History of Word ProcessorsGeneral: Main page History Standard Features Available Software
Software on windows: Word Word Perfect PDF
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- Word processing did not develop out of computer technology. It evolved from the needs of writers rather than those of mathemeticians, only later merging with the computer field. The history of word processing is the story of the gradual automation of the physical aspects of writing and editing, and the refinement of the technology to make it available to individual and corporate users.
- The invention of printing and moveable type at the end of the Middle Ages was the initial step in this automation. But the first major advance from manual writing as far as the individual was concerned was the typewriter. Henry Mill, an English engineer of the early eighteenth century, is credited with its invention. The fact that almost nothing is known about his early version today is evidence of its lack of success.
- Christopher Latham Sholes, with the assistance of two colleagues, invented the first successful manual typewriter in 1867. It began to be marketed commercially in 1874, rather improbably by a gun manufacturing company, E. Remington and Sons. The main drawback of this model was that it printed on the underside of the roller, so that the typist could not view his work until he had finished.
- Acceptance of the typewriter was slow at first, but was facilitated over the next several years by various improvements. These included: the shift key, which made it possible to type both capital and lower-case letters with the same keys (1878); printing on the upper side of the roller (1880); and the tab key, permitting the setting of margins (1897).
- Eventually, at first in the corporate sector, the typewriter began to catch on. Businesses, which had hitherto had their records and correspondence written and copied by hand, found their paperwork could be done more quickly and legibly on the typewriter. Typewriting was put within the reach of individuals by the development of portable models, first marketed in the early 1900s.
- Thomas Edison patented an electric typewriter in 1872, but the first workable model was not introduced until the 1920s. In the 1930s IBM introduced a more refined version, the IBM Electromatic. It "greatly increased typing speeds and quickly gained wide acceptance in the business community."
- This was soon followed by the M. Shultz Company's introduction of the automatic or repetitive typewriter, perhaps the greatest step from the typewriter towards modern word processing. The Shultz machine's main innovation was automatic storage of information for later retrieval. It was a sort of "player typewriter," punch-coding text onto paper rolls similar to those used in player pianos, which could later be used to activate the keys of the typewriter in the same order as the initial typing.
- With the automatic typewriter, it was possible to produce multiple typed copies of form letters identical in appearance to the hand-typed original, without the intermediary of carbons, photocopiers or typesetting.
- The bulky paper roll machine was succeeded by a device called the Flexowriter, which used paper tape. This had a key that allowed the deletion of mistakes from the tape and copies by punching a "non-print" code over the code for the character erroniously typed. Long passages of text could be deleted or moved by literally cutting the tape and pasting it back together.
- In 1961 IBM introduced the Selectric typewriter, which replaced the standard movable carriage and individual typestrikers with a revolving typeball (often refered to as a "golfball" or "walnut"). This could print faster than the traditional typewriter.
- In 1964 IBM brought out the MT/ST (Magnetic Tape/Selectric Typewriter), which combined the features of the Selectric with a magnetic tape drive. Magnetic tape was the first reusable storage medium for typed information. With this, for the first time, typed material could be edited without having to retype the whole text or chop up a coded copy. On the tape, information could be stored, replayed (that is, retyped automatically from the stored information), corrected, reprinted as many times as needed, and then erased and reused for other projects. This development marked the beginning of word processing as it is known today.
- It also introduced word processing as a definite idea and concept. The term was first used in IBM's marketing of the MT/ST as a "word processing" machine. It was a translation of the German word textverabeitung, coined in the late 1950s by Ulrich Steinhilper, an IBM engineer. He used it as a more precise term for what was done by the act of typing. IBM redefined it "to describe electronic ways of handling a standard set of office activities -- composing, revising, printing, and filing written documents."
- Since the invention of the MT/ST, advances in technology have made word processing systems less expensive to produce, leading to intensified competition among developers and an increase in the development rate of new packages.
- In 1969 IBM introduced MagCards, magnetic cards that were slipped into a box attached to the typewriter and recorded text as it was typed on paper. The cards could then be used to recall and reprint text. These were useful mostly to companies which sent out large numbers of form letters. However, only about one page-worth of text could be stored on each card.
In 1972 Lexitron and Linolex developed a similar word processing system, but included video display screens and tape cassettes for storage. With the screen, text could be entered and corrected without having to produce a hard copy. Printing could be delayed until the writer was satisfied with the material.
- The floppy disk marked a new stage in the evolution of storage media. Developed by IBM in the early 1970s for use in data processing (that is, traditional number computation), it was soon adopted by the word processing industry. Vydec, in 1973, seems to have been the first manufacturer to produce a word processing system using floppy disks for storage. Previous storage media could only hold one or two pages of text, but the early disks were capable of holding 80 to 100 pages. This increased storage capacity permitted the creation and easy editing of multipage documents without the necessity of changing storage receptacles.
- Floppy disks could also be used to hold programs. The most important advance in word processing was the change from "hard wired" instructions built into the machinery to software on disks. When the programs were part of the equipment they were difficult to change and expensive to upgrade. Programs on disks could be updated more economically, since a rewritten program could be loaded into and used with the same hardware as the old one.
- Before disk programs most word processing packages were "dedicated" systems, which were bulky and expensive, and did not admit computing functions other than word processing. Disk programs made it practical to develop packages for use with personal computers, first made available in completely assembled form in 1977. Thus the separation of the software from the hardware also opened up the field to individuals. Word processing is now "one of the most common general applications for personal computers."
- Over the next ten years many new features were introduced in the field. One important innovation was the development of spelling check and mailing list programs. Another advance, introduced by Xerox in its Star Information System, allowed working on more than one document at a time on the same screen.
- Some programs now even incorporate bookkeeping and inventory functions, combining word processing with data processing and completing the marriage of the word processor to the computer. The combined field is known as information processing.
- The introduction and evolution of the specific word processing programs available today is not covered well in the literature. Authors seem to assume that their readers will automatically be familiar with recent developments, despite the fact that if they were they would not be buying the literature. WordStar, put out by Micropro International, has emerged as the industry standard in software packages, though others surpass it in one feature or another.
Note: This page is modified from A Brief History of Word Processing.