word processor history -- interesting article (Evan Koblentz)

Liam Proven lproven at gmail.com
Fri Jul 8 13:19:05 CDT 2016

On 8 July 2016 at 20:00, Chuck Guzis <cclist at sydex.com> wrote:
> On 07/08/2016 10:27 AM, Liam Proven wrote:
>> Only hardcore IBM customers used DisplayWrite. It had, naturally,
>> great support for IBM's (rather expensive but very solid) laser
>> printers, which were slightly competitive and popular around the end
>> of the 1980s/beginning of the 1990s. Odd spindly fonts, as I recall.
>> My first employers sold a lot of copies of Ashton-Tate MultiMate, as
>> it was the only mainstream network-aware WP for DOS LANs -- it
>> supported both Netware and 3Com 3+Share, which was also popular
>> around that time. It may have done file locking and network-drive
>> shared templates, but as you say, proportionally-spaced fonts were a
>> problem.
> What I found surprising about the IBM Displaywriter was that much of the
> "smarts" of the thing resided in the printer firmware itself (e.g.
> underlining, bolding, etc.) and not the DW CPU unit--and, of course, the
> printer used EBCDIC.

Aha. I have never seen an actual DisplayWriter -- note that final "r".

DisplayWrite (no "r" on the end) was a WP package for DOS. I believe
it looked & worked quite like a hardware DisplayWriter, but as I said,
I wouldn't know. I'm quite curious and I'm sorry I missed out on them.

Oddly, at least oddly I was told, quite a few people/companies bought
& used DisplayWrite even if they never had or used a hardware
DisplayWriter. It wasn't very competitive but it was good enough --
the "professional" tier of early DOS wordprocessors were all expensive
and rather arcane.

It's also something that seemed to cause a major divide across the
Atlantic, for some odd reason. Brits almost never paid for or
registered shareware, I'm told, whereas many North Americans did and
it could be a lucrative business.

Over here in Europe it wasn't taken very seriously so none of the
shareware WPs took off.

The American magazines I read talked of WPs I'd never seen -- and as a
professional skill I learned just about every WP program I could set
hands on on DOS and Mac. Brits used ones that were obscure in N
America, and vice versa.

> There were a mess of PC word processors, as well as CP/M ones.
> WordPerfect, PerfectWriter, PC Write, Palantir, Electric Pencil...

Heard of the latter 2, never saw them.

Oh, and there was LetterPerfect, too, the cheap cut-down WordPerfect.

> I recall that the preferred one for the AVR Eagle systems was
> Spellbinder and that it had a lot of adherents--I don't know if it was
> ever offered for the PC platform.

I am not sure but I think so, yes.

> On occasion, I still use an editor that I wrote for CP/M and later
> ported to DOS.  11KB and it has lots of features that are peculiar to my
> preferences.  I'd thought about porting it to Linux, but currently, it's
> still in assembly and dealing with terminfo or curses is not something
> that I look forward to.  So I use Joe.


There are or were lots of odd editors for the PC. IBM E was one --
apparently it's quite like some mainframe tool. Came with PC-DOS and
was... strange.

Liam Proven • Profile: http://lproven.livejournal.com/profile
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