MultiMate was a word processor developed by Softword Systems Inc. (later renamed Multimate International) for IBM PC MS-DOS computers in the early 1980s. Wilton H. Jones, a programmer turned entrepreneur (W.H. Jones & Associates), brought on board ten young programmers to write the software after winning a contract to develop a word processor for the Connecticut Mutual Life Insurance company. He negotiated the right to sell the program elsewhere.
By 1984, with the success of the PC, MultiMate had more than $1 million in orders a month and the company had more than 150 employees. Jones sold the company to Ashton-Tate in December 1985 for about $20 million. At the time, an Ashton-Tate press release called the acquisition "the largest ever in the microcomputer software industry".
MultiMate was not marketed heavily to end-users, but was quickly popular with insurance companies, law firms and other business computer users. MultiMate's greatest advantage — and its mandate from Connecticut Mutual — was that it allowed companies to easily replace dedicated Wang Word Processor workstations with PCs, with an order of magnitude reduction in cost. The user interface, although different from Wang's, was close enough to allow a Wang user to rapidly switch over without much retraining.
While the Wang WP keyboard was different from the original PC keyboard, MultiMate compensated by providing a large plastic template that clipped on the PC keyboard, and stick-on labels for the fronts of the PC keys. The template and labels color-coded the combination keystrokes using the SHIFT, ALT and CTRL keys with all 10 of the PC's function keys and many of the character keys. Like Wang systems, MultiMate controlled most editing operations with function keys, assigning four functions to each of the 10 function keys, which IBM initially located at the left side of the keyboard in two vertical rows. It also included a "document summary" screen for each document, another Wang feature, which allowed more sophisticated document-management than the brief file names allowed by MS-DOS and PC-DOS. As Drop-down lists were popularized by other programs, they became a later addition to MultiMate.
Other MultiMate products included foreign language versions of the software (i.e., "MultiTexto" in Spanish), a hardware interface card for file-transfer with Wang systems and versions of MultiMate for different PC clone MS-DOS computers, and for use on Novell, 3COM and IBM's PC Token Ring networks. Early attempts to create a MultiMate Data Manager and List Manager in-house never reached the market.
Multimate International developed the core word processing software and utilities (file conversion, printer drivers), but purchased and adapted sub-programs for spelling and grammar checking, list management, outlining and print-time incorporation of graphics in word processing documents (MultiMate GraphLink). In addition to rebranding such externally-developed programs, Multimate rewrote the documentation for each program and adapted the program interfaces to more closely resemble the word processor. The last version of MultiMate was packaged with many of these add-on programs under the product name "MultiMate Advantage" to compete with other word processor software of the day, especially IBM DisplayWrite for DOS, which Multimate International developers saw as their main competition in the business market, and to a lesser extent WordPerfect, the DOS incarnation of Microsoft Word and the Samna word processor, which had its roots in another office word processing computer.
One of the first "clone" versions of MultiMate was bundled with an early portable PC made by Corona. Other versions were written to match PCs by Radio Shack, Texas Instruments, Toshiba, the early Grid laptop and the IBM PC Junior.
The detailed MultiMate word processor documentation, which quickly grew to three volumes, gave the product a solid "office production" feel, using high-quality paper with its main reference section presented in a padded binder with fold-out easel. (A company legend was that the MultiMate user manual was written first, by an experienced Wang WP manager, then the programmers were told to write software to match it, which is how the Wang WP was created.)
Early versions of the program came with both color-coded key stickers and a plastic full-keyboard template to make Wang operators more comfortable with the smaller IBM PC keyboard. MultiMate eventually sold a hardware keyboard with dedicated function keys and issued versions of its software for networked PCs. It adapted list-management, graphics and outlining software from other vendors to the look-and-feel of MultiMate, shipping the expanded version as MultiMate Advantage, with additional volumes of MultiMate-style documentation for the add-on programs.
Early releases of MultiMate also gave users unlimited access to a toll-free support number and a promise of low-cost upgrades, which contributed to its dedicated user population. Support policies later were brought in line with Ashton-Tate's standard practices.
MultiMate was especially good at supporting a variety of PC clones and hundreds of computer printers, each of which required its own printer driver. Such printer support was very strong with daisy-wheel and dot-matrix printers, but did not take much advantage of the development of PostScript fonts and laser printers.
Ashton-Tate never released a Windows version. It discontinued MultiMate's development efforts on VMS and Unix platforms and closed a development group in Dublin, Ireland. The product was dropped after the company was purchased by Borland.