||This article has an unclear citation style. (June 2012)|
Wordstar running in DOS
|Operating system||originally CP/M,
later also DOS
WordStar is a word processor application that had a dominant market share during the early- to mid-1980s. Formerly published by MicroPro International it was originally written for the CP/M operating system but later ported to DOS. Although Seymour I. Rubinstein was the principal owner of the company, Rob Barnaby was the sole author of the early versions of the program. Starting with WordStar 4.0, the program was built on new code written principally by Peter Mierau.
WordStar was deliberately written to make as few assumptions about the underlying system as possible, allowing it to be easily ported across the many platforms that proliferated in the early 1980s. As all of these versions had relatively similar commands and controls, users could move between platforms with equal ease. Already popular, its inclusion with the Osborne 1 computer made the program become the de facto standard for much of the word processing market.
As the computer market quickly became dominated by the IBM PC, this same portable design made it difficult for the program to add new features and affected its performance. In spite of its great popularity in the early 1980s, these problems allowed WordPerfect to take WordStar's place as the most widely used word processor from 1985 onwards.
Seymour I. Rubinstein was an employee of early microcomputer company IMSAI, where he negotiated software contracts with Digital Research and Microsoft. After leaving IMSAI, Rubinstein planned to start his own software company that would sell through the new network of retail computer stores. He founded MicroPro International Corporation in September 1978 and hired John Robbins Barnaby as programmer, who wrote a word processor, WordMaster, and a sorting program, SuperSort, in Intel 8080 assembly language. After Rubinstein obtained a report that discussed the abilities of contemporary standalone word processors from IBM, Xerox, and Wang Laboratories, Barnaby enhanced WordMaster with similar features and support for the CP/M operating system. MicroPro began selling the product, now renamed WordStar, in June 1979.
WordStar was the first microcomputer word processor to offer mail merge and WYSIWYG. An exhausted Barnaby left the company in March 1980, but due to WordStar's sophistication, the company's extensive sales and marketing efforts, and bundling deals with Osborne and other computer makers, MicroPro's sales grew from $500,000 in 1979 to $72 million in fiscal year 1984, surpassing earlier market leader Electric Pencil. The company released WordStar 3.3 in June 1983; the 650,000 cumulative copies of WordStar for the IBM PC and other computers sold by that fall was more than double that of the second most-popular word processor, and that year MicroPro had 10% of the personal computer software market. By 1984, the year it held an Initial Public Offering, MicroPro was the world's largest software company with 23% of the word processor market.
The 3.0 version of WordStar for DOS was released in April 1982. The DOS version was very similar to the original, and although the IBM PC featured arrow keys and separate function keys, the traditional "WordStar diamond" and other Ctrl-key functions were retained, leading to rapid adoption by former CP/M users. WordStar's ability to use a "non-document" mode to create text files without formatting made it popular among programmers for writing code. Like the CP/M versions, the DOS WordStar was not explicitly designed for IBM PCs, but rather for any x86 machine (as there were a number of non-PCs that used 8086 or 186 CPUs). As such, it used only DOS's OS calls and avoided any BIOS usage or direct hardware access.
The first DOS version was a direct port of the CP/M version, and therefore only used 64k of RAM even though DOS supported up to 640k. Users quickly learned they could make this version of WordStar run dramatically faster by using the ability of DOS to create a "RAM disk" in memory, and copy the WordStar program files into it. WordStar would still access the "disk" repeatedly, but the far faster access of the RAM drive compared to a floppy disk yielded a substantial speed improvement. However, edited versions of a document were "saved" only to this RAM disk, and had to be copied to physical magnetic media before rebooting.
By 1983, WordStar was the leading word processing system. In 1984 the sales were up to $70 million. At the time Micropro was the biggest software company in the country. Although competition appeared early (the first version of WordPerfect debuted in 1982 and Microsoft Word in 1983), WordStar was the dominant word processor on x86 machines until 1985.
By that point, Micropro had dropped the generic MS-DOS WordStar and version 4.0 was exclusively for IBM compatibles. However, it continued to use the old DOS 1.x OS calls, which did not support directories and limited its usability on machines with hard disks. During the second half of the 1980s, the fully modernized WordPerfect overtook it in sales.
At the time, IBM dominated the "dedicated word processor" market with its "IBM Displaywriter System", which ran on machines dedicated to writing and editing documents. There were many dedicated word processing machines at the time, but IBM's main competition was Wang Laboratories. Such machines were expensive and were generally accessed through terminals connected to central mainframe or midrange computers.
When IBM announced it was bringing DisplayWrite to the PC, MicroPro focused on creating a clone of it which they marketed as "WordStar 2000." WordStar 2000 was brought up to date and now supported features such as disk directories, but lacked compatibility with the file formats of existing WordStar versions and also made numerous unpopular changes to the interface. Gradually competitors such as WordPerfect began to chip away at MicroPro's market share. MultiMate, in particular, used the same key sequences as the popular Wang line of dedicated word processors, which made it popular with secretaries switching from those to PCs.
WordStar 2000 had a user interface that was substantially different than the original WordStar, and the company did little to advertise this. However, it had a lasting impact on the word processing industry by introducing keyboard shortcuts that are still widely used, namely Ctrl-B for Bold, Ctrl-I for Italic, and Ctrl-U for Underline.
Several MicroPro employees formed rival company Newstar. In September 1983 it published WordStar clone NewWord, which offered several features the original lacked such as a built-in spell checker and support for laser printers. Despite competition from NewStar, Microsoft's Word, WordPerfect, and dozens of other companies—which typically released new versions of their software every 12 to 18 months—MicroPro did not release new versions of WordStar beyond 3.3 during 1984 and 1985, in part because Rubinstein relinquished control of the company after a January 1984 heart attack. His replacements canceled the promising office suite Starburst, purchased a WordStar clone, and used it as the basis of WordStar 2000. Released in December 1984, it received poor reviews due to not being compatible with WordStar files and other disadvantages, and by selling at the same $495 price as WordStar 3.3 confused customers. Company employees were divided between WordStar and WordStar 2000 factions, and fiscal year 1985 sales declined to $40 million.
New management purchased NewWord and used it as the basis of WordStar 4.0 in 1987, four years after the previous version. Word (four versions from 1983 to 1987) and WordPerfect (five versions), however, had become the market leaders. More conflict between MicroPro's two factions delayed WordStar 5.0 until late 1988, again hurting the program's sales. After renaming itself after its flagship product in 1989, WordStar International merged with SoftKey in 1993.
WordStar for Windows
Like many other producers of successful DOS applications, WordStar International delayed before deciding to make a version for the commercially successful Windows 3.0. The company purchased Legacy, an existing Windows-based word processor, which was altered and released as WordStar for Windows in 1991. It was a well-reviewed product and included many features normally only found in more expensive desktop publishing packages. However, its delayed launch meant that Microsoft Word had already firmly established itself as the corporate standard during the two previous years.
WordStar is no longer developed, maintained or sold by its owners. It is currently the property of Riverdeep, Inc. There was some uncertainty as to whether Gores Technology Group or Riverdeep now owns WordStar, but the consensus is that it is Riverdeep, an education and consumer software company which is now part of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Learning Technology.
The WordStar Users Group Mailing List was a discussion forum and source of technical support for people who continued to use WordStar long after it had ceased to be widely used. The list had several hundred members; it was started in May 1996 and finally expired in 2009.
WordStar was the program of choice for conservative intellectual William F. Buckley, Jr., who used the software to write very many works, including his last book. This was noted by his son, Christopher Buckley, who wrote of the almost comical loyalty and affection his father had shown for WordStar, which he had installed into every new computer he purchased despite the technical difficulty of such an endeavor as the program became increasingly outdated and incompatible with newer computers. He said of WordStar, "I'm told there are better programs, but I'm also told there are better alphabets." Canadian science fiction author Robert J. Sawyer continues to use a customized version of WordStar for DOS to write his novels, as does George R. R. Martin.
WordStar is still considered by some to be one of the best examples of a "writing program." Because it was designed for text-only display devices with only a single, functional typeface, the primary focus was on the text, without direct onscreen WYSIWYG formatting. Because typesetting and layout were secondary or tertiary functions left for after the document was written, edited, and proofread, the writer was not distracted by the many formatting possibilities presented by later word processors.
As initially installed, in text-mode versions of WordStar, approximately the top 1/3 of the screen was a menu of commands, with the very top line being a display of the position within the file and the user's text occupying the lower 2/3 of the screen. A user-configurable option to set the help level released this space for user text. The help system could be configured to display help a short time after the first key of a command sequence was entered. As users became more familiar with the command sequences, the help system could be set to provide less and less assistance until finally all on-screen menus and status information was turned off.
The original computer terminals and microcomputers for which WordStar was developed did not have an array of separate function keys or cursor control keys (e.g., arrow keys, Page Up/Down), so WordStar used sequences of alphabetic keys combined with the "Control" key. For touch typists, in addition, reaching the function and cursor keys generally requires them to take their fingers off the "home keys" with consequent loss of typing rhythm.
For example, the "diamond" of Ctrl-S/E/D/X moved the cursors one character or line to the left, up, right, or down. Ctrl-A/F (to the outside of the "diamond") moved the cursor a full word left/right, and Ctrl-R/C (just "past" the Ctrl keys for up and down) scrolled a full page up/down. Prefacing these keystrokes with Ctrl-Q generally expanded their action, moving the cursor to the end/beginning of the line, end/beginning of the document, etc. Ctrl-H would backspace and delete. Commands to enable bold or italics, printing, blocking text to copy or delete, saving or retrieving files from disk, etc. were typically a short sequence of keystrokes, such as Ctrl-P-B for bold, or Ctrl-K-S to save a file. Formatting codes would appear on screen, such as ^B for bold, ^Y for italics, and ^S for underscoring.
Although many of these keystroke sequences were far from self-evident, they tended to lend themselves to mnemonic devices (e.g., Ctrl-Print-Bold, Ctrl-blocK-Save), and regular users quickly learned them through muscle memory, enabling them to rapidly navigate documents by touch, rather than memorizing "Ctrl-S = cursor left."
Some users believe that the relocation of the Ctrl key from the position just to the left of the A key on the PC XT-era keyboard (where Caps-Lock is found on modern keyboards), to the far lower left, interferes with this tactile approach, unless the keyboard is remapped in software to swap these keys. Other users prefer to have two control keys on either side of the space bar, which facilitates eight-finger touch typing. Indeed, WordStar can be regarded as a third keyboard interface:
- the lower-case letters and numbers,
- upper-case letters and symbols accessed by the Caps key, and
- editing and formatting made possible by the Ctrl keys.
WordStar had relative weaknesses, such as an inability to reformat line justification as text was typed or deleted. Thus paragraphs had to be reformatted by command after edits and changes. But a command could be given to reformat the entire document after it had been edited or re-written.
Many of these weaknesses were corrected with a new interface in WordStar 2000. Reformatting of paragraphs became automatic. Most of the mnemonics were made simpler so that ^RW would Remove a Word, ^RR would Remove the Right side of a line (right of the cursor), ^RS would Remove a Sentence, and so on. WordStar 2000 was also rare among word processing programs in that it permitted the user to mark (highlight) a block of text (with ^BB for Block Begin and ^BE for Block End) and leave it marked in place, and then go to a different section and copy it (with ^BC for Block Copy). Many users found it much easier to manipulate blocks with the block commands rather than the Microsoft Word system of highlighting with a mouse. The main problem with these improvements was that users of legacy WordStar (non-WordStar 2000) were quite happy with that interface and did not want to change to a new one.
The WordStar interface left a large legacy. This includes modern cross-platform word processing software like TextMaker and many text editors running under MS-DOS, Linux, and other UNIX variants, which can emulate the WordStar keyboard commands using Ctrl-key combinations. The popular Turbo Pascal compiler used WordStar keyboard commands in its IDE editor. Modern word processing software like Write&Set not only use the WordStar interface, but have been based on WordStar DOS file formats, allowing WordStar users who no longer have a copy of the application to easily open and edit their files. There are WordStar keyboard command emulators and keymappings, both freeware and shareware, for current versions of Microsoft Word. Popular modern word processing software like WordPerfect, StarOffice and Microsoft Word (with the proper filters) can open and save to WordStar documents, enabling users to move back and forth.
MailMerge was an add-on program (becoming integrated from WordStar 4 onwards) which facilitated the merge printing of bulk mailings, such as business letters to clients. Two files were required:
- a DAT file, being a list of recipients stored in a non-document, comma-delimited datafile, typically named Clients.dat. Each subsequent line of text in the file would be dedicated to a particular client, with name and address details separated on the line dedicated to a client by commas, read left to right. For example: Mr., Michael, Smith, 7 Oakland Drive, ...
- a master document containing the text of the letter, using standard paragraphs (a.k.a. boilerplate text) as required. These would be mixed and matched as needed, and where appropriate, paragraphs could be inserted through external reference to subordinate documents.
The writer would deliberately place ampersand-defined fields into the master document, e.g., &TITLE&, &INITIAL&, &SURNAME&, &ADDRESS1&, etc., as appropriate, to be substituted consecutively by the data items read from the DAT file along the particular client's address line during printing of their letter. Mass mailings could thereby be prepared with each letter copy individually addressed.
Other add-on programs included SpellStar, a spell checker program, later incorporated as a direct part of the WordStar program; and DataStar, a program whose purpose was specifically to expedite creating of the data files used for merge printing. These were revolutionary features for personal computer users during the early-to-mid-1980s. A companion spreadsheet, CalcStar, was also produced using a somewhat WordStar-like interface; collectively, WordStar (word processing), DataStar/ReportStar (database management, a.k.a. InfoStar), and CalcStar (spreadsheet) composed the first-ever office suite of personal computer programs. As a product enhancement, in the late 1980s WordStar 5 came bundled with PC-Outline, a popular DOS outliner then available from Brown Bag Software, Inc. in California. PC-Outline text had to be exported to a WordStar-format file, as the programs were not developed to be internally compatible.
WordStar identified files as either "document" or "nondocument," which led to some confusion among users. "Document" referred to WordStar word processing files containing embedded and hidden word processing and formatting commands. "Nondocument" files were pure ASCII text files containing no embedded formatting commands. Using WordStar in "Nondocument Mode" was essentially the same as using a traditional text editor, but with more advanced text editing features than found in some mainframe-based editors. WordStar 5 introduced a document-mode "print preview" feature, allowing the user to inspect a WYSIWYG version of text, complete with inserted graphics, as it would appear on the printed page.
Installation of early versions of WordStar, especially for CP/M, was very different from the approach of modern programs. While later editions had more-or-less comprehensive installation programs that allowed selection of printers and terminals from a menu, in the very early releases, each of the escape sequences required for the terminal and printer had to be identified in the hardware documentation, then hand-entered into reserved locations in the program memory image. This was a fairly typical limitation of all CP/M programs of the time, since there was no mechanism to hide the complexities of the underlying hardware from the application program. Occasionally short machine-language programs had to be entered in a patch area in WordStar, to provide particular screen effects or cope with particular printers. Researching, testing, and proving out such installations was a time-consuming and knowledge-intensive process, making WordStar installation and customization a staple discussion of CP/M users' groups during that time.
DOS versions of WordStar at least had standardized the screen display, but still had to be customized for different printers.
Running WordStar in modern platforms
WordStar version 3.x used the MS-DOS File control block (FCB) interface, an early data structure for file input/output which was based closely on CP/M's file input/output functions. The provision of the FCB interface was intended to simplify the porting of (assembly language) programs from CP/M to (the then-new) MS-DOS. When MS-DOS adopted the Xenix-like file interface of file handles, FCBs became a legacy interface supported for backward compatibility. Because FCB compatibility has not been maintained, WordStar 3.x will not function properly on modern versions of Windows. In particular, WordStar 3.x cannot save files. One work-around is to use the DOSEMU emulator on Linux, which correctly implements the FCB interface. (The DOSBox emulator does not, even on Linux.) WordStar 4.0 does not have this problem because it uses the newer MS-DOS interface for input/output. (OS/2 can run WordStar in a DOS session.)
Although no current version of WordStar is available for modern operating systems, some former WordStar users still prefer WordStar's interface, especially the cursor diamond commands described earlier in this article. These users claim less hand movement is necessary to issue commands, and hence that writing under this interface is more efficient. The user accesses the nearby Ctrl key and then a letter or combination of letters, thus keeping his hands on or close to the typing home row instead of moving them away from it to reach for a specialty key or a mouse.
To accommodate these users, WordStar emulation programs were created. One such program is CtrlPlus by Yoji Hagiya, which remaps the standard PC keyboard, making many WordStar commands available in most Windows programs. CtrlPlus switches the Control and Caps Lock keys so that the Ctrl key is back where it originally was on older keyboards, next to the A key. It also gives functionality to the chief cursor diamond commands mentioned in this article.
The other WordStar emulation utility created was the WordStar Command Emulator for Microsoft Word, also known as "WordStar for Word," by Mike Petrie. Designed to work in conjunction with CtrlPlus, the Command Emulator adds many more WordStar commands to MS Word than CtrlPlus by itself, and also changes Word 97-XP's menus to be more like those of WordStar 7.0 for DOS, the last DOS version of WordStar. For example, Ctrl+K? was WordStar's word count command and Ctrl+QL was its spell check command. Hitting these commands in the WordStar Emulator within Word runs Word's equivalent commands. WordStar for Word also adds WordStar's block commands, namely Ctrl+KB to mark the beginning of a block, Ctrl+KK to mark the end, and Ctrl+KV to move it. Alternatively, Ctrl+KC could be used to copy the block. WordStar for Word works on all versions of Word from Word 97 through 2010.
The WordStar Command Emulator is written in Microsoft Visual Basic for Applications, a macro programming language based on Visual Basic built into Microsoft Word to allow for a high level of customization. Most Word add-ins are written in this language also known as VBA.
WordStar goes bi-directional
Around 1978 Elbit Systems in Israel developed a CP/M capable microcomputer named the DS2100. CP/M machines were readily available and Elbit needed something to differentiate their product from others. An agreement was made with MicroPro to develop a version of WordStar that supported both English and Hebrew input. The concept was revolutionary, as Hebrew is written right-to-left and all word processors of the time assumed left-to-right. WordStar, as developed by Elbit, was the first word processor that offered bi-directional input and mixed alphabets.
Elbit acquired rights to the source code and a development team in Elbit, Haifa, worked on the project. For several years Hebrew-English WordStar was the de facto WYSIWYG word processor leader until, inevitably, was ousted by younger competitors.
- DOS WordStar files by default have no extension; some users adopted their own conventions, such as the letters WS followed by the version number (for example, WS3), or just plain WS. Backup files were automatically saved as BAKs.
- WordStar for Windows files use the extension WSD
- WordStar for Windows templates use the extension WST
- WordStar for Windows macros use the extension WMC
- WordStar for Windows temporary files use the extension !WS
- WordStar 2000 for DOS and UNIX PC do not have a fixed extension but DOC and WS2 were common
- There is no WordStar 2000 for Windows.
Newstar produced New Word for Amstrad PCW8256, PCW8512 in mid-1980s, running CP/M on 3-inch floppy disks. NewWord also was available for MS-DOS and in a native version for Concurrent CP/M. It was very similar to WordStar.
- Bergin, Thomas J. (Oct-Dec 2006). "The Origins of Word Processing Software for Personal Computers: 1976-1985". IEEE Annals of the History of Computing 28 (4): 32–47. doi:10.1109/MAHC.2006.76.
- Arredondo, Larry (1984-03-26). "Review: WordStar 3.3". InfoWorld. p. 66. Retrieved March 6, 2011.
- Petrie, Michael (2013-04-11). "A Potted History of WordStar". WordStar Resource Site. Retrieved 2013-04-11.
- John C. Dvorak.
- Will WordPerfect for Windows steal the crown? Computer Shopper, 1 February 1992, Daniel J. Rosenbaum Copy from HighBeam Research
- Caruso, Denise (1984-11-19). "NEW WORDSTAR ON THE WAY". InfoWorld. p. 15. Retrieved March 6, 2011.
- Wortman, Leon A. (1985-01-07/14). "Wordstar 2000". InfoWorld. p. 47. Retrieved March 6, 2011.
- Angel, Jonathan (1986-05-19). "NewWord 3 Is Now More Than Clone Of WordStar". InfoWorld. p. 57. Retrieved March 6, 2011.
- Willett, Shawn (1993-05-24). "Merger is first step to a consumer orientation for WordStar". InfoWorld. p. 31. Retrieved March 6, 2011.
- Bergin, Thomas J. (Oct-Dec 2006). "Word Processing Timeline". IEEE Annals of the History of Computing. Retrieved March 6, 2011.
- Beleaguered WordStar poised to rebound if management can spark user demand, Software Industry Report, 4 November 1991 Copy from HighBeam Research
- WordStar for Windows is a good deal, Computer Shopper, 1 January 1992, Steve Gilliland Copy from HighBeam Research
- Is the boom (almost) over? (indications that the market for Windows-based applications is slowing down), Soft-Letter, 20 October 1992 Copy from highbeam Research
- William F Buckley and WordStar
- WordStar Resource Site — featuring a full (as far as is known) history of WordStar
- Microsoft Help & Support — Microsoft's Office File Converter Pack installs additional text converters and graphics (image) filters. You can import/export WordStar files after installing it.
- Petrie, Michael. A Potted History of WordStar, 9 September 2006.