Microsoft WordMicrosoft Word is so synonymous with office life it’s hard to consider it groundbreaking. But next time you’re plodding through TPS reports, think back to October 1983, when word processing wasn’t quite so easy.

A lucky few had access to WordPerfect, but most cube dwellers used typewriters, and those with computer access relied on formatting commands to do things like make paragraph returns. (Imagine typing everything in HTML. That’s what it was like.)

Enter Microsoft Word for MS-DOS, a WYSIWYG (“What You See Is What You Get”) word processor that relied on a mouse. “We were planning for the future,” developer Richard Brodie told one interviewer. Brodie and co-developer Charles Simonyi “put in support for WYSIWYG before there were even displays of sufficient resolution to show it, and for laser printers when everyone was still [using] fixed-pitch fonts on dot-matrix and daisy-wheel printers.”

Initial reactions to Microsoft Word

According to the Computer History Museum (home to the source code for both MS-DOS and Word for Windows), Bill Gates was impressed by the program’s display speed and the ability to format while you typed. The program’s advanced features included footnotes, mail merges, multiple font sizes, and more.

The November 1983 issue of PC World came bundled with a demo copy of Word, but consumers were still skeptical. BYTE magazine’s 1984 review of Word for MS-DOS pronounced the program “clever” and able to perform “extraordinary feats” but “frustrating to learn and operate efficiently … Word’s developers seem to be trying to completely reinvent word processing.”

Once Word for Windows was released in 1989, consumers had caught up with the available technology. Within four years, Microsoft controlled more than half of the global word-processing market.

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Tech Time Warp is a weekly feature that looks back at interesting moments and milestones in tech history.

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Kate Johanns

Posted by Kate Johanns

Kate Johanns is a communications professional and freelance writer with more than 13 years of experience in publishing and marketing.

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