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The Proliferation and Consolidation of Word Processing Software: 1985-1995

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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
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This article is the second of two, examining the
history of word processing software for person-
al computers. My approach in both articles is
to view the history in the context of three over-
lapping phases of word processing software
development for microcomputers: its origins,
proliferation, and consolidation. The preceding
article—“The Origins of Word Processing
Software for Personal Computers: 1976
1985”—in this special issue looked at the ori-
gins phase; this article continues with a
discussion of the proliferation and consolida-
tion phases.
Recall that in the origins phase, Electric
Pencil, EasyWriter, and WordStar were the
first packages received with enthusiasm by a
variety of users, hobbyists, and organizations
alike. At the end of the origins phase,
WordStar was the market leader in the CP/M
environment.
The proliferation phase had its beginnings
with the introduction of the IBM personal com-
puter in 1981. Soon, the IBM PC became the de
facto standard for virtually all microcomputer
software developers. MicroPro continued to
dominate the word processing market as the
leading DOS word processor in the early years
of the proliferation phase, until it was overtaken
by WordPerfect in 1986. WordPerfect then
dominated the WP market until 1992, when
the acceptance of the Microsoft Windows oper-
ating system allowed Microsoft Word for
Windows to dominate.
The consolidation phase started with the
introduction of Microsoft Windows 3.0 in 1989.
1
This version of Windows resulted in a paradigm
shift, as noted by historian Martin Campbell-
Kelly.
2
The dominance of the Windows environ-
ment, resulted in the further evolution of word
processing software and a new market leader,
Microsoft Word for Windows.
This article will reveal how rapidly micro-
computers have evolved since the 1970s. An
outlet for hobbyists evolved into the ubiqui-
tous information appliances of the 1990s.
Early development circumstances
A number of circumstances led to the cre-
ation of early word processing software: Electric
Pencil and Easy Writer evolved out of personal
necessity. WordStar was created to be the word
processor for professionals, and WordPerfect
evolved out of a project to create a word proces-
sor for a minicomputer.
3
Microsoft Word, however, was a direct
result of research done in the 1960s. In “Man-
Computer Symbiosis,” written in 1960, J.C.R.
Licklider outlined a future in which comput-
ers and man solved problems together, in an
unstructured way, directed by the user and
not by computer software.
4
Licklider’s ideas
had a major impact on research at Xerox
Corporation’s legendary research institution,
the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), in the
early 1970s.
At the same time, Douglas Englebart was
exploring tools to help people accomplish vari-
ous tasks. In “Augmenting the Human Intellect:
A Conceptual Framework,” written in 1962, he
outlined his ideas to use “high-powered elec-
tronic aids” to assist human cognition and per-
formance.
5
One example that Englebart used to
48 IEEE Annals of the History of Computing Published by the IEEE Computer Society 1058-6180/06/$20.00 © 2006 IEEE
The Proliferation and Consolidation of
Word Processing Software: 19851995
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.
Web Extra
Visit the Annals Web Extras archive at http://www.computer.
org/portal/pages/annals/content/webextras.html to access the
“Word Processing Timeline” that accompanies this article.
demonstrate the value of his ideas was the gen-
eration of a simple office memorandum:
Suppose you had a new writing machine—think
of it as a high-speed electric typewriter with some
special features … For instance, trial drafts could
rapidly be composed from rearranged excerpts of
old drafts, together with new words or passages
which you stop to type in. Your first draft would
represent a free outpouring of thoughts in any
order, with the inspection of foregoing thoughts
continuously stimulating new considerations,
and ideas to be entered. If the tangle of thoughts
represented by the draft became too complex,
you would compile a reordered draft quickly.
6
Author Mitchell Waldrop believes that
With the possible exception of the ‘Expensive
Typewriter’ program being created by MIT hack-
ers at about the same time, this remarkable pas-
sage is the first written description of a modern
word-processing system.
7
Interestingly, Englebart cannot remember
where the idea came from:
It was just a part of all those years of thinking …
manipulating words seemed like the obvious
place to start because it was a way to manipulate
your ideas … the very essence of your knowledge
and thinking …
7
Englebart went on to lead a group at the
Stanford Research Institute (SRI), which devel-
oped the oN-Line System (NLS). By fall 1968,
NLS offered all the capabilities of what we
would now call a word processing system,
including word wrap, the ability to cut and
paste material, easy corrections and insertions,
automatic formatting, and printing support.
8
The goal of extending computing was cap-
tured by Martin Greenberger in the Atlantic
Monthly:
Computing services and establishments will begin
to spread throughout every sector of American
life, reaching into homes, offices, classrooms, lab-
oratories, factories, and businesses of all kinds.
9
What was needed to extract the power of the
computer was a set of programming tools and
utilities, and more importantly, more afford-
able computers.
The research by Licklider and Englebart
will join our story in midstream, when we see
how their efforts influenced Xerox PARC
research, which became the basis for the
Apple Macintosh computer, Microsoft Word,
and Microsoft Windows.
WordStar
As I stated in the introduction to the first of
these two articles, the three phases were not dis-
crete. The origins phase overlapped the prolif-
eration phase, and the proliferation phase
overlapped the consolidation phase, tracking
the changing operating environments: from
CP/M to DOS to Windows. WordStar, which
was the leading word processing package in the
CP/M environment (origins phase) continued
its dominance in the early days of the prolifera-
tion phase. WordStar 3.0 for PC-DOS was
released in 1982, the same year as WordPerfect,
but garnered market share based on its reputa-
tion and MicroPro’s strong marketing. In 1983,
Microsoft introduced MS Word and NewStar
released NewWord 1, a WordStar clone. The
competition for word processing dominance
continued in 1984 with the release of NewWord
2, WordPerfect 4.0, and MultiMate, among oth-
ers. The internal problems that MicroPro faced
in this period resulted in its losing market share
to WordPerfect (as outlined in the first article).
Readers can gain additional perspective on the
competition of this period by examining the
sidebar accompanying the earlier article and the
timeline on the Annals Web site.
WordPerfect
Satellite Software International (SSI) was
incorporated by Alan Ashton, Bruce Bastion,
and Don Owens in Utah to market a word pro-
cessing program for the Data General mini-
computer.
10
Ashton, a professor of computer
science at Brigham Young University (BYU),
had spent summer 1977 writing the specifica-
tions for a word processing package. He had
seen a Wang stand-alone word processing sys-
tem and wanted to build a system that elimi-
nated the necessity of printing a document to
see what it looked like. At that time, most word
processing packages for minicomputers mixed
formatting characters—such as tabs, centering,
line feeds, and page feeds—with the text. The
document as viewed on the monitor differed
from the printed output, requiring users to
print their work more than once to get it
“right.” Ashton’s design eliminated much of
this problem.
Bastion was working on a 3D graphics pro-
gram to help him as the director of the BYU
marching band. While working on his thesis
for a master’s in music, Bastion asked Ashton
for help. When Ashton heard that Eyring
Research of Provo, Utah, had a contract to pro-
October–December 2006 49
vide a word processing program for the city of
Orem, Ashton contacted Eyring and convinced
them to use his specifications and to hire
Bastion to do the programming. In addition, if
Eyring allowed Ashton and Bastion to maintain
ownership of the software, Ashton promised to
work on the project for free. In spring 1979, the
two delivered the program to Orem. In return
for free updates, Orem let Ashton and Bastion
use the city’s Data General computer to further
develop their word processing software.
Owens worked for Itel, a computer leasing
company in California. Owens had dreamed of
starting his own software company, and when
Ashton and Bastion came to him for advice on
how to sell their software, the three agreed to
start a business to sell the two products that
Ashton and Bastion had written: P-Edit (short
for programmer’s editor) and the word pro-
cessing package done for the city of Orem. In
March 1980, the word processor was renamed
SSI*WP and offered for sale at $5,500. SSI*WP
was a true niche product because it only ran on
the Data General minicomputer, under the
AOS operating system, and used Data General
terminals and a Diablo 1650 (or compatible)
printer. By summer 1980, SSI was selling two or
three copies each month, and paying its bills.
11
With Ashton and Bastion concentrating on
software development, Owens focused on sell-
ing the products. After selling a few copies of P-
Edit and SSI*WP to Itel, his employer, and a few
to other Data General users, Owens resigned
from Itel and moved to Utah in June 1980.
That summer, he succeeded in selling the
SSI*WP source code for $100,000 to DCC—a
communications company that had planned to
write its own word processor. Owens had done
the impossible: without outside funding, he
had established SSI as a player in the Data
General software market.
Pete Peterson was Bastion’s brother-in-law,
and worked in the family-run drapery business
until Bastion asked him if he was interested in
being the new company’s office manager.
Although he had no managerial or administra-
tive experience, Peterson became employee
number six, at an annual salary of $24,000.
12
Peterson’s duties expanded over time; as he saw
things that needed doing, he simply did them
or urged others to do so. He observed that the
owners (Ashton, Bastion, and Owens) were
good at writing and selling software but had no
experience in running a business.
13
Indeed,
when dealing with customers, Owens usually
referred to himself as the CEO of SSI, when in
reality the partners considered themselves
equal owners. This caused a great deal of resent-
ment, especially since the founder/owners also
disagreed on financing the company. Owens
wanted to go public and reap his (expected)
rewards, while Ashton and Bastion wanted to
remain private. By mutual agreement, Owens
accepted a one-year consulting agreement dur-
ing 1981 and was eventually bought out by
Ashton and Bastion, who each retained 49.5
shares of the company. Peterson was allowed to
buy one percent so that he could break any ties.
At that early time in its evolution, the com-
pany had no structure, no accounting system,
and no strategic or operational plans. Indeed, it
is questionable if anyone understood the need
for such things. Ashton, Bastion, and Peterson
were Mormons who wanted to build a compa-
ny based on their beliefs—that is, they wanted
SSI to operate like a well-run (Mormon) family,
with dedicated employees and little supervi-
sion. Early in his memoir, Peterson opined that:
Running a company, however, did not require
proficiency tests, a college degree, or any relevant
experience … We never considered hiring pro-
fessional managers to help us. In fact, profes-
sionals were the enemy. They represented
“business as usual,” which meant working for an
overbearing boss, fighting political battles, and
living with contention. …
14
These words would come back to haunt what
eventually became WordPerfect Corporation as
it grew to become the dominant player in the
microcomputer software market.
SSI purchased an IBM PC, announced only
six months earlier, in February 1982. Alan
Brown, a BYU student, was hired on a part-time
basis to see if SSI*WP could be made to run on
the IBM PC. A month later, Brown was con-
vinced that it could, and a decision was made
to rewrite the program in Intel 8088 assembly
language. Interestingly enough, SSI had to wait
until May 1982 for an assembler.
The years 1982 and 1983 were pivotal in word
processing history. During this period, more than
200 word processing packages were introduced
for the IBM PC, including Volkswriter (from
Lifetree Software, which would capture a share
of the low-cost market) and a version of
WordStar (see the preceding article in this issue,
“The Origins of Word Processing Software for
Personal Computers: 19761985,” which
includes a listing of all the word processing soft-
ware available in 1985). By the 26 November
1982 announcement of WordPerfect 2.2
15
(for
the IBM PC), MicroPro’s WordStar product con-
trolled 75 percent of the word processing mar-
ket.
16
Although SSI spent $100,000 on
50 IEEE Annals of the History of Computing
Consolidation of Word Processing Software: 19851995
October–December 2006 51
advertising for the roll-out, Peterson believed
that its in-house advertising content was weak.
We were amateurs, and it showed … We were
only a small group of friends, relatives, and
neighbors with little experience, but we were
profitably running a million-dollar business and
having a good time.
17
SSI had three serious problems: a weak mar-
keting department, a serious lack of printer sup-
port (within WordPerfect), and a growing
reputation for “buggy” software. Early review-
ers also complained about its paper keyboard
template and unprofessional manual.
18
Indeed,
because of a never-ending list of bugs, SSI
released three new versions of WordPerfect in
spring 1983, thus adding to the growing belief
among industry watchers that SSI was produc-
ing poor-quality software. The solution, curi-
ously, was not to stop releasing the fixes but to
stop changing the release numbers:
We changed the date of the software on the
boxed diskettes, but we left the number on the
outside of the box the same, an industry practice
known as “slipstreaming.” This was a controver-
sial solution, but our bad reputation disappeared.
We learned that perception was more important
than reality. Our software was no better or worse
then it had been before, but in the absence of the
new version numbers, it was perceived as being
much better.
19
SSI received a big break when ComputerLand,
the largest chain of computer retail stores, agreed
to stock WordPerfect in spring 1983. This was an
important “seal of approval” by a vital part of
IBM’s dealer network. Because WordStar was so
popular, SSI offered ComputerLand employees a
copy of WordPerfect for $10 if they would take a
(loaded) test with questions such as: “Does
WordPerfect or WordStar have the largest dic-
tionary?” The correct answer to each question,
of course, was “WordPerfect.”
20
Things were starting to look good at SSI.
Quarterly earnings for 1983 were $427,000;
$645,000; $843,000; and $1,585,000 for a
record of $3.5 million for the year. In addition,
WordPerfect was mentioned in Softalk maga-
zine as a best seller, and was listed as the fifth-
best-selling word processor, behind WordStar,
Word Plus, MultiMate, and PFS:Write. To make
matters even better, WordPerfect was the 12th-
best-selling software package at ComputerLand
and the second-best-selling word processor.
21
A
major contributor to this success was the toll-
free support SSI offered. In an era when most
software vendors expected purchasers to get
support from local dealers, SSI established a
robust support service (see Figure 1). The fact
that it was toll-free was a big plus that did not
go unnoticed by the trade press, especially by
software reviewers.
22
By this time, personal computers were pro-
liferating rapidly, and users started demanding
better applications. Along with this growth
came improvements in storage and printing
technologies. The former allowed larger, more
robust, applications, but the latter placed a bur-
den on software publishers to be able to inter-
face with a growing number of printer models.
The SSI designers decided to place the printer
code in tables outside the program. WordPerfect
3.0, released in October 1983 at Comdex, con-
tained support for more than 200 printers, more
than any other word processing package.
23
A
dealer survey, reported in the November issue
of Softalk, identified WordPerfect as the num-
ber-one word processing package during
October. Yet, although SSI finished the year
with $3.5 million in revenue, and more than
three and half times the sales of the previous
year, Peterson began having doubts about the
company’s management structure.
24
Figure 1. WordPerfect advertisement from PC
Magazine, vol. 5, no. 21, 9 Dec. 1986, p. 166.
(Courtesy of Corel Corporation.)
In truth, the Mormon credo of teaching the
right principles and leaving people alone was a
poor management strategy for a rapidly grow-
ing high-tech company. The company had no
job descriptions, no training programs, no deci-
sion-making process, no structure, no budget
process, and no real hierarchy. Beyond the
owners, Ashton (who worked in development)
and Bastion (managing overseas sales), there
was Peterson, who wanted a flat organization,
with two or three layers, in which no one real-
ly supervised anyone else. To make matters
worse, the company’s explosive growth result-
ed in employees being spread all over Provo—
in various leased buildings—resulting in poor
intracompany communications.
WordPerfect 4.0, with a better manual (in
color), a tutorial, and user exercises, was
released at Comdex in November 1984. Sales of
WP 4.0 benefited from an improved advertis-
ing campaign, which gave the impression that
the product was greatly improved, when in fact
only minor changes had been made to the soft-
ware. This was a major turning point for SSI
Software, a new name suggested by its adver-
tising agency. At the same Comdex show,
MicroPro introduced WordStar 2000, which
was not well received. According to Peterson:
The new WordStar, introduced at Comdex as
WordStar 2000, was entirely different from the
old product. Fortunately, for us, MicroPro inten-
tionally attempted to replace their market leader
with a product that was bigger and slower and
used a different interface. MicroPro did more for
us at that show than we could ever have done
for ourselves.
25
The result, according to Peterson, was that
WordStar’s portion of the market declined from
75 percent in 1983 to around 60 percent in
1984. WordPerfect’s star continued to rise, as
reviews of its new release garnered rave reviews.
InfoWorld opined that “WordPerfect 4.0 repre-
sents a new standard for microcomputer word
processors.”
26
All was not perfect at SSI, however. Although
the company had grown from 47 to 84 employ-
ees (178 percent growth), sales of products other
than WordPerfect were poor. SSI had a goal of
offering compatible products over a wide range
of computing environments. Moreover, because
some of its competitors had families of software
products, a large portion of the SSI workforce
worked on products to compete in this broader
marketplace.
27
Unfortunately, the reviews of its next major
product, SSI*Data, were bad. To make matters
worse, the drive to produce versions of
WordPerfect for all levels and makes of com-
puters stretched SSI’s development and mar-
keting capabilities to the breaking point. SSI
continued to develop WordPerfect jr and
MathPlan jr in spite of evidence that the PC
jr—a smaller and less expensive version of the
IBM PC—was a market failure.
It’s hard not to conclude that had SSI con-
centrated on fewer products, it might have
saved resources that could have been devoted
to more promising products. In addition, man-
agement problems continued to plague the
company. Each department was allowed to
design its own organizational structure, and
problem-solving was strictly a trial-and-error
process. Most decisions were made by the
project leaders of the various software devel-
opment teams instead of someone at a “cor-
porate” level.
Yet SSI continued to capture market share. In
January 1985, sales were $1 million; by August,
sales topped $2 million; and by October, sales
eclipsed the $3 million mark. According to
Peterson, the market was split: individuals
bought WordStar, large businesses bought
MultiMate, but government offices and agencies
bought WordPerfect.
28
WordPerfect 4.1, released
in fall 1985, contained at least 100 new features,
including an automatic table of contents, auto-
matic indexing, flexible footnotes, and a para-
graph numbering feature along with an
improved speller and thesaurus. Since these fea-
tures were all done by SSI employees, they func-
tioned similarly and worked well together.
A major strength of the “Mormon family
approach to organization” was that develop-
ment teams tended to remain intact: most
employees remained in Utah and with the com-
pany—despite opportunities elsewhere in the
growing software industry. With InfoWorld giv-
ing WordPerfect 4.1 another perfect score, the
company finished 1985 with sales of $23 mil-
lion, a 250 percent increase over 1984.
29
Sales of
the Apple II version contributed to this total,
again helped by a strong review in InfoWorld.
30
The net result was that WordPerfect was the
number-two word processor, behind WordStar.
31
In addition, SSI grew from 84 employees in 1984
to 200 in 1985.
In 1986, Peterson thought that SSI faced
three competitors: Wang, IBM, and Microsoft.
Peterson and his colleagues considered Wang a
dinosaur unable to adapt to the new market,
believed that SSI had made inroads into IBM’s
market share, and considered Microsoft their
major foe in the word processing market.
Peterson also believed that Microsoft had two
52 IEEE Annals of the History of Computing
Consolidation of Word Processing Software: 19851995
October–December 2006 53
areas of advantage: the new laser printers and
a new environment called graphical user inter-
faces (GUIs). At this time, WordPerfect’s printer
technology did not allow true proportional
spacing, something increasingly demanded by
large organizations seeking to switch from
expensive, dedicated word processors to PC-
based word processing systems. Users were
learning about new hardware capabilities and
demanding improved applications. Lacking the
resources to support new developments in
printing and GUIs, SSI chose the former, believ-
ing that its customer base was more interested
in letter quality printing than in GUIs.
However, GUIs were the biggest thing in the
marketplace. After Apple introduced the
Macintosh, in January 1984, everyone wanted in
on the act.
32
At this time, no GUI dominated the
market: IBM was offering TopView, Microsoft
was offering Windows, Digital Research was
offering GEM (Graphic Environment for
Microcomputers), VisiCorp offered VisiOn, and
DSR offered Mondrian.
33
These GUIs were
designed to run on top of DOS and did not per-
form well. Peterson said that
We were pulling for anyone but Microsoft to
win. They were the company most likely to give
us trouble in the future, and we didn’t want
them in control of the GUI environment.
34
One result of these efforts was that IBM and
Microsoft formed an alliance to create a new
operating system to be called OS/2.
Experiencing record sales and anticipating
another exceptional year financially, SSI sought
to make some changes. In recognition of
WordPerfect’s importance to the company’s
bottom line, the company name was changed
to WordPerfect Corporation (WPC). In addi-
tion, land was purchased for a company facili-
ty to house all employees, in the hopes of
improving intracompany communications and
expediting production. It was then, too, that
Peterson determined that WPC was supporting
too many products for too many computers.
Given its goal to become “the world’s word-
processing standard,” WPC had versions for
personal computers, minicomputers (like the
Data General, DEC, and AT&T machines), and
various Unix systems, as well as versions for the
IBM System/370 machines.
35
The burden of improving and maintaining
so many different products resulted in the
inevitable infighting for resources, and turned
decisions to end support for systems experi-
encing declining sales (such as the Atari and
Commodore lines) into political battles. Thus,
new opportunities such as “office automation”
were often overlooked or underfunded, and
became lost opportunities.
In spite of these internal problems, howev-
er, the company continued to experience phe-
nomenal growth. In 1986, WPC became the
fifth-largest PC software company with $52 mil-
lion in sales. WordPerfect 4.2 (see Figure 2) for
DOS was introduced at Comdex. WordPerfect
was number one in word processing.
36
By 1987, WPC held 30 percent of the mar-
ket, MicroPro plummeted to 16 percent, IBM
had 13 percent, and Microsoft had 11 percent.
The company’s new goal was to develop ver-
sions of WordPerfect for selected platforms
that were well integrated with other impor-
tant products on each platform. This meant
making WordPerfect work well with Lotus 1-
2-3 before working on MathPlan. In addition,
Peterson continued to push for full compati-
bility between all versions of WordPerfect, so
that someone working on an IBM mainframe
or Data General minicomputer could share
work with colleagues working on an Apple
Macintosh.
37
For this to happen, however, WPC would
have to get WordPerfect 5.0 to market on time
with an improved printer interface. During the
Figure 2. WordPerfect 4.2 advertisement from PC
Magazine, vol. 5, no. 22, 23 Dec. 1986, p. 12.
(Courtesy of Corel Corporation.)
redesign, a decision was made to incorporate
graphics support into WP5.0 rather than trying
for a full desktop publishing capability. Perhaps
the most important decision, and one that
would reverberate throughout the rest of
WPC’s history, was whether to attempt a “true”
WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) ver-
sion—with proportional fonts; with headers,
footers, and footnotes in the right places; and
with graphics properly displayed along with
the text. Because DOS did not support graphics,
everything had to be created in-house. The
developers reached a compromise: text entry
would continue to occur in text mode, and
graphics mode would be used for previewing
printed output. Full WYSIWYG capability would
have to wait until WordPerfect 6.0 (which did
not come until June 1993).
In the meantime, the company felt pressure
from Microsoft, which was expected to demon-
strate Word 4.0 at the PC Expo in June.
38
After
reading fairly glowing reviews of Word, and
learning that WordPerfect 5.0 would not be
ready for Comdex in the fall, WPC’s powers-
that-be girded up for a war against Microsoft.
Part of this effort was an attempt to garner more
favorable publicity in the technical media.
39
The biggest news at Comdex in 1987 was
the unveiling of OS/2 and Presentation
Manager, as a new platform for running appli-
cations. At the same time, WPC’s revenues con-
tinued to climb, to $100,350,000 for 1987.
WordPerfect was the best-selling PC software
package, ahead of Lotus 1-2-3, dBase III, and
Microsoft Word.
40
All was not well, however. WordPerfect for
Macintosh received poor reviews after being
shipped in April 1988. Most reviewers thought
that the product too closely resembled the DOS
version and did not leverage the distinctive feel
of the Macintosh computer. Worse, WordPerfect
5.0 for DOS contained a bug in the installation
program as well as untested print drivers. As a
result, WPC’s toll-free phones were ringing off
the hook, and the company needed to hire
more operators to handle the load. In addition,
WordPerfect Library for the Amiga and
WordPerfect for the IBM System/370 had dis-
appointing sales. In spite of these setbacks, rev-
enues were up 75 percent to $178 million and
the company grew from 554 to 1,130 employees
(many new hires worked the help lines). These
trends continued during 1989. WordPerfect cap-
tured 60 percent of the market; WPC had sales
of $281 million and grew to 1,612 employees.
Because most of the development staff was
busy working on WordPerfect 5.1, WPC did not
attempt a version for Microsoft Windows 2.0.
In spite of this, in January 1990, Microsoft
asked WPC to serve as a beta site for Windows
3.0. Because WPC had few programmers com-
fortable with Windows, little was done. When
Microsoft shipped Windows 3.0 in May 1990,
Peterson’s worst fears were realized. Less than
three years after WordPerfect took over the
DOS word processing market, demand shifted
to a new environment that WPC wasn’t pre-
pared to support.
41
Indeed, things were very
bad in Provo. WordPerfect 5.1 for Windows
would not ship for 18 months (November
1991), and WordPerfect 5.2 for OS/2 would not
ship until July 1993, almost 39 months after
Windows 3.0.
In the meantime, however, WPC would ship
25 other products.
42
Largely because WordPerfect
held 70 percent of the market, the company
finished the year with $452 million in sales.
However, product delays were becoming com-
mon, and the outside world was noticing.
43
WordPerfect Office, six years in development,
was still not ready for prime time, and the com-
pany’s approach to managing its empire meant
that the clouds would get darker.
With the highest sales in company history,
the owners decided on an initial public offer-
ing (IPO) and sought advice from their
accountants. Price-Waterhouse recommended
significant changes to the management team,
improvements in company accounting prac-
tices, and changes to employee salaries and
benefits. In addition, Price-Waterhouse recom-
mended reorganizing the existing 14 corpora-
tions and one partnership. Among the
partners, however, Ashton and Bastion wanted
to consider acquisitions and strategic partner-
ships while Peterson wanted to continue “to
teach correct principles and maintain a flat
organization.”
44
On 23 March 1992, Ashton
and Bastion asked Peterson to step down as a
member of the board and to assume new duties
not related to the company’s management. On
24 December 1992, Peterson sold his stock and
ended his relationship with WPC.
In 1993, WPC would acquire three compa-
nies and announce an alliance with Borland
Software Corporation. Borland Office for
Windows (WordPerfect, Quattro Pro, and
Paradox) was released in May 1993, and
WordPerfect 6.0 for DOS in June 1993. The final
version of WordPerfect (5.2) for OS/2 was
released in July; a planned update for December
was dropped. In March 1994, Novell would buy
WPC and acquire Quattro Pro and Paradox
from Borland. Novell sold the rights to
WordPerfect to the Corel Corporation in 1996
(Novell, personal communication).
54 IEEE Annals of the History of Computing
Consolidation of Word Processing Software: 19851995
October–December 2006 55
In January 1986, the year that WordPerfect eclipsed
WordStar as the leading word processing package, PC
Magazine published “Notes from the UnderGround:
WordStar,” in which “Two longtime WordStar devotees
expound on the reasons MicroPro’s classic word processor
remains dear to their hearts—despite the competition.”
1
The
authors were identified as “Ward Starr” and “Mel Murch,”
an all-too-obvious play on WordStar and MailMerge, two of
MicroPro’s leading products. The article begins:
WordStar isn’t sexy anymore.
Miami vice cops don’t wear
WordStar. Madonna doesn’t
shave with it. George [H.W.]
Bush doesn’t golf with it.
People used to call WordStar
“the Mercedes of word
processors.” Now they call it
“that rusty old jalopy.”
Never mind that the old heap
still purrs like a cheetah and
watches many new
“performance” models
disappear in the rearview
mirror. True, it may not have a
fuel-injected windshield washer
or a talking emergency flasher,
but it isn’t weighed down with
a lot of performance-robbing
emission controls either … But
those aren’t the main reasons
we or hundreds of thousands
of users have chosen to stick
with the brightest star in the
MicroPro constellation. So let
us count the whys.
Ward and Mel then discuss
the various characteristics of
WordStar that they feel still
make it the best word pro-
cessing package on the mar-
ket, including that it is
elegant, fast, and not copy
protected. They conclude that since “not one competitor
in the market lacks some sort of failing we consider major,
we’ll accept WordStar’s limitations … As someone once
said, spring chickens are nice, but old coyotes have been
known to eat them alive.”
2
Not to be outdone, WordPerfect Corporation released
news of a “WordPerfect Promotion for WordStar Survivors”
on 23 July 1987. This promotion, aimed at WordStar users,
announced the publication of A WordStar Survivor’s Guide
to WordPerfect, based on research of WordPerfect’s cus-
tomer database (see Figure A).
The authors were identified as “W.S. Farewell” and
“W.P Forever,” and they guide the reader through a sim-
plified WordPerfect tutorial written in a vernacular rarely
found in technical periodicals:
Introduction: Why WordPerfect?
You’ve been using WordStar for years now. You’re used to
it. You like it. As far as you’re concerned WordPerfect may
be all right for other people, but you’re sure you’re going
to hate it.
We know just how you feel. We’re WordStar nuts too. We
learned word processing on it. We grew up with it. We
made it grow with us. We
bought underground
documentation and add-on
programs to fix what was
wrong with it. We’re sure we’d
rather fight than switch. But
WordStar still can’t do many of
the things that are now
second nature to an up-to-
date word processor like
WordPerfect. So it just may be
time to move on.
Well, I might give WordPerfect
a try—if only it were more
popular.
Popular? You must’ve been
asleep. In the past couple of
years, it’s become the nation’s
best selling word package by
far. It’s become the standard in
offices all across the country.
3
The 168-page book was
available to WordStar users for
“a modest $1 postage and
handling fee.” Included in the
Survivor’s Guide was a coupon
good for $40 on the purchase
of WordPerfect between 1
August and 31 October 1987
(limited to users in the US and
Canada).
[Author’s note: I am indebted to Amy Wohl for sharing a
copy of this book with me when I interviewed her in October
2005 at her office in Ardmore, Pennsylvania.]
References and notes
1. W. Starr and M. Murch, “Notes from the UnderGround
WordStar,” PC Magazine, vol. 5, no. 2, pp. 257-268.
2. Ibid., p. 268.
3. W.S. Farewell and W.P. Forever, A WordStar® Survivor’s Guide to
WordPerfect®, WordPerfect Publications, 1987, pp. 1, 2. The
back of the title page states: “The opinions expressed in this
document are those of W.S. Farewell and W.P. Forever and do
not always represent those of WordPerfect Corporation.”
Figure A. WordPerfect ad for WordStar Survivors Guide.
PC World, vol. 5, no. 9, Sept. 1987, p. 93.
High-Tech High Jinks (or All’s Fair in Love and War)
56 IEEE Annals of the History of Computing
Consolidation of Word Processing Software: 19851995
Microsoft Word
The gestation of Word can be traced to the
Bravo project at Xerox PARC.
45
Xerox had
developed a research computer, the Alto, which
had impressive speed, an innovative bit-
mapped display, and used a “mouse” to control
a visual environment. The bit-mapped display,
which allowed manipulation of picture ele-
ments, or pixels, rather than characters,
allowed the user to “paint” the screen with
graphics and text of all shapes and sizes.
46
In January 1977, David Liddle was tasked to
develop the Alto into a marketable product.
47
Liddle had come to PARC in 1972, at the same
time as Charles Simonyi. Programs for the Alto
were created using the Bravo text editor,
designed by Butler Lampson and Simonyi, and
later extended by Simonyi. Bravo introduced
the notion of WYSIWYG word processing, that
is, Bravo would display text on the screen in
essentially the same format that the text would
be printed.
48
Greek letters, superscripts, sub-
scripts, italics, various fonts, and margins would
be shown on the screen exactly as they would
be printed. Simonyi left PARC for Microsoft in
1981, where he became the “father of Word.”
49
Simonyi joined Microsoft on 6 February
1981 as director of development, soon after
Microsoft started its Electronic Paper project.
50
Bill Gates and Paul Allen wanted to expand
Microsoft’s domain from languages and oper-
ating systems, to applications. The first appli-
cation would be a spreadsheet to compete with
the market leaders, VisiCalc and SuperCalc.
The company hired Paul Heckel, as a consult-
ant, to draft a set of specifications, and a pro-
totype was programmed by Mark Mathews.
51
When Simonyi joined Microsoft, he added easy-
to-use menus to the specifications, based on his
observation that a diner in a restaurant is more
comfortable seeing what is offered before they
have to order. Multiplan menus appeared as two
lines on the bottom of the screen and debuted
to excellent reviews.
52
The second Microsoft application was Multi-
Tool Word, which would have the same inter-
face as Multiplan. Simonyi’s design was to
display boldface, underlining, italics, sub-
scripts, and superscripts on the screen, and
divided the screen into multiple “windows” so
that a user could have several documents open
at one time.
53
Multi-Tool Word (M-TW), which
allowed for an (optional) “mouse,” also let
users create style sheets to assist in creating a
preformatted business letter, and supported
proportional fonts and laser printers—recent
additions to a growing hardware capability.
According to authors Daniel Ichbiah and Susan
Knepper, M-TW “was to be the first software
program that could produce documents of
almost typeset quality.”
54
By mid-1982, the specifications were com-
plete, and Simonyi began development of M-
TW with the help of Richard Brodie, a
programmer that he had recruited from PARC.
55
Brodie’s goal was to write “a low-end word
processor with the same interface as Multiplan.”
Brodie claims to have thrown out the specifica-
tions and written what he wanted to.
56
Although other programmers worked on the
project, 80 percent of the code was Brodie’s.
The program formatted the screen as the user
typed, used a mouse to control the position of
the cursor, and contained an “undo” command
so that errors could be corrected. Multi-Tool
Word was introduced in 1983, at the Spring
Comdex, in Atlanta, and “In June, Softalk pub-
lished its first impression of a pre-release ver-
sion, giving it high marks.”
54
Microsoft had
planned to introduce a family of compatible
products using the “Multi-Tool” idea, with
Multiplan being the first. However, “Multi-Tool
Word” struck Rowland Hanson, Microsoft’s
new director of communications, as too long.
After some debate, the name was changed to
Microsoft Word.
54
At the same time, David Bunnell, publisher
of PC World, was contemplating distributing to
subscribers a diskette containing a number of
useful programs.
57
Bunnell hoped to bill the
software publishers for their share of the costs.
However, Microsoft—the first company con-
tacted—liked the idea so much that they
picked up the $350,000 cost, which was more
than 40 times the usual price of a full-page
ad.
58
The November 1983 issue of PC World
was titled “1,200 Programs for the IBM PC,”
and listed the best sellers such as VisiCalc and
WordStar. The magazine’s 100,000 subscribers
found a Microsoft Word diskette sewn into the
magazine; newsstand purchasers found a post-
card with a subscription offer for 14 issues of
PC World in exchange for a free copy of
Microsoft Word.
Word was officially released on 15 November
1983. It required 128 Kbytes of memory and
sold for $375, which was less than WordStar; a
version supporting a mouse cost $475. The
reviews were mixed, and Microsoft was disap-
pointed with its sales. A few reviewers liked
Word, but were unsure of the value of the
mouse.
59
The next release, Word 1.1, imple-
mented Brodie’s mail-merge function.
Word 2.0, released in February 1985, sup-
ported the Hewlett-Packard LaserJet printer and
included an interactive tutorial program to
assist people in learning the program’s capabil-
ities and functions. Word 2.0 also supported
the IBM Enhanced Graphics Adapter card and
monitor, the Hercules high-resolution graphics
card, and the Intel 80286 processor used in the
IBM PC AT.
60
Word 2.0 also received mixed
reviews. Some reviewers complained that the
program was not completely finished and that
the spell-check and word-count features were
inconvenient because they were not integrated
into the program. Most reviewers, however,
were excited about Word 2.0. Indeed, after
reviewing 77 word processing packages, PC
Magazine named it an Editor’s Choice.
61
Microsoft 3.0 was released in April 1986
(see Figure 3) to good reviews, and became
Microsoft’s best seller, ending the year as the
fifth-best-selling software program in the US.
63
Sales improved, and by early 1989, Dataquest
estimated that in the previous 12 months,
937,000 copies of WordPerfect had been sold,
compared to 650,000 copies of Word, making
Word the number two seller.
62
Brodie claims that he had finished the
“squiggly red line” code for the spell-check pro-
gram, but forgot to tell anyone before he left
the company.”
64
When Brodie returned to
Microsoft to work on the Access database prod-
uct, he ran into Chris Mason who was Word’s
development manager:
Chris thought that feature was too hard (to
implement). In thirty seconds I explained to
Chris how to do it and he instantly understood.
The next thing I know, there is a new version of
Word with that squiggly red underline as it spell-
checked in the background.
64
Interestingly, when Word 4.0 was intro-
duced in 1987, it was still one of a few word
processing programs with a WYSIWYG screen
display. Word 4.0 was faster than its predeces-
sor, and it contained new features including
footnotes and endnotes, index and table-of-
contents generation, line drawing, and four-
function math. It also had added macros, the
ability to read spreadsheet files, and the ability
to surround text with a box.
65
PC Magazine again made it an Editor’s
Choice, along with WordPerfect 4.3.
66
Although the word processing market was
more fragmented than the spreadsheet and
database markets, PC Magazine stated that “two
products—WordPerfect and Microsoft Word—
dominate the serious word processing software
business.”
67
Word 5.0, introduced in 1988, met with
similar good reviews, particularly concerning
improvements that supported desktop pub-
lishing.
68
In addition to supporting large
screens, 5.0 provided a “Page Preview” com-
mand and a “Show Layout” command, both
useful when working with multiple-col-
umn formats. In addition to linking to var-
ious graphic images, such as TIFF, .PIC, and
PostScript, Word 5.0 allowed users to scale and
crop graphics, and had a fully integrated
spelling checker.
69
A reviewer noted that
Microsoft’s “implicit objective is … to grab a lit-
tle market share from archrival WordPerfect
Corp.’s WordPerfect 5.0.”
70
In an effort to differentiate between these
leading packages, Personal Computing invited a
devotee of each to participate in a dialogue on
the merits of their respective packages.
71
The
article provided an interesting dialogue on the
pros and cons of the packages but left it to read-
ers to draw their own conclusions. In a later
issue, a Buyer’s Guide compared eight packages,
with Word 5.0 edging WordPerfect 5.0, by a
score of 6.3 to 5.9.
72
Although the top word processing software
packages incorporated some desktop publish-
ing features, they were limited by the DOS text-
based interface in which the text and graphics
October–December 2006 57
Figure 3. Word 3.0 advertisement from PC World,
vol. 4, no. 2, Feb. 1986, p. 53. (Courtesy of
Microsoft Corporation.)
58 IEEE Annals of the History of Computing
Consolidation of Word Processing Software: 19851995
modes were separate. Thus, graphics like pie
charts or scanned images were impossible.
Although the latest editions of Word,
WordPerfect, and WordStar allowed the display
of some graphics, through the use of the page
preview capabilities, true integrated graphics
would await the use of a true GUI.
Table 1 shows revenues from the DOS ver-
sions of WordStar, WordPerfect, and Word for
the IBM PC and clone markets.
This data, from Stan Liebowitz and Stephen
Margolis, provides visual evidence of the trends
noted in this history, namely that MicroPro
never recovered from its mistakes.
74
As docu-
mented in companion article, “The Origin
of Word Processing Software for Personal
Computers: 19761985,” in this issue, by 1985
the word processing software market was
robust. Hundreds of packages for corporate, pro-
fessional, and home users were available with a
wide array of capabilities and prices. Indeed,
intense competition between the top packages
resulted in ever improving software at ever
lower prices. After the introduction of WordStar
4.0, in 1987, MicroPro revenues declined at a
slower rate until the early 1990s when a
Windows product was needed. MicroPro’s
strategic errors allowed SSI’s WordPerfect to take
over leadership of the (DOS) word processing
market in 1986. Although Microsoft’s Word
sold well, it never successfully challenged
WordPerfect in the DOS market.
Microsoft Word for Macintosh
In addition to its various projects in the MS-
DOS world, Microsoft started to create a version
of Word for the new Apple Macintosh, which
was released to great fanfare during the Super
Bowl in January 1984. Apple included its
MacWrite word processing program and the
MacPaint drawing program with each machine.
MacWrite, written by Randy Wigginton, could
only handle documents up to eight pages in
length, and the fact of its free availability dis-
couraged software developers from writing
word processing software for the Mac.
75
Apple contracted with Microsoft to create
versions of Multiplan, Chart, and File for the
Macintosh. This contract contained a clause
that Microsoft would not publish software with
a GUI for one year after the delivery of the first
Macintosh. Bill Gates added a clause that stat-
ed that date could not be later than December
1983.
76
In November 1984, 200 applications
were available for the Macintosh, but MacWrite
was the only word processor.
Although Microsoft announced a version of
Word for the Macintosh in fall 1984, the devel-
opment team had trouble meeting their dead-
lines, and Word for Macintosh was not released
until January 1985. Charles Simonyi, the devel-
opment team leader, stated:
Translating Microsoft Word into the Mac version
took only a few days. Once translated however,
it caused great problems with the Microsoft
developers because the graphical operating sys-
tem of the Macintosh worked very differently
from the PC’s operating system.
77
In spite of these problems, however, by 1986,
when MacWorld published its list of best sellers,
Excel was first and Word was second.
78
Microsoft skipped version 2.0, and released
Word 3.0 for Macintosh in 1987, with major
improvements. Gates called it a “document
processor,” when he introduced it at the
Guggenheim Museum in New York City, and
said it was “the fastest word processor ever
on a personal computer.”
78
Word 3.0 for
Macintosh could display two pages in the print
preview format, supported PostScript (and the
Apple LaserWriter printer), style sheets, and a
spelling checker.
An article in the April 1987 issue of Personal
Computing stated that Word for Macintosh was
powerful enough to create all types of business
documents and that businesses no longer need-
ed PageMaker.
79
Although other word process-
ing software publishers were working to port
their products to the Macintosh, few succeed-
ed. By the time that a version of WordPerfect
was released for the Macintosh, in 1988, it was
too late to capture significant market share.
79
Word for Macintosh sold 250,000 copies,
which placed it third behind the DOS versions
of WordPerfect (937,000 copies) and Word
(650,000).
80
In March 1989, Microsoft released Word for
Macintosh 4.0, and 100,000 users purchased
Table 1. Revenues for DOS word processing packages (in millions of dollars).
73
Product 1986 1987 1988 1989 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995
WordStar 36 41.3 37.9 34.5 37 17.5 29.5 8 1 <1
WordPerfect 50 85.6 160 235 373 370 300 265 89.6 24
Word 20 30 60.8 91.5 125 125 70 40 13.5 3
the new version. By the end of 1990, Word for
Macintosh was the number-one word process-
ing package for the Macintosh environment.
80
With strong sales of Excel and Word,
Microsoft became the number-one publisher
of Macintosh software. Ichbiah and Knepper
believe that
One important lesson came out of this experi-
ence: Microsoft’s strength lay in graphical user
interfaces. From there, the road to victory in the
PC market was clearly laid out.
81
Microsoft Word for Windows
Windows 1.03 had been released in
November 1985, and Windows 2.0 was released
in November 1987. By early 1989, Windows
had sold 2 million copies and was Microsoft’s
best-selling product, with 500,000 copies sold
per month.
82
Windows 3.0 was released on 22
May 1990 and, by the end of 1990, was selling
30,000 copies a week.
83
The learning curve from Word for Macintosh
was applied to the development of Word for
Windows. According to Simonyi, “The MAC
saved our behind in applications because it was
a sea change.”
84
Word 4.0 had 78,000 lines of
code; Word for Windows was in excess of
400,000 lines of code. Word for Windows 1.0
was released in 1989, at a price of $500 (see
http://www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Microsoft_
Word). It received mixed reviews. Byte maga-
zine, in reviewing Word for Windows and two
other packages, concluded that they were
excellent and provided new capabilities but
that they had problems, including slow print-
ing speeds.
85
Although Windows was written to
run on 286 machines, reviewers suggested
using 386 machines as the minimum.
86
When
386 and 486 machines—with increased pro-
cessing speeds and memory capacities—
became standard in corporate America, the
Windows environment looked even better.
Indeed, some reviewers were ecstatic with
Word for Windows. John Dickinson, who had
done numerous reviews for PC Magazine
through the years, commented that “A new age
of PC-based word processing is here, and it’s a
different world.”
87
Word for Windows 2.0 ($495) was released
in 1991 (see Figure 4) along with the first
Windows versions of WordPerfect ($495) and
WordStar ($495). As might be expected, Word
2.0 received strong reviews, but reviewers felt
that WordPerfect 5.1 for Windows and
WordStar for Windows did not take full advan-
tage of the Windows environment. Indeed,
rather than port its DOS version of WordStar to
Windows, WordStar International offered a ver-
sion of NBI’s Legacy software.
88
In 1993,
Microsoft renumbered its third release as Word
for Windows 6.0 to bring the version number-
ing in line with its DOS version.
WPC was burdened with internal problems,
however, and the success of the Windows oper-
ating system resulted in declining sales of
WordPerfect for DOS, starting in 1990. WPC
was also under pressure to integrate text and
graphics as done in desktop publishing pack-
ages like Aldus PageMaker and Adobe
Illustrator, as well as to support a new genera-
tion of laser printers.
89
Indeed, Windows’ suc-
cess caused problems for just about everyone
but Microsoft. Microsoft introduced Word for
Windows in December 1989, at a time when
half the word processing vendors were devel-
oping for OS/2 and only 10 percent were devel-
oping for Windows.
90
Although Word for Windows had competi-
tion in the Windows marketplace, WordPerfect
for Windows and WordStar for Windows
were not released until 1991, by which time
Word had a commanding market share as
Table 2 (next page) shows.
October–December 2006 59
Figure 4. Word for Windows advertisement. PC
Magazine, vol. 10, no. 12, 25 June 1991, p. 84.
(Courtesy of Microsoft Corporation.)
Microsoft Office
The idea of a suite of compatible “personal
productivity” packages took hold in the early
to mid-1980s. Seymour Rubinstein wanted to
develop spreadsheet and database programs
and couple these with WordStar. Indeed,
CalcStar and DataStar were to be marketed as
Starburst. Other vendors attempted to create
packages that used the same user interface for
each application.
91
None of these efforts cap-
tured significant market share, although ven-
dors continued to work in this direction.
92
In 1989, Microsoft released Office for
Macintosh, consisting of Word, Excel, and
PowerPoint. It was an immediate success, and
in short order, Microsoft dominated the
Macintosh market for productivity tools.
Following this success, in 1990, Microsoft
released Office for Windows, also to rave
reviews.
93
Leveraging the GUI of the Windows
environment, Office provided a degree of inte-
gration that had not been possible under
DOS.
94
Lotus countered with its Smart Suite in
1991, and the WordPerfect/Borland alliance
released Borland Office for Windows in 1993,
but neither suite proved a significant challenge
to Microsoft Office. Both products were first
attempts at the Windows environment, and
programming for Windows required new skills
that neither company possessed. Once again,
some competitors purchased Windows prod-
ucts instead of creating them, which led to
inevitable compatibility problems as users
attempted to switch between spreadsheets,
word processors, graphics, and database pack-
ages.
95
During 1993, Office accounted for more
than 50 percent of Microsoft applications sales
and, according to Campbell-Kelly, “was increas-
ingly positioned as Microsoft’s ‘primary appli-
cation,’ rather than as ‘simply a way of
marketing a group of applications.’”
94
By 1994,
Microsoft Office was the top-selling software
package, generating $762 million in revenues.
96
Microsoft Office had a 90 percent market share;
Lotus had 8 percent and Borland less than 2
percent.
97
The final battle of the word process-
ing wars had ended—Microsoft was the clear
winner.
In retrospect
In looking at the origins of microcomputer
word processing software, we must acknowl-
edge that word and text processing systems had
of course existed in the mainframe and mini-
computer eras. For example, in 1969, as an
employee of the US Veterans Administration, I
created a system to process architectural speci-
fications on an IBM System/360 mainframe.
98
Elsewhere in this issue, Thomas Haigh’s article
discusses the automated typing systems and
stand-alone word processing systems that were
the backbone of large and mid-sized organiza-
tions in the 1960s and 1970s. Those minicom-
puter-based stand-alone systems had a direct
impact on the origins of WordStar and Word-
Perfect. And finally, research at Xerox PARC led
to the development of the Macintosh comput-
er and the Windows operating system, result-
ing in Microsoft Word’s dominance of the word
processing marketplace at this time.
In tracing the history of word processing
software, we see that companies have succeed-
ed and failed based on their leaders and the
decisions they made. Each time market leader-
ship was passed to another word processing
package, significant mistakes by one company
allowed a competitor to forge ahead. This is not
to say that changes in technology were not a
factor, but—clearly—some companies antici-
pated the future better than others.
In reviewing this history, I was forced to con-
sider the unbelievable improvements in com-
puter hardware and software during my career.
Forty years ago, my first job was as a digital
computer systems analyst working on an IBM
mainframe computer that cost millions of dol-
lars and filled half a basketball court. Forty years
later, I typed these very lines in my study, on a
laptop that cost less than $2,000. More impor-
tantly, this project has made me reflect on the
power of microcomputer software tools to
change the way we do just about everything in
our society. We have indeed achieved J.C.R.
Licklider’s vision of “man-computer symbiosis.”
References and notes
1. A strict interpretation of Annals’ “15 year rule”
would prohibit discussion of events after 1991;
60 IEEE Annals of the History of Computing
Consolidation of Word Processing Software: 19851995
Table 2. Revenues for Windows word processing products (in millions of dollars).
*
Product 1989 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997
Word 3.8 100 250 500 700 977 1,321 1,426 1,973
WordPerfect n/a n/a 53 270 320 340 259 93.1 67.7
WordStar n/a n/a 11.5 2 2 2 n/a n/a n/a
*Data from S.J. Liebowitz and S.E. Margolis, used with permission.
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, 19821995,” 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 soft-
ware. The companion article in this issue, “Remem-
bering 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 Informa-
tion Technology, historyofscience.com, 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 Work-
stations, 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 Tomor-
row,” 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 Publish-
ing, 1994, available at
http://www.fitnesoft.com/AlmostPerfect/index.s
html; also see “WordPerfect Corporation,” Inter-
national 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. Peter-
son 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 strat-
egy.” 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 evalu-
ating 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 Recommend-
ed 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,” http://
www.columbia.edu/~em36/wpdos/chronology.
October–December 2006 61
62 IEEE Annals of the History of Computing
Consolidation of Word Processing Software: 19851995
html, and “WordPerfect,” at http://en.wikipedia.
org/wiki/WordPerfect.
36. W. Peterson, Almost Perfect, pp. 113-114. Accord-
ing to Peterson, IBM was the leader from 1964 to
1978, Wang was tops from 1978 to 1983, Micro-
Pro was first from 1983 to 1986, and then Word-
Perfect 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; http://www.
columbia.edu/~em36/wpdos/chronology.html.
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. Freiberg-
er 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, “Recollec-
tions,” 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. Knep-
per, The Making of Microsoft: How Bill Gates and
His Team Created the World’s Most Successful Soft-
ware 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 magiciens
in 1989; Susan Knepper translated this into Eng-
lish. 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 Technol-
ogy 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 Mar-
ket,” PC Magazine, vol. 5, no. 2, 1986, pp. 93-251,
and P. Wishwell, “Word Processing: Eighteen Popu-
lar 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 country-
wide marketing blitz, linking Word closely with the
new laser technology and getting printer manufac-
turers 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 Com-
puting, 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 Win-
ners, 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 attempt-
ed 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 Soft-
ware for Personal Computers: 19761984” else-
where in this issue. See, especially, Table 1,
MicroPro Revenues (19791985) 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: Tomor-
row’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, in-
depth reviews of each package, and tables com-
paring 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 Maga-
zine, 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, Visi-
File, 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 process-
ing of 2,600 pages of architectural specifications
on an IBM System/360 computer using an IBM
program product (TEXT360) and a number of in-
house 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.
Thomas J. (Tim) Bergin, a pro-
fessor emeritus of computer sci-
ence and information systems
at American University (AU),
developed engineering applica-
tions for mainframe computers
at the US Veterans Administra-
tion starting in 1966. In 1982,
he joined the AU. Soon, he was using Electric Pencil
on a Cromemco. When his office acquired two
Osborne 1s in 1983, the faculty learned to use
WordStar. In the late 1980s, he mastered MultiMate to
teach a computer literacy class, and a General Services
Administration contract required him to submit
reports using WordPerfect—which became the first
word processing standard at AU. In the late 1990s, AU
adopted Microsoft Office (and Word) as the universi-
ty standard.
Readers may contact Tim Bergin about this article
at tbergin@american.edu.
For further information on this or any other com-
puting topic, please visit our Digital Library at http://
computer.org/publications/dlib.
October–December 2006 63
... In addition, these innovations were often implemented in products. However, Xerox made little economic use of these enormously creative new products that were essentially fed into innovations marketed by Apple and Microsoft (Bergin, 2006;Miller & Steinberg, 2006). ...
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