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© September 2003 Tony Lawrence

Microsoft Word - the early days

I wrote this in September of 1989, and just came across it in a pile of old papers. It seemed fresh enough to me, so I'm publishing it here now. Just kidding, but it may be interesting to some, or mildly amusing to others.

Microsoft Word 5.0 came to me last week. Its arrival represented my last real hope of converting my wife to MS-DOS word processing.

My wife is no stranger to computer word processing: she has been using a Radio Shack Model III for many years. The problem is to get her to use anything else. The old Model III is not sexy, it's not fast, and it is somewhat limited in function. The trouble is, this useless old computer does what she wants it to do in a simple, predictable and dependable manner. I haven't been able to match those abilities with anything else yet.

The situation is a little embarassing. I earn my living programming and supporting MS-DOS and AT-based Xenix machines. I cannot have my wife clinging to early 80's technology while I am out working on 25 MHz 386's! Even my home machine, an old Tandy 1200, has had brain surgery by way of an Intel 386 add-on board. My wife's Model III sits not two feet away, constantly mocking my inability to match its simplicity and power.

My first attempt was Scripsit-PC. This is a Tandy product that is similar to her Model III Super-Scripsit program. I hoped that the familiarities might help smooth the transition. Unfortunately, Scripsit-PC was as slow as mud. It actually ran more slowly than its Model III brother! Adding to her frustration, Scripsit-PC is heavily dependent on function keys, making it very clumsy to use without memorizing all the combinations. So it sits on my shelf, abandoned and unused.

I needed more power. I had read reviews and articles about Borland's Sprint. It seemed ideal: fast, menu and control key based, and totally user configurable. The menu structure would make it easy to learn, and she could assign her own shortcut keys. The shortcuts could be the same as she used on the Model III, so she should have no problems at all. I bought it, installed it, and with great pride, introduced my wife to it. Sprint lived up to its promises: it was fast, and she could follow the pull down menus easily. She liked the Auto-Save feature. She wasn't happy about the "Ruler on the Screen" concept for setting margins, but she felt she could get used to it. I felt we were really getting somewhere.

There is one thing she's rather insistent about: what she types at the computer must ulimately appear on paper. The method we've used to do that has always been Radio Shack Daisy Wheel printers, because the result looks like professionally typed text. The latest member of this lineage is a Tandy DWP-520. It is a nice printer. I cannot really fault it, and there really is not much else she could use with her Model III. But - there are problems with MS-DOS.

The problem is that Model III programs end a line with a CR (Carriage Return). MS-DOS uses CR/LF (Carriage Return plus Line Feed). When a DWP-520 gets a CR/LF, it double spaces. One fix is to flip a dip switch so that it expects CR/LF and does not double space. That would be the thing to do if only my wife were ready to completely abandon the Model III. Unfortunately, she has literally hundreds of Model III diskettes crammed full of her customers documents, and now and then she needs to reprint one of them. Flipping dip switches is not something you ask your wife to put up with.

Tandy provides a LPDRVR.SYS that traps and converts CR/LF's to plain old CR's, so I installed that on my computer, and Sprint could in theory now use the printer. However, Sprint turned nasty when we printed. The problem seemed to be that the introduction of any formatting command would cause the the page length to go askew, and we just could not solve it. Sprint joined Scripsit-PC on the shelf and the Model III snickered at me.

At some point in here I took my wife to the Boston Computer Society's lab to show her Macintosh word processing. She watched and listened as I demonstrated MacWrite. I explained clicking, dragging, double clicking. She nodded wisely as I waxed on about insertion points and scroll bars. She then took the mouse and played with MacWrite herself. My attention lapesed, ten or fifteen minutes went by and then she startled me by asking if I was ready to go. Surprised, I said yes, and then looked at the Mac's screen:

Now is the time for all good men. The quick brown fox.. Mice are STUPID. Macintosh is STUPID MacWrite is MORE STUPID. I'd use a TYPEWRITER before I'd use this. Mice are STUPID. Macintosh is STUPID MacWrite is MORE STUPID. I'd use a TYPEWRITER before I'd use this. Mice are STUPID. Macintosh is STUPID MacWrite is MORE STUPID. I'd use a TYPEWRITER before I'd use this.

I got the point.

I considered WordPerfect, but thought that Microsoft Word was the better choice, so I bought and installed Word 4.0. It seemed even faster than Sprint, and the menus were very easy. The included docs weren't great, so we went to the bookstore looking for something better. It seemed odd to me that I found dozens of books on using WordPerfect, but only a handful that purported to help you with Word. I cheerfully assumed that was because WordPerfect was so much harder to learn that it needed more books. That probably wasn't the brightest explanation, but my wife seemed to accept it. We bought the books, and we both learned all about Word. Actually, I learned all about Word. She learned enough to know she didn't like it.

She wasn't being unreasonable: Word 4.0 had some ugly warts. For instance, she didn't like manual repaginating. Super-Scripsit repaginates automatically. Setting tabs was much easier with Super-Scripsit also. Finally, although she was enchanted by the MS-DOS directory structure (she is a big fan of organization and neatness), Word didn't provide any helpful way to get at documents stored in different directories. The result was benign neglect: she never said she would NOT use Word, but in fact she just did not use it.

The Model III, sensing its power, then informed us that it needed major surgery. As much as I hated paying $400.00 to have it fixed, I had to do it. I could hear it chortling all the way back from the repair center.

Then Word 5.0 was announced. Automatic pagination, document preview. graphics import (oops - need a laser printer!): all kinds of improvements. I was excited; my wife seemed more subdued than I, but I ordered the upgrade anyway. Weeks passed, and then last week, it arrived. Fancy new manuals, fancy new features. The poor Model III was quaking in its ROM chips.

I installed it and was thrilled to find it had a driver for the DWP-520 printer. The 4.0 version had not, so we had used an older Daisy Wheel II driver which could not do double underline or strike-through. My excitement was soon crushed: when I printed, it printed fine right up to the first underlined word and then everything after that remained on the same line. Wore right through the paper before I realized what was happening.

My first reaction was typical: rewrite the driver. Word makes that fairly painless and provides excellent documentatioon. My analysis of the fault was that Underline and Bold etc. were being accomplished by switching the printer to CR/LF mode, and somewhow it couldn't switch back. Switch back? Of course: it assumed that the default was CR/LF mode and switched OUT of that mode for normal operation. I had the right idea, but I had it backwards.

Well, the printer was not in CR/LF mode, and I had that LPDRVR.SYS translating, which would only make things worse. So I took it out, and flipped the dip switch to CR/LF mode. I tested and Underline worked fine. Strike-through did too. And look there's Bold.. wait a minute, did I bold the whole line? No, I had not. But for whatever reason, any bold word would cause the whole line to be printed in bold. The next line would recover, but my picky, picky wife couldn't see that as acceptable.

The Model III grinned at me.

Originally published September 1989 in BCS PC-Report Magazine

September 2003: The Model III is up on a shelf, unused for many a year. My wife happily uses Microsoft Word, and has forgotten all about Scripsit.

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Well, yeah :-)

Still does..


Tue Apr 12 22:11:37 2005: 333   TonyLawrence


Deleted comment and ip blocked from posting again.

I've had to do that several times recently - we seem to be attracting some very angry people recently..

What bothers me the most is how inarticulate these people are. You have a page like this, really just something very light-hearted pulled from the past, and you get a comment that "Microsoft Word sucks". OK, it does - no argument from me. But even if I disagreed, it's clearly an opinion, so it gets left alone.

But now someone else comes along and says "F**K YOU!". and nothing else.

F**K who? Me? My wife? The person who said Word sucks? Just who was this person angry at? As "F**K You!" was the sum total of their comment, who knows? That's why I deleted it. If they said "F**K you and all you Microsoft hating Linux loving bastards" (or the other way around), I would have left it as an opinion - poorly expressed, but at least we'd know WHY they are angry. But the lonely "F**K YOU!" is just graffiti, and it gets erased. And the ip it came from gets banned for at least a few months.

I'll always accept opinions - for me, against me, whatever. But not graffiti.

Sat Jul 23 15:10:47 2005: 856   anonymous

WordPerfect was the only true user friendly wordprocessor those days. It outsold MS Word in 85 countries in the world. Thanks to WordPerfect Corporation.

Sat Jul 23 19:42:35 2005: 858   BigDumbDinosaur

I recall the days of feeble-minded DOS word processors, especially the early versions of MS Word. I'm a long time WordPerfect user -- as far back as 1984. Before that, I relied on Superscript (a British product) and before that, WordStar.

If I just want text on a page vi, emacs or something similar works for me. Something like:
cat | pr -F | lp
will do if I'm in a hurry. If I have a need to produce documents that are all pretty, justified, nice font, etc., I turn to WP. Anything you can do in MS Word I can do better and faster in WP. It's just technically superior software. Besides, why send more money to a convicted monopolist?

Sun Jul 24 11:19:47 2005: 860   drag

Funny stuff.

Also something I find a bit amusing is a interesting free software replacement for some of MS Word's functionality... LaTeX.

Produces a much nicer end product then most any word proccessor that I've seen. I find it amusing alternative just becuase it's a complete 180 from what most people would considure positive qualities of a word proccessor (lots of office productivity features (like odbc connectors), lots of little helpfull hints and intuative interface and whatnot.)

Also it's nice if you have to add a lot of mathmatical figures or engineering type things to your documents...

As you can see in this image:
(which is from the output of LyX, which uses LaTeX/TeX and calls itself "first WYSIWYM document processor")

See how nice the mathmatics look and how words like LyX are formatted in a correct fasion and everything has the nice correct spacing between leters and such. With very high quality fonts and such that are freely aviable now you can produce high-quality documents that look like they are from a century ago when everything had to be laid out by professional type-setters.

Sun Aug 7 18:42:54 2005: 937   anonymous

Word is the most awesome word processor the world has ever known. LPL will never be able to create a better one :(


Mon Aug 8 14:53:45 2005: 942   BigDumbDInosaur

Word is the most awesome word processor the world has ever known. LPL will never be able to create a better one :(


Ah-ha! Another denizen from the ranks of the inarticulate.

Anyone who thinks that anything by Microsoft is awesome probably would thing that a quicky is truly amazing sex.


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