TanRu Nomad - History of Word Processors

Any corrections? Commentary? Personal experience?

Oldest one I recall is something that ran on apple IIe we would use in english class that had the ability to do very VERY basic formatting but I didn’t really get to learning a lot of how to word process til word perfect 5.1. I really liked word perfect but like a goon I snubbed 5.1’s bluescreen text for fancy graphics. Now? I crave the simplicity of ye olden plain text screen.


That was a fun video. I won’t address the whole GUI vs formatting commands thing at the end. That’s a third rail :slight_smile: .

As far as micro computer word processors, there was Scripsit for the TRS-80. And I know Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven used word processors, I thought they use something called “WRITE”, but it’s all murky in my Pooh brain.

Here’s a link to an entry by Jerry talking about early word processing.


In college I used something akin to RUNOFF, and a line editor, to write my english papers.


Personal experience:

WordStar in about 1980, but before that a text formatter used at Edinburgh University sort of runof-like. It used the percent character to indicate an underlined word - which was very handy as the programming Language Imp-77 also wanted keywords to be underlined and since typing an underlined character was somewhat tricky, they were prefixed with a % character, so throwing source code through the formatter gave you nice underlined keyword listings…

After WS, then Appleworks I think, although Wordwise on the BBC Micro was next…

A few years later I was part of a group porting Minix to a transputer based system and I did a lot of user-land sutff like the man pages which we had to write from scratch. So to write man, you need troff. So I wrote that and used it myself for some time, however you also need a ‘more’ command to make man work, but to write that you need termcap. And of-course an editor… At while point there appeared to be a hole in my bucket…

These days: vim and LaTeX …


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I guess my first “word processor” was just this BASIC program I wrote for myself which fundamentally just used the C64 screen editor to enter/modify one group of lines at a time (up to the 6 line limit dictated by 6*40<255). The document was simply a string array.

I guess it doesn’t count as a word processor … it was just a text editor really. But it was the first thing I used to write, save, load, and print documents that I turned in for homework.

But when I got PaperClip, that became my main word processor. It was really nice. I don’t really remember how I got it, but I’ve got an actual manual so it wasn’t a pirated copy. I think I must have read a magazine review of it and decided it was worth getting a real word processor for homework. (My dad would have been the one to actually buy it.)

At some point, I also acquired a copy of SpeedScript (a Compute’s Gazette type-in). But I wasn’t impressed enough to switch from PaperClip.

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Some WordStar related links:


Interesting stories.

But, and now, I don’t know, but, I’m going to call shenanigans on this quote from the Dvorak article:

I’m simply going to assert that while, perhaps, it was the first CP/M program to use these, that it’s not the first use case of overlaying code on a computer. If they did implement this, then they hand rolled it, since it’s normally a feature of the development system (the linker notably). It’s not hard to do it yourself, it’s just fiddly. If you want to dedicate, say, 8K of RAM to a block of swappable code, it’s straight forward to write several, different, assembly language programs all ORGd to the same space, and straightforward to read them in and swap them out at gross boundaries.

I have no proof, mind, but I just don’t think it was a new idea in 1978. And, honestly, it has nothing to due with DLLs. DLLs aren’t overlays, the mechanics are completely different.

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Yes, this last paragraph is a bit, um, inspired. I’m pretty sure, too, that overlays were used before, and WYISWYG isn’t a thing I would associate with WordStar, but with PARC’s Bravo editor for the Alto, which is shortly seen in the video. (It may be well that scaled down print previews occurred first with WordStar, but those make only sense, if the editor is generally not displaying in WYSIWYG mode.)