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The Origins of Word Processing Software for Personal Computers: 1976-1985


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Since Electric Pencil first debuted in 1976, more than 400 other word processing packages have emerged, most fading into oblivion. This article recounts 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
Content may be subject to copyright.
In researching the early days of word process-
ing software for personal computers, I have
examined the relationship between software
capabilities and microcomputer hardware im-
provements, including the impact of operating
systems, storage devices, and printer technolo-
gies. Moreover, in this article I document the
growth of the microcomputer marketplace
and the role of trade publications and user
My primary focus here is on the ear-
liest software for PCs: Electric Pencil, Easy-
Writer, and WordStar.
A companion article in this issue (“The
Proliferation and Consolidation of Word
Processing Software: 19851995”) examines the
successors to WordStar in the IBM PC environ-
ment: WordPerfect and Microsoft Word.
The evolution of microcomputer word pro-
cessing software is an example of a serial monop-
A monopoly occurs when one company
dominates a market segment over a long period.
In a serial monopoly, companies succeed one
another as the dominant player in the market-
place. WordStar became the dominant player
in the CP/M (Control Program for Micro-
computers) environment. In the DOS environ-
ment, WordPerfect succeeded WordStar. When
Microsoft Windows supplanted the DOS envi-
ronment, Microsoft Word for Windows took
over as the leading word processing software,
which it remains today.
The history of microcomputer word pro-
cessing software can be divided into three over-
lapping phases: origins, proliferation, and
consolidation. The origins period began with
the Altair 8080 computer and the first word
processing software for microcomputers,
Electric Pencil. During this period, microcom-
puting per se was dominated by hobbyists
supported by groups devoted to a specific
computer, such as the Altair, the Sol,
Apple II, and the Radio Shack TRS-80. Once
the CP/M operating system became the de
facto standard, these individual groups of users
became part of broader communities, and the
software market moved away from vendor-spe-
cific environments to increasingly standard-
ized versions of CP/M. This period was also
marked by the new technical periodicals and
the growth of a retail industry.
The proliferation phase began with the 1981
introduction of the IBM personal computer.
During this phase, the IBM PC (PC/MS-DOS)
standard became a significant market presence.
This period saw fierce competition between
vendors of increasingly powerful word process-
ing packages. The consolidation phase started
with the introduction of Microsoft Windows
3.0, in 1989. This version of Windows received
“unequivocal market acceptance,” and accord-
ing to historian Martin Campbell-Kelly, “a par-
adigm-shift … occurred.”
My focus here is on
the origins phase; the follow-on article in this
issue will delve into the proliferation and con-
solidation phases.
Throughout both articles, we will watch a
rapid evolution—from the limited microcom-
32 IEEE Annals of the History of Computing Published by the IEEE Computer Society 1058-6180/06/$20.00 © 2006 IEEE
The Origins of Word Processing
Software for Personal Computers:
Thomas J. (Tim) Bergin
American University
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.
Web Extra
Visit the Annals Web Extras archive at
org/portal/pages/annals/content/webextras.html to access the
“Word Processing Timeline” that accompanies this article.
puters used by hobbyists in the 1970s, to the
increasingly powerful personal computers of
the 1980s, culminating in the ubiquitous infor-
mation appliances of the 1990s. Although the
improvements in computer hardware have
been impressive, the evolution and prolifera-
tion of software, especially word processing sys-
tems, is nothing short of phenomenal.
In the beginning
In the 1970s, large organizations depended
on mainframe and minicomputer-based systems
to accomplish their computing. Consequently,
the appearance of the Altair 8800 on the January
1975 cover of Popular Electronics, an electronics
hobbyist magazine, was hardly noticed by these
organizations—or by the systems analysts, pro-
grammers, and machine operators who worked
in their computer centers. The Altair 8800
would start the microcomputer revolution and
spawn an ever growing hobbyist community of
computer enthusiasts.
Moreover, the Altair’s
success encouraged creation of a number of
start-up companies to build microcomputers.
Among these were IMSAI Manufacturing,
Cromemco, Processor Technology, Apple
Computer, Commodore, Radio Shack, and
Southwest Technical Products.
To make these new computers useful, cre-
ative people wrote software for the new micro-
computer hobbyist community. The early
periodicals were stuffed with ads for games;
household applications like recipe manage-
ment; and business applications such as spread-
sheets, word processing, and file management
programs. As Campbell-Kelly observed:
The personal computer word processor originat-
ed not as a replacement for the dedicated word
processor but as a useful application for users of
home and hobby computers. The first packages,
such as Electric Pencil and EasyWriter, were
developed by lone authors in 1976 and 1977.
The creation and maintenance of word pro-
cessing programs exploded into a subindustry.
Within five years, 100 or more word processing
packages were being offered, and by 1984,
there were 300 word processing packages for
the IBM PC alone.
Necessity as the mother of invention:
Electric Pencil
Michael Shrayer (see Figure 1) was a pro-
grammer who attended meetings of the
Homebrew Computer Club.
At a fall 1975
meeting, an attendee, Bob Marsh, offered
everyone a copy of a software package that his
company, Processor Technology, had devel-
oped, aptly named Software Package One
Processor Technology had contracted
with Jerry Kirk and Paul Greenfield of
MicroTech to create a set of programmer’s tools
to make it easier to write, edit, and debug pro-
grams for the Sol computer. Marsh’s partner
Gary Ingram improved the toolset and named
it Software Package 1.
Because Shrayer was in the middle of docu-
menting a programming project, he thought it
would be a good idea to add code to SP1 so that
he could use it to help him create and edit the
project’s documentation. The result was
Extended Software Package 1 (ESP 1), which
Shrayer proudly took to a Homebrew meeting,
where he was overwhelmed by the enthusiasm
of his fellow hobbyists.
Although most software at this time was
given away (shared within the community and
thus part of the public domain), people offered
to purchase copies of ESP 1. Shrayer agreed to
charge something, because he had to reconfig-
ure the program for each purchaser’s configura-
tion (microprocessor, available memory, storage
devices, monitor, and printer).
Shrayer also
had to provide documentation for each copy of
ESP 1 that he sold. Tired of typing the assembly
listing on a manual typewriter, Shrayer spent a
year creating a program to do this job, unaware
that he was creating a “word processor.”
October–December 2006 33
Figure 1. Michael Shrayer working with Electric
Pencil on a Radio Shack TRS-80 Model III in 1976.
(Photo courtesy of Paul Freiberger.)
By December 1976, after a year of effort,
Electric Pencil (written in 8080 assembler for
the Altair) was finished, and Michael Shrayer
Software was in business.
Because there was
no appreciable retail distribution system for
microcomputer software, Shrayer sold his prod-
ucts through the mail and advertised in hob-
byist magazines like Personal Computing,
Interface Age, and Kilobaud Microcomputer, in
addition to mainline magazines like Byte.
the operator’s manual noted:
Electric Pencil is a Character Oriented Word
Processing System. This means that the entire text
is entered as a continuous string of characters and
is manipulated as such … Since lines are not delin-
eated, any number of characters, words, lines or
paragraphs may be inserted or deleted anywhere
in the text. The entirety of the text shifts and
opens up or closes as needed in full view of the
user. The typing of carriage returns as well as word
hyphenation is not required since each line of text
is formatted automatically … Everything appears
on the video display screen as it occurs thereby
eliminating any guesswork. Text may be reviewed
at will by variable speed scrolling both in the for-
ward and reverse directions.
Formatting and editing used a series of com-
mands, consisting of the Control key (usually
shown as ^) and another key. For example, to
insert characters in a line, the cursor was placed
where the insert should start and the ^F
sequence was entered. Following the comple-
tion of the insert, the insert mode was termi-
nated by another ^F. Blocks of text were
delineated by placing a backslash (\) at either
end of the block. The block could be moved
with ^H or deleted with ^U. Although this
seems cumbersome in retrospect, it was a great
leap forward in 1977.
Electric Pencil also let the user put titles on
each page by typing $ before the title. Page
numbers were handled similarly. As Paul
Freiberger and Michael Swaine commented in
their book, Fire in the Valley: The Making of the
Personal Computer:
The popularity of Electric Pencil (EP) was so great
that it created a buyer demand that it be on all
microcomputers then available. Shrayer spent
much of his time rewriting the program for dif-
ferent systems. Not only did each kind of com-
puter require a different version, so did each kind
of printer or terminal. Shrayer was constantly
upgrading the Electric Pencil’s capabilities. In all,
he wrote about 78 different versions.
Electric Pencil worked on systems based on
the Intel 8080 and Zilog Z-80 microprocessors,
and it required a minimum of 8K bytes of
memory. Electric Pencil worked with a video
display monitor, a cassette recorder (for stor-
age), and a printer. According to a July 1978
advertisement in Byte, 12 versions were avail-
able to accommodate different configurations
of video monitors, printers, cassette recorders,
and disk drives.
The success of the Altair and its competi-
tors spawned a growing hobbyist market for
microcomputer systems and peripherals.
However, an operating system was required to
tie the components together—especially disk
storage units. Accordingly, Gary Kildall’s
CP/M slowly became the de facto standard
for all but a few machine lines.
The move
toward this standard was initiated at IMSAI by
Seymour Rubinstein, who as director of mar-
keting inked the first unlimited distribution
contract with Kildall (personal communica-
tion). The existence of an operating system
meant that the programmer could rely on it
to communicate with the disk drive, display
terminal, and printer. Thus, software could be
more easily (and inexpensively) ported to
new hardware configurations.
Electric Pencil II, introduced in 1978, oper-
ated on any 8080/Z80-based microcomputer
running the CP/M operating system. The CP/M
version, available on an 8-inch floppy disk,
required a minimum of 16K bytes of memory
and a video display module with select memo-
ry-mapped video interfaces such as IMSAI’s
VIO, Processor Technology’s VDM-1, and
Polymorphic Computer’s VTI.
A cassette
recorder, for the storage of files, was optional.
To accommodate the hardware configura-
tions, eight versions of Electric Pencil II were
In addition to being CP/M compat-
ible, Electric Pencil II supported four disk drives,
simple file management, and a cassette backup
capability. As a word processor, the new version
introduced dynamic print formatting, line and
paragraph indentation, centering, underlining,
and boldface. The ability to support four disk
drives let users put Electric Pencil in drive A and
34 IEEE Annals of the History of Computing
The Origins of Word Processing Software: 19761985
Electric Pencil worked
with a video display monitor,
a cassette recorder (for
storage), and a printer.
October–December 2006 35
a data disk in drive B for a much improved
By 1981, Micro Data Systems of Los Angeles,
California, had introduced the Pencil Sharpener.
As one might guess from its name, the Sharpener
was designed to enhance Electric Pencil, by pro-
viding a form-letter capability with the ability to
create a data file with names, addresses, and
other pertinent information. The Sharpener
used the Pencil’s search and replace feature to
insert items from the data file.
The operator’s manual available for “The
Electric Pencil 2.0z,” listed a number of planned
future programs, among them: Blue Pencil, to
read text files and note any spelling errors; Red
Pencil, to automatically correct errors detected
by Blue Pencil; and Talking Pencil, a word
processor for visually handicapped persons.
Although a version of Electric Pencil was creat-
ed for the IBM PC, the package did not survive
the increasingly competitive marketplace.
Figure 2 shows a 1986 ad for Electric Pencil.
Steven Jobs and Steve Wozniak also were
avid attendees at the Homebrew meetings.
Wozniak designed his Apple I in late 1975, and
after showing it at a Homebrew meeting, Jobs
and Wozniak offered it for sale—in kit form—
for $666 in summer 1976. The Apple II, a com-
plete system, was introduced at the West Coast
Computer Faire in 1977, and offered for sale
the following year.
An early Apple II application was the simple
word processor called EasyWriter, written by
John T. Draper.
Draper (see Figure 3) had cho-
sen the name TexWriter for his creation but
changed it to EasyWriter after a friend, Steve
Sawyer, told him about the cult classic movie
Easy Rider (1969) in which two counterculture
bikers ride from Los Angeles to New Orleans
in search of America. Three things make
EasyWriter interesting: first, it was written
while Draper was in jail; second, it was written
for the Apple II—the first non-kit microcom-
puter—which changed the microcomputer
marketplace forever; and third, it was (later)
selected by IBM as its word processing software
when the company introduced the IBM PC.
Draper was also known as Captain Crunch
for his exploits as a phone “phreaker.” Using a
whistle he had gotten in a box of Cap’n
Crunch cereal (see Figure 4 next page), Draper
could mimic telephone circuitry tones and
make long-distance calls without paying. He
also made “blue boxes”—tone generators—
which could be used to access long distance
lines illegally. While traveling around the coun-
Figure 2. Electric Pencil PC advertisement, PC Magazine, vol. 5, no. 21,
9 Dec. 1986, p. 104.
Figure 3. John Draper programming EasyWriter, June 1980. (Courtesy
of Bill Baker.)
try, Draper gladly explained his gadget to any-
one he encountered. One such person was
Wozniak, who learned about Draper’s exploits
in Esquire magazine.
Wozniak (Woz) and
Draper subsequently became good friends.
In fall 1977, Draper visited Woz at Apple
Computer and expressed an interest in helping
design a digital telephone card for the Apple II.
He was hired and worked with Woz on the
design. Later, when Draper was arrested for
phone phreaking, he had an Apple II computer
with him. Fortuitously, Draper’s attorney was
able to get him into a work-furlough program,
allowing Draper to work outside the jail during
the day. According to Draper, “It was the per-
fect coding environment.”
Draper would
write code at night while in jail and test it dur-
ing the day on his employer’s computer.
Because EasyWriter was written in assembly
language and Forth, Draper did not need an
operating system.
Draper believes it was the need to document
his Forth compiler that motivated him to write a
word processor. Recognizing that Electric Pencil
was the word processor of the day, Draper also
contacted Michael Schrayer and asked if he
could use the same dot commands for printer
In another fortuitous circum-
stance, at the fourth West Coast Computer Faire,
in May 1979, the Forth Users Group booth was
next to Apple Pi, the local Apple users group,
where Draper was demonstrating EasyWriter.
According to Draper, “We decided to sell copies
for $69.69 and couldn’t copy the disks fast
enough to meet the demand.”
When Draper was released from jail, he and
a friend, Matthew McIntosh, established Cap’n
Software Inc. to continue development of his
Forth compiler and EasyWriter. They contract-
ed with Information Unlimited Software (IUS)
to market their products. Although EasyWriter
was popular, Draper went to work on a new
version that would display 80 characters rather
than the 40 displayed on the Apple II; he also
wanted to display lowercase letters (the Apple
II displayed only uppercase).
The new version, EasyWriter Professional,
debuted at the Minneapolis Word Processor
show in summer 1980. Other exhibitors were
Wang, DEC, and IBM, displaying the stand-
alone word processing systems discussed in
Thomas Haigh’s article (“Remembering the
Office of the Future: The Origins of Word
Processing and Office Automation”) elsewhere
in this issue. Draper recalled:
By that time, we had TRUE proportional spacing
on the Diablo and Qume daisywheel printers.
People at the show practically laughed at our lit-
tle dinky Apple word processing system, until
they saw the super high quality prints it made.
Personal Computing (January 1981) judged
EasyWriter the best of the bunch.
was the only package “that displays text on the
screen exactly as it will appear on the printed
page.” However, the system only worked on an
Apple II with the addition of an 80-column
board, which at that time was a fairly expensive
($300 to $350) addition. Moreover, EasyWriter
used a nonstandard disk operating system that
made its files incompatible with those created
by other software.
IBM, however, was planning to enter the
fray with a new microcomputer it dubbed the
personal computer or PC. To complete its ini-
tial offering, IBM needed a word processor. IBM
had discussions with Seymour Rubinstein of
MicroPro about porting that company’s
WordStar program to the IBM environment,
but these broke down when IBM demanded
control over the resulting product.
“Recollections: The Rise and Fall of WordStar”
by Rubinstein elsewhere in this issue.) In July
1981, Draper learned that IUS had agreed to port
EasyWriter to the IBM PC. Although Draper
worked on the conversion for six months, the
36 IEEE Annals of the History of Computing
The Origins of Word Processing Software: 19761985
Figure 4. A Cap’n Crunch cereal box. (Courtesy
Quaker Oats Co.)
product was not ready for release on time, and
Draper was pressured into agreeing to the release
of an earlier version.
When the IBM PC was released in October
1981, EasyWriter was the word processor, at
$175. The result was a disaster for Draper and
IUS. The author of “Not So Easy Writer,” a review
in the first issue of PC Magazine, was critical of
the software.
A reviewer for Byte was even more
critical, suggesting that users purchase other
computer systems, such as the Radio Shack TRS-
80, if they couldn’t wait for a better word proces-
sor to be offered for the IBM machine.
Although IBM offered free updates, the product
never fully recovered from such poor reviews.
Perhaps this situation was as it should be.
Industry observer Amy Wohl stated that IBM did
not want a strong word processing program
because it was concerned that such a package
would take sales away from its DisplayWriter
stand-alone word processing system.
“How We Process Words: The Marketing of WP
Software” by Wohl elsewhere in this issue.) The
demise of EasyWriter demonstrated the impor-
tance of good reviews at a time when most pur-
chasers were hobbyists who relied on periodicals
and user groups for their information.
The first retail stores
“During the second half of the 1970s, as the
personal computer began to take off, a retail
infrastructure came into being,”
Kelly has noted. One of the first retail stores was
situated in California. Dick Heiser, a member of
the Southern California Computer Society, an
early user group,
realized that since most of the
attendees owned Altair kits, they would need
assistance and additional hardware. Heiser
opened Arrow Head Computer Company in Los
Angeles in mid-July 1975. On the store’s sign,
Heiser added “The Computer Store” because he
thought it sounded good. Heiser discovered that
owners of the $395 Altair kits were willing to
spend 10 times that much on additional hard-
ware such as video terminals, disk drives, print-
ers, and additional memory. By November 1975,
John French had opened his Computer Mart
focusing on the IMSAI 8080 computers (Altair
clones), and on 8 December, Paul Terrell opened
his Byte Shop in Mountain View, in the heart of
the Silicon Valley. By January 1976, numerous
entrepreneurs had contacted Terrell and offered
a part of their future profits for the use of the
name and some of his retailing experience.
On the other side of the US, Dick Brown
opened a shop, also called The Computer Store,
on Route 129 in Burlington, Massachusetts.
Elsewhere, entrepreneurs opened individual
stores to sell hardware and the small, but grow-
ing, number of available software packages,
including video games, and applications for
accounting and record keeping. By the end of
June 1976, 235 independent retail stores sold
IMSAI products.
It should therefore come as no
surprise that two former IMSAI employees
would start the first franchise operation. The
ComputerLand retail chain, started by Ed Faber
and Bill Millard, was incorporated on 21
September 1976; the first store opened in
Hayward, California, on 10 November 1976.
Other dealers offered computers from Southwest
Technical Products, Polymorphic Systems, and
Processor Technology, among others.
Another major step in the creation of a
viable and robust retail infrastructure occurred
when Tandy Corporation’s Radio Shack divi-
sion announced its TRS-80 microcomputer in
August 1977. This fully assembled machine
retailed for $399, and by September, Tandy had
sold 10,000 TRS-80s and peripherals. What’s
more important, Tandy also sold the software
to justify these purchases. The low-cost, assem-
bled TRS-80s served as the introduction to
computing for tens of thousands of “people
who didn’t need a computer.” By 1981, the
software market alone was estimated at $150
million, and software-only stores started to
Between 1981 and 1983, software sales
grew from $81 million to $495 million.
Along with the growth of the retail market,
with its inevitable advertising in local newspa-
pers as well as nationwide magazines, the
number of microcomputer users exploded, and
an insatiable demand for high-quality soft-
ware—including word processing software—
transformed the fledgling software industry.
According to Campbell-Kelly:
The word processor quickly became an essential
application for every personal computer on the
market. At first, it was a fragmented market, with
October–December 2006 37
The low-cost, assembled
TRS-80s served as the
introduction to computing
for tens of thousands of
“people who didn’t
need a computer.”
no dominant product and with each computer
having its own word processing package—
AppleWriter for the Apple II, Scripsit for the TRS-
80, and WordPro for Commodore machines. …
By 1979, however, with the availability of 80-
character-wide screens, it became possible to
offer facilities comparable to those of a profes-
sional word processing system. The most suc-
cessful package by far was MicroPro’s WordStar.
In 1976, Seymour Rubinstein (see Figure 5)
was the director of marketing for IMSAI.
part of his responsibilities, Rubinstein negoti-
ated a number of important licensing agree-
ments that allowed IMSAI to market a more
powerful computer than its competitors. He
negotiated the first contract for the distribution
of the CP/M operating system with Gary Kildall
of Digital Research.
Rubinstein also negotiat-
ed a contract with Gordon Eubanks for his C-
Basic compiler, and with Bill Gates and Paul
Allen for a Fortran compiler.
After an argument with IMSAI’s founder and
chairman, Bill Millard, Rubinstein left to start his
own company. Given his experience in the small
but growing software industry, Rubinstein want-
ed to create a professional software business to
compete with entrepreneurs like Shrayer and
Draper. In addition, Rubinstein eschewed selling
to manufacturers or individuals, and focused his
attention on the growing retail infrastructure.
Realizing that he needed an expert programmer,
he sought out Rob Barnaby who had left IMSAI
two weeks before Rubinstein.
John Robbins Barnaby was a systems pro-
grammer who had worked on enhancements
to the CP/M operating system.
with the extensive programs Barnaby wrote to
test Eubanks’ C-Basic compiler, Rubinstein
called him and suggested that they work
together:—Barnaby would do the coding and
Rubinstein would do the marketing of two new
programs: WordMaster and SuperSort. Barnaby
quickly wrote the two programs in 8080 assem-
bly language. WordMaster was similar to soft-
ware that Barnaby had created when he was
with IMSAI. SuperSort resembled utility pro-
grams for the IBM System/360. In a 3 May 2000
email to Mike Petrie, Barnaby stated:
Seymour was the marketing brains—it was he
that said we should address word processing to
get a larger market. The defining change was to
add margins and word wrap. Additional changes
included getting rid of command mode and
adding a print function. I was the technical
brains—I figured out how to do it, and did it, and
documented it. The product’s success I think
related both to it being the right product
(Seymour) and to it being a fairly good imple-
mentation given the equipment (me).
As it happened, CP/M contained a com-
mand line editor used by programmers to enter
and edit programs. Barnaby developed a way of
showing the editor on a monitor, which made
writing and debugging programs much easier:
It was only approximate because it couldn’t show
things like page breaks and stuff like that. It just
showed the text so it looked like screen paper.
Another problem with the [editor] program was
that it only ran on IMSAI’s version of the CP/M
operating system and it was also missing a lot of
features. I asked him to write a new editor from
scratch with a lot of improvements, so it could
run on the standard CP/M and we could sell it to
different manufacturers.
Because Rubinstein didn’t have much time
to establish a company, he filed a fictitious
business name statement as MicroPro
International Corporation in September 1978.
Rubinstein chose the name MicroPro to
emphasize his goal of building professional soft-
ware for the growing microcomputer indus-
In those early days of microcomputing,
38 IEEE Annals of the History of Computing
The Origins of Word Processing Software: 19761985
Figure 5. Seymour I. Rubinstein in 1984. (Photo
courtesy of Seymour I. Rubinstein.)
this was a rare insight by Rubinstein, and
showed a willingness to gamble his future on
his intuition.
In October 1978, Rubinstein was approached
by the author of a program called TextWriter,
which allowed control characters to be embed-
ded in the text. These control characters pro-
vided instructions to the print program, which
formatted the output for the printer. Rubinstein
agreed to add TextWriter to MicroPro’s offer-
ings; he also decided that the market was ready
for a better-quality word processing package
and obtained a copy of a DataPro report on the
state of word processing. This report identified
the features offered by the various (minicom-
puter) stand-alone packages being sold by com-
panies such as Lanier, Xerox, IBM, and Wang.
Based on this information, Rubinstein planned
to create a word processing package that incor-
porated the capabilities of minicomputer word
processors and worked with the CP/M operat-
ing system.
As a result, Barnaby set to work on
an elaboration of WordMaster, which was mar-
keted as WordStar. By April 1979, Barnaby had
coded an alpha version of WordStar. Writer
John Dvorak reported that
In four months, Barnaby wrote 137,000 lines of
bullet-proof assembly-language code. Rubinstein
later checked with some friends at IBM who cal-
culated that Barnaby’s output was equal to 42
man years [of effort].
MicroPro started shipping WordStar in June
1979. After completing most of the code,
Barnaby was joined by Jim Fox, who helped
complete the code and wrote the installation
program. Barnaby and Fox continued to im-
prove WordStar through several interim ver-
A major innovation was the development
of the MailMerge program, which allowed the
insertion of names and addresses into a WordStar
document from a separate file. According to
Rubinstein (personal communication), Microsoft
still uses the name “Mail Merge to describe this
function without regard to its origin.”
WordStar was very powerful, and it had a
carefully designed Control-key interface,
designed to allow speedy input of text. Indeed,
Rubinstein designed the interface so that the
left hand controlled the cursor’s movement and
the right hand controlled other functions. The
most important feature, however, was that the
text on the screen looked like the printed out-
put. With other word processors, users had to
print the file to see what it looked like, and it
usually took a few passes to get the formatting
right. Thus, WordStar was the first “What You
See Is What You Get” word processor, a term
Rubinstein used in advertising the product (see
Figure 6).
Although the phrase was used in
other contexts, Rubinstein adopted it to use in
his advertising (personal communication).
According to Rubinstein, WordStar was the
first program to show on-screen page breaks,
have in-line help, and be keystroke sensitive.
WordStar did automatic word-wrap and
hyphenation, and users could set left and right
Indeed, Rubinstein believes that
this WYSIWYG capability of WordStar is what
allowed the Intel platform to capture market
Rubinstein believes that WordStar
“provided a reason for someone coming into a
computer store to buy a machine (because)
WordStar … made the computer functional
and useful immediately.”
October–December 2006 39
Figure 6. WordStar advertisement, Personal Computing, January 1981.
(Courtesy of Seymour I. Rubinstein.)
To Rubinstein, WordStar was the first “killer
application” because of its dominance of the
marketplace and its millions of dollars in sales.
As if to back him up, MicroPro’s revenues grew
from $500,000 in 1979 to a high of $72 million
in fiscal year 1984, as Table 1 shows.
By anyone’s measures, this was a phenome-
nal pattern of growth, and indicates the sales of
enormous number of copies of WordStar, which
was overwhelming its competition.
This does
not take into account the enormous number of
pirated copies, which Rubinstein estimates at
three times sales (personal communication).
According to editor and publisher Efrem Sigel,
WordStar had 650,000 cumulative unit sales by
fall 1983 with a retail value of $325 million. The
next two word processing programs, PFS-File
and EasyWriter, had 250,000 and 55,000 units,
MicroPro not only had a superi-
or word processing package, but under
Rubinstein’s direction, the company continued
to improve its products, and developed power-
ful marketing programs to promote them.
MicroPro’s advertising expenditures for 1983
were projected at $1,950,000, an amount
exceeded only by the Lotus Development,
Microsoft, and Ashton-Tate corporations.
result was that MicroPro garnered a 10 percent
share of the personal computer software mar-
ket, based on 1983 revenues, behind Microsoft,
VisiCorp, and Lotus Development.
In 1982, Rubinstein established a sales force
that resulted in a quintupling of revenues, a
direct result of WordStar’s being on the software
distributor Softsel’s “Hot List” for 61 weeks.
Given MicroPro’s sales force of, by Rubinstein’s
estimate, 150 people, the revenue explosion is
not surprising. By November 1983, MicroPro had
sales offices in 20 US and 6 European cities.
Another contribution to the growth in
WordStar sales resulted from the documenta-
tion’s being translated into 42 different lan-
guages. Rubinstein did the first translation (to
French) with the help of the staff in the Paris
To expand his empire, Rubinstein also
looked for partnerships with hardware suppli-
ers such as Osborne Computer Corporation, to
which he sold WordStar in return for part own-
ership. MicroPro also licensed WordStar to
other computer manufacturers to package with
their machines for first-time buyers.
However, all was not roses at MicroPro.
Growing a company is always a difficult
process, but accommodating and institutional-
izing rapid growth in personnel is not without
its problems. Rob Barnaby had been working
long hours and felt burned out. In October
1979, he took a holiday and didn’t return. In
January 1980, Rubinstein called Barnaby and
asked if he was ready to return, offering back
pay and reinstatement of Barnaby’s stock
options. When this did not work, Rubinstein
gave him additional time, yet Barnaby and
Rubinstein ultimately parted ways in March
MicroPro also added numerous new
employees in its development, marketing, and
other departments. In 1981, to gain additional
capital, shares were sold to Fred Adler, a ven-
ture capitalist. Because the company’s fortunes
changed so radically—for the worse—after-
ward, Rubinstein was later to comment that
this was , “the biggest mistake of my life.”
In 1984, just in time for the initial public
offering (IPO), sales grew to $70 million, and
MicroPro was the world’s largest software com-
pany. On 7 January 1984, two months before
the public offering, Rubinstein suffered a heart
attack. While he was still in the intensive care
unit, Rubinstein’s attorneys told him that his
presence on the management team would
harm the IPO. He signed the papers they had
brought, which gave him the title of Chairman
Emeritus, and changed his stock to nonvoting.
In exchange, he received $7.5 million. H. Glen
Haney, formerly of Sperry Univac, took over
management of MicroPro and within the next
few months, Rubinstein was gradually eased
out of any role in the company.
According to John Dvorak, “from that
moment on, the company lost its edge. Haney,
an ex-Sperry-Univac guy, took over as CEO at
Adler’s request.”
To make matters worse,
Rubinstein claims that WordStar was not adver-
tised for the next three years after he was released
40 IEEE Annals of the History of Computing
The Origins of Word Processing Software: 19761985
Table 1. MicroPro revenues in millions of dollars.
Fiscal Year Fiscal Year Fiscal Year Fiscal Year Fiscal Year Fiscal Year Fiscal Year
Parameter 1979 1980 1981 1982 1983 1984 1985
Revenues 0.5 1.8 5.2 25 45 72 40
Annual increase (%) 360 288 480 180 160 55
* Note: Data extracted from S. Rubinstein, “Recollections: The Rise and Fall of WordStar” article elsewhere in this issue and verified
with other sources.
from the hospital, resulting in an inevitable
decline in the company’s sales and image.
months later, the stock dropped from its initial
price of $10.50 a share to less than $5 a share.
Rubinstein’s original vision for MicroPro was
to bring out a suite of compatible programs. In
the early 1980s, MicroPro released a spreadsheet
called CalcStar and a database program called
DataStar, and integrated them with WordStar in
a system appropriately called StarBurst.
According to Dvorak, Starburst “was phenome-
nal for its era. In fact, it was the original office
suite. Adler and company killed the idea.”
Other problems associated with rapid
growth also plagued the company. Rubinstein
had problems with other members of his devel-
opment staff.
Some of them left and built
startups to compete with MicroPro. Peter
Meraux, Stan Reynolds (MicroPro’s head of
engineering), and Richard Post founded
NewStar. In one of their first contracts, they
agreed to write a word processor for George
Morrow of Morrow Designs, a manufacturer of
Z-80-based machines.
In return for start-up capital, Morrow received
a license to use their WordStar clone on his
computers. NewStar released NewWord 1.0 for
MS-DOS in 1983. NewWord 2.0 for MS-DOS,
released in 1984, added numerous features that
WordStar users had been asking for, such as an
un-erase feature, a built-in spelling check fea-
ture, and support for laser printers.
3.0, which added macros, math capability, spell
checking during editing, and support for the
DOS directory (and path support which was
missing from WordStar), was released in 1986.
As new word processing packages entered
the marketplace, the pressure to stay at the top
of the heap intensified. By this time, the soft-
ware industry had settled into a pattern in
which new releases were announced every 12
to 18 months. Unfortunately for MicroPro, per-
sonnel and development problems kept it from
announcing a new release during 1984 and
1985, during which time numerous packages
eclipsed the once-dominant WordStar.
Another strategic error, according to
Rubinstein, was that MicroPro stopped doing
business with the 1,500+ retailers in its network
and started using software distributors, among
them Ingram, Micro, and First software.
According to Rubinstein,
It was a deliberate but disastrous decision … our
loyal dealers were cut off so they had to buy
from the big distributors: MicroPro just simply
stopped doing business with everyone; even
ComputerLand had to buy from the distributors.
The reason given for the shift to distributors
was the problems associated with handling large
order quantities; rather than improving the
order handling process, MicroPro management
chose to change its successful distribution strat-
egy. Rubinstein believes this was a major factor
in the loss of revenues during fiscal year 1984.
WordStar’s decline
Because the original WordStar code had been
written in 8080 assembly language, it was diffi-
cult to transition the code to other operating
environments. At that time, AT&T was planning
to enter the personal computer market and
needed applications. MicroPro wanted to port
WordStar to the Unix environment. Instead,
Rubinstein purchased a WordStar clone, written
in the C programming language, which ran
under Unix.
Rubinstein also hired the pro-
grammer, Edward de Jong, and told him to hire
a small group of programmers to help him. This
new project was code-named “Ivan,” which was
Rubinstein’s middle name. Later, it was decided
that the project should also produce a version
for the new IBM PC. The Ivan team worked out-
side of normal MicroPro channels, and this was
to have disastrous consequences when the prod-
uct was marketed.
The new version, based on de Jong’s pro-
gram, was named WordStar 2000. However,
WordStar 2000 was slow, used an entirely new
mnemonic-based command structure, and pro-
duced a file format incompatible with WordStar.
Thus, existing WordStar users had to practically
start over again—if they “upgraded” to WordStar
2000. Although MicroPro supplied a utility pro-
gram to translate files between WordStar and
WordStar 2000, this lack of upward mobility
meant that WordStar users had to translate all
their files to use the new software.
Although many software companies experi-
enced technical and other difficulties in this
period, the leading supplier always received
more attention, and WordStar 2000 suffered in
reviews. One reviewer opined that
October–December 2006 41
As new word processing
packages entered the
marketplace, the pressure
to stay at the top of the
heap intensified.
WordStar is one of those phenomena, like mod-
ern art, that brings out the critic in people.
Whether they love it or hate it, people will tell
you exactly what’s good or bad about the pro-
gram. But even WordStar loyalists, who blithely
overlook the program’s cluttered menus and
arcane commands, are beginning to clamor for
such state-of-the-art features such as automatic
paragraph reformatting, proportional spacing,
keyboard macros, and multiple window editing.
As if this weren’t enough, existing users and
potential users faced a dilemma: “Which
WordStar should I use?” WordStar 2000 was
priced at $495—the same as WordStar 3.3. The
former contained some added features but
required users to essentially learn a new pack-
age and translate all their files to a new format.
Most existing WordStar users preferred to stick
with what they were comfortable with, and it
was mostly new users who chose WordStar
2000. Rick Chapman, who had moved to
MicroPro’s marketing department, refers to this
as an error of positioning:
For example, it is stupid to create two products
with the same name, price point, functionality,
and target audience and attempt to sell them at
the same time. This may seem stunningly obvi-
ous, but somehow one of the world’s largest soft-
ware companies, MicroPro, publisher of
WordStar, a product that once ruled the word
processing market, did exactly that.
All of this was occurring at a time when new
word processing packages were being intro-
duced on a monthly basis. In addition,
NewStar’s NewWord package was eating away
at WordStar’s installed base.
Within the (now) MicroPro International
Corporation, the inevitable split of program-
mers and support personnel between “us” and
“them”—the WordStar and the WordStar 2000
teams (and their internal supporters)—caused
additional problems. Rubinstein’s employment
contract with MicroPro expired on 1 April 1986.
The new president, Leon Williams, put his trust
in a new product management team, which
included Rick Chapman. Chapman believes
that the company had hit a new low: “By 1987,
as MicroPro wrestled itself to the mat, it had lost
its leadership of the word-processing market to
Microsoft Word and WordPerfect.”
Given responsibility for straightening things
out, Chapman saw his major tasks as getting an
upgrade for WordStar to market, and resolving
the conflict between WordStar and WordStar
2000. To solve problem one, Williams purchased
NewStar for $2 million and used its NewWord
package as the basis for the upgrade. WordStar
4.0 was released in 1987, more than four years
after WordStar for PC DOS, and sold well to
existing users. Reviews, however, were mixed.
The more difficult decision was what to do
with WordStar 2000, which, by this time, had a
significant installed base. Chapman’s dilemma
was how to upgrade the package without losing
present users. He decided to “re-christen”
WordStar 2000 as a “word publisher,” which the
MicroPro marketing department defined as “a
word processor with exceptional laser-printing
capabilities, a particular strength of WordStar
2000 at that juncture.”
Ultimately, Chapman was given responsibil-
ity for the product management of the newly
resurgent WordStar. While overseeing the devel-
opment of WordStar 5.0 (to be released in early
1988), he encountered a significant, and per-
haps fatal, problem: the package lacked a print-
er database—the print drivers that translate the
format commands of any application into the
unique commands required by the various
makes and models of printers. Chapman knew
that MicroPro had developed a high-quality
database for more than 300 printers, as part of
the WordStar 2000 effort, and that the compa-
ny had decided to use this database for all future
But, inexplicably, this database was not
incorporated into WordStar 5.0: the developers
had discarded the WordStar 2000 database and
were trying to replace it with a new one based
on hierarchical database technology. Chapman
believes that “It was an incredibly foolish thing
to do and it sealed MicroPro’s fate.”
The result
of discarding MicroPro’s proven printer tech-
nology delayed the release of WordStar 5.0 for
six months, and when it shipped in late 1988,
it was not only behind its competition but it
supported only one-third of the previously sup-
ported printers.
42 IEEE Annals of the History of Computing
The Origins of Word Processing Software: 19761985
“By 1987, as MicroPro
wrestled itself to the mat, it
had lost its leadership of the
word-processing market to
Microsoft Word and
October–December 2006 43
Other management decisions added to
MicroPro’s woes. Because WordStar was avail-
able for so many different computers and con-
figurations (and in 42 different languages), it
may have been one of the most copied (pirat-
ed) software packages of all time. In an attempt
to minimize the pirating of its software,
MicroPro released WordStar 2000 on copy-pro-
tected diskettes. To run WordStar 2000, the user
had to swap disks in drive A and drive B sever-
al times. Although MicroPro was not the only
software publisher to adopt copy protection,
the WordStar user community (and software
reviewers) had another grievance against the
struggling company.
As if it didn’t have enough problems, IMSAI
sued MicroPro in 1985, alleging that Rob
Barnaby used code from IMSAI’s New Editor
(NED) project in his development of
WordMaster. While working at IMSAI, Barnaby
had begun coding NED because he didn’t like
the line editor supplied with CP/M. Although
Barnaby and Rubinstein denied the allegations,
IMSAI claimed that the work that Barnaby had
done while at IMSAI belonged to them and so
did WordMaster. A court-ordered discovery
petition uncovered a note written by Millard
five years earlier that said: “sue Rubinstein.”
Since the statute of limitations had expired,
that is, more than five years had expired since
the discovery of the alleged code infringement,
the case was dismissed.
1984: A market shift
By 1984, IBM’s PC—and the IBM clones that
followed it into the marketplace—had started
a transformation of the marketplace: from one
consisting of hobbyists to one that included
professionals in large and small organizations.
Although introduced in 1981, the IBM PC did
not achieve 50 percent of new purchases until
1986 and did not constitute more than half of
the installed base until 1988.
The amazing
acceptance of the IBM PC and the MS-DOS
environment, however, resulted in a more
homogenized market, in which an increasing
number of packages competed for the same
buyers. As a result of this shift, and the expens-
es and problems of porting software packages
to the PC/MS DOS environment, there was a
shakeout in the personal computer industry:
No one expected the halcyon days of the person-
al computer software business to pass so quickly.
Industry experts had projected that this market
would continue to double annually, and 3,000
hopefuls, as a result, had jumped into the fray. But
the glut of suppliers, along with the soaring cost
of marketing new products and a flood of me-too
programs, is changing the picture dramatically …
At last count, there were 200 or more word proces-
sors, 150 spreadsheets, 200 database programs,
and 95 integrated packages that offer at least three
functions. Moreover, distributors report that of
the 20,000 programs on the market, a mere 20
make up as much as half of their total business.
The shakeout affected the entire microcom-
puter industry. Numerous hardware manufac-
turers, after struggling for many years, either
began making IBM PC clones or got out of the
business. And, the changing hardware market
had an inevitable negative impact on the soft-
ware market:
Of the nine largest firms of 1983 … five were in
a terminal condition by the summer of 1984.
VisiCorp and MicroPro, publishers of the leading
spreadsheet and word processor had lost market
share to Lotus Development and the WordPerfect
Corporation, respectively. Digital Research had
lost operating system sales to Microsoft.
MicroPro’s revenues, which peaked in 1984
at $72 million, dropped to $40 million for
1985, a devastating drop of 45 percent. Table 2
shows the changes in market shares for word
processing software vendors.
The sidebar, “Word Processing Market in
1985,” more clearly depicts the word process-
ing software market in 1985.
In the late 1970s, thousands of people were
writing microcomputer software, and by the
early 1980s, the marketplace offered hundreds
of word processing packages—written for the
different hardware/software combinations then
available. When the CP/M operating system
became a de facto industry standard, however,
MicroPro’s WordStar became the dominant
Table 2. Word processing market shares in 1984.
Current Market
Vendor Product Share and Trend
MicroPro WordStar 23% falling
Sorcim SuperWriter 15% rising
Software Publishing PFS:Write 9% falling
MultiMate International MultiMate 8% rising
Microsoft Word 8% rising
Perfect Software Perfect Writer 7 % falling
Information Unlimited EasyWriter 6% falling
Life Tree Software Volkswriter 1% falling
Satellite Software Word Perfect 1% falling
44 IEEE Annals of the History of Computing
The Origins of Word Processing Software: 19761985
By mid-1985, the market for word processing software
had exploded. The need for information on the various
word processing packages available was becoming critical
as well. No one could possibly test more than a few pro-
grams at their local computer store, and users looked to
the technical press for guidance. The 28 January 1986 issue
of PC Magazine contained an extensive analysis and test-
ing of 57 word processing packages:
No class of PC software is bigger or more widely used than
word processors. A word processor is every user’s daily com-
puter tool. Thus, more word processors are in use on PCs, by
a variety of users, than any other type of software product.
The number and variety of products designed to fulfill this
incredibly wide range of needs has made word processing the
most competitive market in PC software. As a result, no one
product dominates that market the way Lotus Development
Corp.’s 1-2-3 holds sway in spreadsheets or Ashton-Tate’s
dBase product line dominates database management.
Indeed, the PC Magazine author defined seven cate-
gories, based on their target markets. The first three cate-
gories (corporate, professional, and personal), included
traditional word processors, that is, those used exclusively as
general-purpose document editors, formatters, and printers.
The other four categories comprise specialty word
processors, which are designed for unique applications or
require special operating environments.
Each section contained an overview graphic of pack-
ages examined and then provided detailed information on
each package. Table A lists the packages that PC Magazine
This material demonstrates what the software market-
place was like in mid-1985, less than four years after the
introduction of the IBM PC. At this time, the marketplace
still demonstrated strong sales of word processing software
for machines using the CP/M, Apple DOS, Macintosh,
Unix, and other proprietary operating systems.
References and notes
1. 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.
2. Reviews of 20 scientific, integrated packages, those with spe-
cial operating system extensions, and outline processors
appeared in later issues. The 25 February 1986 issue ( vol. 5,
no. 2), contained “The Business of Words: Special Purpose”
by John Dickinson and examined 12 word processors in
three categories: integrated programs, scientific, and special
operating systems (pp. 177 to 214). The final part of this
analysis, which looked at seven outliners, appeared in the 25
March 1986 issue (vol. 5, no. 6) as “Outliners: A New Type of
Word Processor Tries to Help Us Organize Our Thoughts and
Ideas by Providing a Variety of Logical Structures to Fit them
Into” (pp. 199-220). This series of reviews examined 77
packages and covered 219 pages.
Word Processing Market in 1985
Table A. Word processing packages tested by PC Magazine in 1986. Bolded entries were PC Magazine editor’s choices
based on price and performance.
Corporate Price Professional Price Personal Price
Allegory 1.2 $170 Executive Footnoter 5 $99.95 Bank Street Writer $79.95
Benchmark 4.4 $395 Executive Secretary V $69.95 Cut and Paste $34.94
DisplayWrite 2 1.10 $385 Executive Writer 1.0 $69.95 DisplayWrite 1 1.0 $99
DisplayWrite 3 1.00 $450 Final Draft 3 $395 Easy 1.00 $150
Leading Edge 1.3 $250 The FinalWord 2.0 $395 EinsteinWriter 7.3 $170
MASS-11 5-C $995 Microsoft Word 2.0 $395 FriendlyWriter 3.2 $89.95
MultiMate 3.3 Pro 3.31 $495 My Word! 1.71 $60 Homeword, Pro Ed $69.95
MultiMate Advantage 3.50 $595 NewWord 2.15 $249 Just Write 1.01 $145
OfficeWriter 3.5 $445 NewWord 3 3.00 $349 MindReader 2.0 $189
PeachText 5000 2.11 $295 PC-Write 2.55 $75 MyWrite 1.04 $49.95
Professional QWERTY 3H $149 Perfect Writer 2.0 $199 Paperback Writer 1.0 $39.95
SAMNA Word III 3.0 $495 Personal WordPerfect 4.0 $195 PC-Type 1.0 $59.95
Word Result 2.0 $495 PractiWord 1.05 $99 Personal QWERTY 3H $99
WordMARC 4.11 $295 The Professional Writers Package 2.0 $490 PFS:Write C $140
WordStar 2000 Plus 1.01 $595 The Smart WP 2.00 $195 Pronto! 1.0 $69.95
Spellbinder 5.40 $495 TEXTRA 3.1A $24.95
SuperWriter 1.03 $295 WordPerfect jr 4.0 $89
Volkswriter Deluxe 2.2 $295 Wordvision $50
WordPerfect 4.1 $495 Write ’N Spell $149.95
WordStar Professional 3.31 $495 Writing Assistant 1.01 $149
XyWrite II Plus 2.0 $295 ZenWord 1.00 $29.95
word processing package, estimated to have as
much as 80 percent of the market. This was the
start of what economists Stan Liebowitz and
Stephen Margolis call a serial monopoly, in
which WordStar was the market leader until
1986 when it was eclipsed by WordPerfect.
This history continues in the companion arti-
cle, “Proliferation and Consolidation of the
Word Processing Market: 19851995,” which dis-
cusses the origin and evolution of WordPerfect
and Microsoft Word, and continues with the
impact of Microsoft Windows on the word pro-
cessing software market.
References and notes
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 evo-
lution will be found in M. Campbell-Kelly, From
Airline Reservations to Sonic the Hedgehog: A Histo-
ry 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, 19821995,” 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 Comput-
er 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 “Confes-
sions of a Naked Programmer (Reminiscence—
Software, Stores and Magazines),” Creative
Computing, vol.10, no. 11, 1984, pp. 130ff;
15. P. Freiberger and M. Swaine, Fire in the Valley, p.
16. See, for example, Byte, vol. 3, no. 7, 1978, p. 77.
17. The Electric Pencil Word Processor, operator’s man-
ual, 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
20. A.R. Miller, “The Electric Pencil for CP/M,” Inter-
face 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 Man-
ual, 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.
php and “The Official Phreaker’s Manual by Ron
October–December 2006 45
46 IEEE Annals of the History of Computing
The Origins of Word Processing Software: 19761985
Rosenbaum at
26. J.T. Draper, “The Creation of EasyWriter”;
story/home.html. (Draper’s homepage is at
27. Forth is unique among programming languages
in that its development and proliferation has
been a grassroots effort of professional applica-
tions, developers, and hobbyists. See E.D. Rather
et al., “The Evolution of Forth,” History of
Programming Languages, T.J. Bergin and R.G. Gib-
son, eds., ACM Press, 1996, pp. 625-670.
28. J.T. Draper, “The Creation of EasyWriter”; http://
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.
32. P. Freiberger and M. Swaine, Fire in the Valley, pp.
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.
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.
41. E. Sigel and the staff of Communications Trends
Inc., Business/Professional Microcomputer Software
Market, 1984
1986, Table 2.2, “Estimated Rev-
enues for Leading Business/Professional Microcom-
puter 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 Comput-
ing, vol. 28, no. 4, pp. 64-72.
45. According to M. Petrie, “A Potted History of
46. M. Petrie, “A Potted History of WordStar,” Word-
Star Is Born section;
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.
50. M. Petrie, “A Potted History,” WordStar is Born
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 materi-
al 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 charac-
ter 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 pro-
cessing market. See R.T. Fertig, The Software Revolu-
tion: 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 Pro-
cessing 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 Soft-
ware Market, Table 4.5, “Nine-Month and
Projected 1983 Space Advertising Expenditures
of Leading Business/Professional Software Com-
panies,” p. 55.
58. E. Sigel, Business/Professional Microcomputer Soft-
ware Market, Table 6.1, “Revenues and Share of
Market for Leading Business/Professional Micro-
computer Software Publishers,” p. 74.
59. E. Sigel, Business/Professional Microcomputer Soft-
ware Market, MicroPro Corporate Summary, p.
120. This summary listed Rubinstein as chairman,
Glen Haney as president and chief executive offi-
cer, 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
61. R. Levering et al., The Computer Entrepreneurs, p.
62. M.R. Chapman, In Search of Stupidity, p. 50.
63. M. Petrie, “ A Potted History,” WordStar for Win-
dows section;
64. M. Petrie, “A Potted History,” Rise of [a] NewStar
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;
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
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, 19821995,” Business History Rev., vol.
75, spring 2001, p. 108.
75. R.T. Fertig, The Software Revolution: Trends, Play-
ers, Market Dynamics in Personal Computer
Software, North-Holland, 1985, p. 164. (To sim-
plify Table 2, I deleted some packages.)
76. S. Liebowitz and S. Margolis, p. xi.
Thomas J. (Tim) Bergin is a
professor emeritus of computer
science and information sys-
tems at American University,
retiring in 2002. In 1965, he
began his career as a computer
systems analyst for the US
Veterans Administration. In
1982, he joined the Center for Technology and
Administration’s faculty. A former editor in chief of
Annals, he currently serves Annals as a senior consult-
ing editor. Bergin has a BA in English from the
University of Maryland, and an MA and a PhD in pub-
lic administration from American University. Most
recently, he edited 50 Years of Army Computing: From
ENIAC to MSRC (Army Research Laboratory, 2000).
Readers may contact Tim Bergin about this article
October–December 2006 47
... Text editing was once considered a killer app of personal computing (Bergin, 2006). Editing text used to be the first skill a novice computer user mastered, and all personal computers are sold with a word processor. ...
Tool use pervades our everyday life. We spontaneously manipulate objects as tools, sometimes for tasks beyond their assigned function, thereby re-purposing them, such as when a knife is used as a screwdriver. The Technical Reasoning hypothesis in cognitive neuroscience posits that humans engage in tool use by reasoning about mechanical interactions among objects. By modeling tool use based on abstract knowledge about object interactions, this theory explains how tools can be re-purposed for tasks beyond their original design as a product of knowledge transfer. In digital environments, user interfaces often provide tools with pre-defined functions, such as formatting, scrolling or zooming, meant to be used for a specific set of tasks. However, the literature offers examples of users re-purposing digital tools in unexpected ways. This motivated me to investigate the Technical Reasoning hypothesis as a theoretical model for digital tool use, based on the users’ acquired knowledge of the digital world. First, I studied computer users performing a task in a digital text editor while being constrained to re-purpose some of its commands. While most participants managed to re-purpose at least one command, some experienced difficulty due to biases stemming from their knowledge of procedures and functions learned from similar environments. I relate these observations to phenomena of physical tool use, particularly, technical reasoning and functional fixedness. Next, I studied how users perceive the possibilities for action on digital objects through toolbars in the interface. Using an experimental environment whose objects support both graphics- and text-oriented commands, I controlled the visibility of corresponding toolbars to introduce the environment to participants before performing tasks with both toolbars available. This resulted in strategies where the preferred command types associated with the toolbar presented in the introduction, sugg esting a priming effect, which can hinder the exercise of technical reasoning to use alternative and possibly more efficient strategies. Last, I present a collaboration study about extreme users of text editing tools that led to the design of Textlets: interactive objects that reify text selections into persistent tools for text documents. Textlets constitute a generative concept building on principles of Instrumental Interaction. We observed a user re-purposing a Textlet during an evaluation study, supporting the notion that an instrumental approach may contribute to re-purpose digital tools. This thesis provides evidence of the relevance of the Technical Reasoning hypothesis as a theoretical model for interaction and opens the way to the design of tool-centric interfaces.
... Text editing was once considered a 'killer app' of personal computing (Bergin, 2006). Editing text is usually the first skill a novice computer user masters, and all personal computers are sold with a word processor. ...
Millions of users work with documents for their everyday tasks but their user interfaces have not fundamentally changed since they were first designed in the late seventies. Today’s computers come in many forms and are used by a wide variety of users for a wide range of tasks, challenging the limits of current document interfaces. I argue that by focusing on extreme users and taking on a principled perspective, we can design effective and flexible representations to support document-related knowledge work. I first study one of the most common document tasks, text editing, in the context of technical documents. By focusing on legal professionals, one example of extreme document users, we reveal the limits of current word processors. Legal professionals must rely on their memory to manage dependencies and maintain consistent vocabulary within their technical documents. To address these issues, we introduce Textlets, interactive objects that reify text selections into persistent items. We present a proof-of-concept prototype demonstrating several use cases, including selective search and replace, word count, and alternative wording. The observational evaluation shows the usefulness and effectiveness of textlets, providing evidence of the validity of the textlet concept. During my work with legal professionals in the first project, I was introduced to the domain of patent writing and filling. In the patent process, patent attorneys write patent submissions that describe the invention created by the inventor. Patent examiners review the submission and decide whether the submission can be granted as a patent. In collaboration with a European Patent Office, I studied the patent examiners’ search and review process. The study reveals the need to manage text from multiple documents across various interconnected activities, including searching, collecting, annotating, organizing, writing and reviewing, while manually tracking their provenance. I extend Textlets to create Passages, text selection objects that can be manipulated, reused, and shared across multiple tools. Two user studies show that Passages facilitate knowledge workers practices and enable greater reuse of information. These two projects led to another important aspect of knowledge work: file management. I focus on scientists, another example of extreme knowledge workers, to study their document management practices. In an age where heterogeneous data science workflows are the norm, instead of relying on more self-contained environments such as Jupyter Notebooks, scientists work across many diverse tools. They have difficulties using the file system to keep track of, re-find and maintain consistency among related but distributed information. We created FileWeaver, a system that automatically detects dependencies among files without explicit user action, tracks their history, and lets users interact directly with the graphs representing these dependencies and version history. By making dependencies among files explicit and visible, FileWeaver facilitates the automation of workflows by scientists and other users who rely on the file system to manage their data. These three document representations rely on the same underlying theoretical principles: reification, polymorphism and reuse. I reflect on my experience designing and evaluating these representations and propose three new design principles: granularity, individuality and synchronization. Together with the empirical findings from three examples of extreme users, technological demonstration of three proof-of-concept prototypes and three design principles, this thesis demonstrates fresh new approaches to working with documents, a fundamental representation in GUIs. I argue that we should not accept current desktop interfaces as given, and that by taking on a principled and theory-driven perspective we can contribute innovative interface concepts.
... Digital word processors have been in use since at least the 1970s (Bergin, 2006). In addition to simply recording and storing text, their primary function has been to offload typical writing tasks, such as editing, from humans to computers. ...
Full-text available
In this paper, we argue that a particular set of issues mars traditional assessment practices. They may be difficult for educators to design and implement; only provide discrete snapshots of performance rather than nuanced views of learning; be unadapted to the particular knowledge, skills, and backgrounds of participants; be tailored to the culture of schooling rather than the cultures schooling is designed to prepare students to enter; and assess skills that humans routinely use computers to perform. We review extant artificial intelligence approaches that–at least partially–address these issues and critically discuss whether these approaches present additional challenges for assessment practice.
... In a period when the usefulness of PCs for home users was still not entirely clear, word processing programs were a hint of a tangible function for these new machines, i.e. letter and text writing done on traditional typewriters or even by hand for decades. The first word processing program for personal computers, called Electric Pencil, was released in 1976 and was the harbinger of a long series of other word processing software (Bergin, 2006). As we saw in Chapter 2, Microsoft also developed a word processing system, simply called Word, whose first version was launched in 1983 but became a standard program on all personal computers only in the late 1980s, following on from the dissemination of a new version optimized for the Windows operating system. ...
... The content of discourse in UI include the typical buttons/menus chosen and the reasons why they, not others, were chosen. To compete with other word processors, such as WordStar, SuperWriter, PFS: Write, Multimate, Perfect Writer, and WordPerfect, MS Word showed its strength of "What You See Is What You Get" (WYSIWYG) (which was thought to be originated by WordStar) (Bergin 2006). MS Word provided two methods for users to apply the formatting, that is, the formatting commands and the formatting keys. ...
Full-text available
The decision-making process of bilingual individuals differ based on the language used, this phenomenon is called “Foreign Language Effect”, and in this paper, the authors will demonstrate just how pervasive and ubiquitous this effect is. To extend the current understanding of this phenomenon, three different games were designed in order to measure risk propensity, preference towards foreign products and empathy. Eight different first languages were tested against two main second languages, English and Chinese, resulting in the collection of 650 data samples. The research was conducted through questionnaires and the results obtained showed that different first languages reacted in different ways to foreign language effects, people are less inclined towards risky behaviour when using a second language, and they generally prefer to buy products when those are presented in their native language. Age and proficiency level do not significantly affect the effect discovered, and there is a reduction in the empathy level when individuals need to take delicate decisions within second language contexts. Some cultural causes have been identified and provide explanations for some of the anomalous behaviour observed in certain first languages, opening future research questions on the role that culture plays in bilingual decision making.
Twentieth and early twenty-first centuries have observed a lot of fascinating developments in pharmaceutical research and development with the rising role of computers. Computers have transformed drug discovery form hit-and-trial approach to rational drug design. Initial quantitative structure-activity relationship (QSAR) studies led to the foundation of computer-aided drug design (CADD), which subsequently evolved to structure-based drug design (SBDD), ligand-based drug design (LBDD), and fragment-based drug design (FBDD). The successes of computational chemistry and CADD have brought many interesting drug molecules from bench to the patient’s bedside. Drug discovery, being a multidisciplinary field, has been benefited with the advancements from the field of not only computers but also from associated technologies like softwares, Internet, big data, omics, internet of things, and artificial intelligence (AI). This chapter is the author’s attempt to explore history from 1960 to the present time for finding key developments that have played a larger role in evolving drug discovery and development.
This paper addressed cultural factors in user interface design. Specifically, it took the words and symbols in the user interface as a discourse, and analyzed the characteristics of the communicator who created such discourse under the frame of cultural discourse studies created by Shi-xu (2015). The characteristics of communicators were revealed diachronically in a series of Microsoft Word versions through the content, forms of communication, and historical relations of the user interface discourse. The influence of Microsoft Word user interface design on other word processors such as Jinshan WPS was also investigated. Results showed that the typical words and/or symbols in the Microsoft user interface were the most frequently elements of English documents and were listed according to western thinking method. It seems that the word processors in other cultures tended to copy the form and content of the design of Microsoft Word without taking their cultural differences into consideration. How to use cultural discourse studies to design a user-centered interface was discussed.
Conference Paper
Forth is unique among programming languages in that its development and proliferation has been a grass-roots effort unsupported by any major corporate or academic sponsors. Originally conceived and developed by a single individual, its later development has progressed under two significant influences: professional programmers who developed tools to solve application problems and then commercialized them, and the interests of hobbyists concerned with free distribution of Forth. These influences have produced a language markedly different from traditional programming languages.
In the thirteen years following the introduction of IBM's first personal computer in 1982, Microsoft rose from being a small concern to become the colossus of the PC software industry. However, Microsoft was not the only software company to profit from the PC-software boom: firms like AutoDesk, Lotus Development, WordPerfect Corp., Ashton-Tate, Novell, Borland, Adobe Systems, Aldus, Symantec, and the Santa Cruz Operation all had their time in the sun. Whereas some of these firms lost their markets to Microsoft or stumbled through strategic errors, others remained hugely successful, and their relative obscurity is largely due to the contemporary obsession with Microsoft and its billionaire founder.
From the Book:In what for many readers will be the most exciting portion of the book, the authors go on to examine histories of alleged market failures, starting with QWERTY. Were producers and consumers actually locked into inferior market solutions? And if not, what devices were employed to escape the supposed trap? I will say no more on this topic here, so as not to take the edge off the authors' accounts of the creativity and ingenuity displayed by both suppliers and consumers in the competitive battle for critical mass. ....The fascinating history and analysis in Winners, Losers and Microsoft can guide us toward a better understanding of the newer forms of competition that have been mainly responsible for the success of the modern American economy in recent decades.— Jack Hirshleifer, Professor of Economics; University of California, Los Angeles
From the Publisher:First released in 1984, Fire in the Valley remains one of the most sought-after and widely revered testaments to the dynamic visionaries of the PC era. Now updated and expanded, the second edition contains more photos and new chapters, revealing how the PC came to transform the world today and will shape the century ahead. The authors look at recent developments at Apple, Microsoft, and IBM and convey the exciting development of other companies such as Sun, Netscape, Lotus, and Oracle in the Internet age. Itself a milestone in the fascinating history of the personal computer, Fire in the Valley is the definitive account of how it all happened and why.
From its first glimmerings in the 1950s, the software industry has evolved to become the fourth largest industrial sector of the US economy. Starting with a handful of software contractors who produced specialized programs for the few existing machines, the industry grew to include producers of corporate software packages and then makers of mass-market products and recreational software. This book tells the story of each of these types of firm, focusing on the products they developed, the business models they followed, and the markets they served. By describing the breadth of this industry, Martin Campbell-Kelly corrects the popular misconception that one firm is at the center of the software universe. He also tells the story of lucrative software products such as IBM's CICS and SAP's R/3, which, though little known to the general public, lie at the heart of today's information infrastructure. With its wealth of industry data and its thoughtful judgments, this book will become a starting point for all future investigations of this fundamental component of computer history.
This memoir focuses chiefly on the story of WordStar, the pioneering word processing software for personal computers that was ahead of its time. A series of unfortunate circumstances - personal illness, management ineptitude, clash of egos, changing business conditions - converged to bring low a once-promising and shining venture