The Software Toolworks

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The Software Toolworks, Ltd. was an American computer software company started in February 1980 in Sherman Oaks, California. Best known for its Chessmaster and Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing programs, the company was acquired by Pearson PLC in 1994.


Started in February 1980 in the converted garage of Walt Bilofsky in Sherman Oaks, California, Bilofsky began by offering adapted pieces of software for the Heathkit H89 computer in a hobbyist newsletter.[1][2] The software offered ran on the Heath operating system HDOS, and was expanded in January 1981 to support Heath and generic CP/M. By 1982, it supported the Osborne 1 computer.[3] Early products included Bilofsky's adaptations and extensions of Ron Cain's Small C ("C/80") and Tom Crosley's full-screen Programma Improved (or International) Editor ("PIE") whose design was in turn based on "ned", the Rand Editor for UNIX.[4] An associate, Dave Kittinger, contributed MYCHESS.[5]

Company milestones[edit]

  • The name "The Software Toolworks" was first used in July 1980.[6]
  • In 1981, Toolworks published a version of ELIZA, the early AI conversation simulator written at M.I.T. by Joseph Weizenbaum.[7][8] The script was originally published in Weizenbaum's article in the Journal of the ACM, which then owned the copyright.[9]
  • In 1982, Jim Gillogly ported the UNIX version of the game Adventure, originally written by Will Crowther and expanded by Don Woods, to HDOS and CP/M.[10]
  • In October 1986, show business personality Les Crane's company Software Country merged into Toolworks, then owned by Bilofsky and Joe Abrams, with Crane as Chairman.[11] Software Country had been founded in 1983 on Crane's dining room table.[12] Software Country had previously published two products, I Ching and Software Golden Oldies Vol. I which consisted of Pong, Life, Eliza and The Original Adventure, the latter two licensed from Toolworks[11][12]
  • In 1986, Toolworks began developing Chessmaster 2000, originally intended to be marketed by Software Country.[13]
  • In October 1986, Chessmaster took on the Toolworks label. The following month, Chessmaster won the PC division of the U.S. Open Computer Chess Championship in Mobile, Alabama.[11]
  • In September 1987, Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing, produced for IBM PC's, was conceived by Norm Worthington and written by Worthington, Bilofsky and Mike Duffy ("Three guys, three computers, three beds, in four months").[14] Mavis, believed by many to be a real person, was created by Crane to personalize the program. Having an African-American woman on the cover created marketing issues in some areas, which were resolved with the success of the program.[14]
  • In 1988, Software Toolworks went public (NASDAQ: TWRX).[15]
  • By 1994, 48% of revenue at Toolworks was from PC- and CD-ROM products, and 42% from cartridges.[16]
  • In May 1994, Toolworks was purchased by Pearson PLC for $503 million.[17] Under Pearson, the company kept the Toolworks name until October 1994, when their corporate identity was changed to Mindscape.[18]


In its time, Toolworks acquired the following properties:

  • Intellicreations (Bruce Lee and The Hunt for Red October[19])[16], November 1988
  • DS Technologies (March 1989)
  • Mindscape[16] (1990)
  • SSI (1993)


  1. ^ T. R. Reid. "Software Made Less Hard" (PDF). Washington Post (August 6, 1984): 23–24.
  2. ^ "BUSS Newsletter #21, January 1980" (PDF). p. 2.
  3. ^ "BUSS Newsletter #31, Jan. 1981" (PDF). p. 7.
  4. ^ The CRT Text Editor NED, RAND Corporation report R-2176-ARPA
  5. ^ "Chess Programming Wiki". Retrieved September 9, 2016.
  6. ^ "BUSS Newsletter #24, July 1980" (PDF). p. 8.
  7. ^ O'Reilly, Richard. "Candy and Compilers Go Together" (PDF). Los Angeles Times (November 25, 1984).
  8. ^ Bilofsky, Walt (September 1981). Eliza User's Manual (PDF).
  9. ^ Weizenbaum, Joseph. "ELIZA – A Computer Program for the Study of Natural Language Communication Between Man and Machine". Communications of the ACM. 9 Number 1 (January 1966): 36–45. doi:10.1145/365153.365168.
  10. ^ Adams, Rick. "A History of 'Adventure'".
  11. ^ a b c "Software Toolworks annual report, March 1989" (PDF). p. 4.
  12. ^ a b "Les Crane, Once a Rival to Johnny Carson, Is a Hit in Software". Los Angeles Times. April 21, 1987. Retrieved September 18, 2016.
  13. ^ "Software Country Presents: The Chessmaster 2000". The Spacious Mind. Retrieved September 22, 2016.
  14. ^ a b Biersdorfer, J. D. "Next They'll Say Betty Crocker Isn't Real, Either". New York Times (December 31, 1998).
  15. ^ "From TV Personality to Software Developer: The Les Crane Story". InfoWorld. InfoWorld Media Group, Inc (February 29, 1988): 38. ISSN 0199-6649.
  16. ^ a b c "The British Are Buying". Read.Me. Computer Gaming World. June 1994. p. 15.
  17. ^ "London Publisher Buys Software Toolworks". Los Angeles Times (April 1, 1994).
  18. ^ "Top of Mind". Billboard (November 12, 1994): 90.
  19. ^ "Two Simulations Bring Tom Clancy's Submarine Warfare Epics to the PC". PC Magazine (October 31, 1989): 439. Retrieved September 21, 2016.