," IRE Trans. Human Factors in Electronics, vol. HFE-1, 1960, pp. 4–11. See J.M. Norman, ed., From Gutenberg to the Internet: A Sourcebook on the History of Information Technology,, pp. 613–623.
5. This discussion follows M. Waldrop, The Dream Machine: J.C.R. Licklider and the Revolution That Made Computing Personal, ACM Press, 1996, pp. 211–217.
6. M. Waldrop, Dream Machine, p. 214; see also D. Englebart, "The Augmentation of Human Reasoning Workshop," A History of Personal Workstations, Adele Goldberg, ed., ACM Press, 1988, pp. 185–236.
7. M. Waldrop, Dream Machine, p. 214.
8. M. Waldrop, Dream Machine, p. 288.
9. Quoted in M. Waldrop, Dream Machine, p. 227; see M. Greenberger, "The Computers of Tomorrow," Atlantic Monthly, May 1964, pp. 63–67.
10. This part of the article draws heavily on W.E. Pete Peterson's, Almost Perfect: How a Bunch of Regular Guys Built WordPerfect Corporation, Prima Publishing, 1994, available at ; also see "WordPerfect Corporation," International Directory of Company Histories, P. Kepos, ed., vol. 10, 1995, pp. 556–559.
11. W. Peterson, Almost Perfect, p. 15.
12. Ibid., p. 21. Peterson's book was written after he was forced out of WordPerfect Corporation in 1992.
13. Ibid., p. 22.
14. Ibid., pp. 32 and 33.
15. SSI continued the numbering from SSI*WP.
16. W. Peterson, Almost Perfect, pp. 35, 43–44. Peterson states that "MicroPro's WordStar … had been the most popular product for CP/M machines, and now became the most popular product for the PC" (p. 44).
17. Ibid., pp. 46, 48.
18. WordPerfect used the Function keys as well as the Ctrl and Alt keys to perform various tasks. SSI provided an overlay for the function keys on the IBM PC with printed notations. At this time, all software came with extensive manuals, usually in tabbed loose-leaf binders. It would be some years before the processor speed and storage capacity supported online help.
19. W. Peterson, Almost Perfect, p. 54.
20. Ibid., p. 59.
21. Ibid., pp. 60 and 61.
22. Ibid., pp. 61–62. Interestingly, Peterson states that SSI's toll-free number "was somewhat of an accident rather than a conscious marketing strategy." To keep their order lines free of existing customers, they established the toll-free lines. After getting so much good press, they felt that they had to keep it!
23. Ibid., pp. 64–65. Comdex is short for Computer Dealer Exposition and was where SSI (and other software vendors) introduced their newest versions (to much fanfare in the trade press).
24. Ibid., pp. 68–69.
25. Ibid., p. 80.
26. B. Zilbergeld, "Word Perfect 4.0: Listening to Owner Feedback Pays Off: New Version Lives Up to Its Perfect Billing," InfoWorld, vol. 7, no. 8, 1985, pp. 45–47.
27. For example, Software Publishing had PFS:Write and PFS:File; MicroPro had WordStar, CalcStar, and DataStar; and Perfect Software had PerfectWriter and PerfectCalc.
28. W. Peterson, Almost Perfect, p. 85. (I met Pete Peterson in spring 1983 when he made a lengthy presentation of WordPerfect at the Veterans Administration in Washington, D.C. I was evaluating word processing packages for the central computing organization as a consultant. I had worked at the VA from 1966 to 1982, when I joined the faculty at American University.)
29. B. Zilbergeld, "WordPerfect 4.1: The Best Improved," InfoWorld, vol. 7, no. 44, 1985, pp. 41–42.
30. C.E. Field, "WordPerfect For Apple II Recommended For Its Features," InfoWorld, vol. 7, no. 36, 1985, pp. 41–42.
31. W. Peterson, Almost Perfect, p. 99. Peterson believes that WordPerfect had between 20 and 25 percent of the word processing market at the end of 1985, and SSI's quarterly earnings almost matched those of MicroPro.
32. Based on the Xerox Alto, Apple built the pricey, and poorly received, Lisa followed by the very successful Macintosh, introduced to the world during the (January) 1984 Super Bowl.
33. P. Freiberger and M. Swaine, Fire in the Valley: The Making of the Personal Computer, 2nd ed., McGraw-Hill, 2000, p. 370.
34. W. Peterson, Almost Perfect, p. 104.
35. "WPDOS: A Chronology of Versions," , and "WordPerfect," at
36. W. Peterson, Almost Perfect, pp. 113–114. According to Peterson, IBM was the leader from 1964 to 1978, Wang was tops from 1978 to 1983, MicroPro was first from 1983 to 1986, and then WordPerfect Corporation took over the number one spot for word processing software.
37. Ibid., p. 117. He notes that "WordPerfect was in the best position to become the world's word-processing standard. We were on practically every machine, where Microsoft was only on two of the little ones and IBM was only on IBM's machines."
38. Microsoft Word was first offered for sale in 1983.
39. C. Strehlo, "What's So Special About WordPerfect," Personal Computing, vol. 12, no. 3, Mar. 1988, pp. 100–116. This article reviews the company's history (including their Mormon roots), touts their successes, and provides a review of WP 5.0. Also included is a timeline of major events in SSI history and thumbnails of Data Perfect, Math Plan, Plan Perfect, and other SSI products.
40. W. Peterson, Almost Perfect, p. 130.
41. Ibid., p. 179.
42. WPDOS: A Chronology of Versions; .
43. K. Rebello, "The Glitch at WordPerfect," Business Week,17 May 1993, p. 90.
44. W. Peterson, Almost Perfect, p. 211.
45. See M. Waldrop, Dream Machine, and P. Freiberger, and M. Swaine, Fire in the Valley.
46. S. Lohr, GO TO: The Story of the Math Majors, Bridge Players, Engineers, Chess Wizards, Maverick Scientists and Iconoclasts—The Programmers Who Created the Software Revolution, Basic Books, 2001, p. 124.
47. P. Freiberger and M. Swaine, Fire in the Valley, p. 326.
48. Most accounts of the Bravo project use the term WYSIWYG, but Seymour Rubinstein claims to have used the term as a characterization of his WordStar program. See S. Rubinstein, "Recollections," elsewhere in this issue.
49. R.E. Stross, The Microsoft Way: The Real Story of How the Company Outsmarts Its Competition, Addison-Wesley, 1996, p. 40.
50. This discussion follows D. Ichbiah and S.L. Knepper, The Making of Microsoft: How Bill Gates and His Team Created the World's Most Successful Software Company, Prima Publishing, 1991, pp. 104–108, and chapter 12, "Microsoft Word," pp. 120–140. (Daniel Ichbiah is a French journalist who published Microsoft: Les nouveau magiciensin 1989; Susan Knepper translated this into English. Ichbiah interviewed Bill Gates numerous times as part of his various book projects.)
51. Ibid, pp. 104–105.
52. Ibid., p. 109.
53. Ibid., p. 126.
54. Ibid., p. 127.
55. Richard Brodie is the focus of chapter 3 in C. Tsang, Microsoft First Generation: The Success Secrets of the Visionaries Who Launched A Technology Empire, John Wiley & Sons, 2000, pp. 49–68.
56. C. Tsang, Microsoft First Generation, p. 57.
57. At this time all programs were distributed on 5-1/4-inch floppy diskettes holding 360,000 bytes. Simple software packages fit on one disk while complex programs like Lotus 1-2-3 required numerous disks for the program and add-ons such as tutorials and sample programs.
58. D. Ichbiah and S. Knepper, Making of Microsoft, p. 128.
59. C. Tsang, Microsoft First Generation, p. 60.
60. D. Burns and S. Venit, "Word Takes Another Forward Stride," PC Magazine, vol. 4, no. 13, 1985, p. 156.
61. D. Burns and S. Venit, "Word Takes Another Forward Stride," pp. 151–160; includes screen shots showing multiple windows; see also J. Dickinson, "The Business of Words: Corporate, Professional, Personal: PC Magazine Labs Takes a Fresh Approach to Testing Word Processors—the Largest, Most Complex, and Most Competitive PC Software Market," PC Magazine, vol. 5, no. 2, 1986, pp. 93–251, and P. Wishwell, "Word Processing: Eighteen Popular Word Processors Get a Thorough Workout as PC Magazine Puts Them Through a Series of Rigorous Benchmarks," PC Magazine, vol. 4, no. 7, 1985, p. 122 (entire report on pp. 110–134).
62. D. Ichbiah and S. Knepper, Making of Microsoft, p. 136.
63. Ibid. Ichbiah and Knepper also discuss how Microsoft's French subsidiary made Word the leader in word processing software by a countrywide marketing blitz, linking Word closely with the new laser technology and getting printer manufacturers to help promote Word. In 1987, Word 3.0 became the most widely sold program in France.
64. C. Tsang, Microsoft First Generation, p. 62.
65. J. Seymour, "Word Processing: Fast, Flexible, and Forward-Looking," PC Magazine, vol. 7, no. 4, 1988, pp. 92–344.
66. Ibid., p. 212.
67. Ibid., p. 94.
68. C. Stinson, "Word 5.0 Gains on WordPerfect with a Host of DTP-like Features," PC Magazine, vol. 8, no. 4, 1989, pp. 33–35.
69. Ibid., p. 35.
70. Ibid., p. 33.
71. C. Marion and J. Pepper, "Point Counterpoint: Word vs. WordPerfect," Personal Computing, vol. 12, no. 5, 1988, pp. 127–134.
72. "Buyers' Guide: Word Processing," Personal Computing, vol. 13, no. 8, 1989, pp. 111–140.
73. Finding accurate data on revenues and sales is very difficult. The best source of such data is Winners, Losers and Microsoft: Competition and Antitrust in High Technology (The Independent Inst.,1999), by S.J. Liebowitz and S.E. Margolis, who were kind enough to share their data sets with me. I attempted to locate additional market data for the period before 1986 from Data Pro but was told that they started to collect their data in 1986. Attempts to get information from Microsoft were unsuccessful.
74. T.J. Bergin, "The Origins of Word Processing Software for Personal Computers: 1976–1984" elsewhere in this issue. See, especially, Table 1, MicroPro Revenues (1979–1985) and Table 2, Word Processing Market Shares in 1984.
75. D. Ichbiah and S. Knepper, Making of Microsoft, p. 137.
76. Ibid., p. 148.
77. Ibid., p. 149.
78. Ibid., pp. 169–170.
79. Ibid., p. 140.
80. As reported in D. Ichbiah and S. Knepper, Making of Microsoft, p. 140.
81. D. Ichbiah and S. Knepper, Making of Microsoft, p. 171.
82. Ibid., p. 238.
83. Ibid., p. 249.
84. S. Lohr, Programmers Who Created the Software Revolution, p. 135.
85. L. Wood, "Word Processing in Windows," Byte, vol. 15, no. 4, 1990, pp. 157–160.
86. "286" and "386" machines refer to personal computers using Intel I-80286 and I-80386 microprocessors. In a later reference, "486" refers to Intel I-80486 microprocessors.
87. J. Dickinson, "The Graphical Advantage: Tomorrow's Word Processors Today," PC Magazine, vol. 9, no. 13, 1990, pp. 95–147. This review contains a short history of word processing, a discussion of the differences in the Windows environment, indepth reviews of each package, and tables comparing the packages on a number of criteria of interest to the reader.
88. E. Mendelson, "7 Windows Word Processors: What You'll See IS What You'll Want," PC Magazine, vol. 11, no. 4, 1992, pp. 113–184.
89. K. Rebello, "The Glitch at WordPerfect," pp. 90–91.
90. Ibid., p. 145.
91. Software Publishing had PFS:Write, PFS:File, and PFS:Calc, and VisiCorp had VisiWord, VisiFile, and VisiCalc. The market also saw the advent of "integrated packages" such as Lotus' Symphony and Ashton-Tate's Framework. (Lotus 1-2-3, the earliest "integrated package," was introduced in January 1983 and integrated a spreadsheet, graphics, and a limited database capability.) Lotus' Symphony added a word processor to 1-2-3.
92. According to Irene Feurst, in 1985 there were about 70 integrated packages on the market. See I. Feurst, "So Where is the Market?" Datamation,1 Apr. 1985, pp. 45–48.
93. According to Martin Campbell-Kelly, "In 1990, Microsoft introduced a devastating marketing strategy. In a single shrink-wrapped box called "Office," it bundled all its productivity applications for Windows at a price of $750, which was not much more than the cost of one of the individual programs." M. Campbell-Kelly, "Not Only Microsoft," p. 137.
94. M. Campbell-Kelly, "Not Only Microsoft," p. 137.
95. S. Liebowitz and S. Margolis, Winners, Losers and Microsoft, pp. 183–184.
96. B. Lawrence, "Three Suite Deals," Byte, vol. 19, no. 3, 1994, p. 120.
97. R. Stross, The Microsoft Way, p. 187. Percentages were calculated from data given in B. Lawrence, "Three Suite Deals," Byte, vol. 19, no. 3, 1994, pp. 120–126.
98. The Computer Assisted Specification Preparation System (CASPS) was developed in the 1968–1969 time frame, and allowed the processing of 2,600 pages of architectural specifications on an IBM System/360 computer using an IBM program product (TEXT360) and a number of inhouse data formatting routines. The inputs were prepared on a Friden Flexowriter in Washington, D.C., and the resulting paper tapes were shipped to the Hines Data Processing Center outside Chicago for processing. The printed output, in upper and lower case, was returned via US mail. The creation of specifications for a large hospital project usually took a number of months.
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