Almost Perfect

I'll always remember WordPerfect as the quintessential white text on blue screen application.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original blog entry at:

I used Word Perfect for a home business through version 6 or so. When version 5 came out, it was a big hit for all the new features it supported, and sold tremendously. However, every new feature had a different interface; there was no central design. Great for experts, but they managed to lock out all the casual users.

@Xepol: I don’t think WP ever grokked the idea of the casual user. You could do great things with it very efficiently, after you’d been to class and learned how it worked and all the different commands. People who didn’t know what they were doing could quickly produce formatting monstrosities that only an expert could clean up.

A question to all. What successful companies nowadays are run by programmers? Do you think that some of them may repeat WordPrefect history?

In my option one very successful company nowadays is run only by programmers but it’s extremely hard to imagine that it will fail. I am curious about your options so I won’t write this company name.

Only lawyers would be stupid enough to pay $280 for WordPerfect.

Word processing went downhill in three stages: WordStar, WordPerfect, Word. WordPerfect was wonderful, though not nearly as wonderful as an evolved WordStar could have been. No program today does the job for writers as WordStar did. Of course, rarely are things black or white. Even Word, that monstrous kluge, has wonderful features for a writer: auto-correct, clean screen fonts, easily customized keyboard, etc. Still, there’s a HUGE market waiting for the modern word-processing - scratch that, word-grinding program - a tough-to-learn app that can be run entirely without a mouse (real writers don’t use mice) - and that lets writers churn words. (Bleep formatting.)
Remember how you could suggest features to WordPerfect, and danged if they wouldn’t show up in the next release? Marvelous - and you could order the newly released upgrade on a - promptly delivered - floppy for $15.
WordPerfect advanced word processing in some ways - those wonderful function-key combinations that were so eminently reachable back when keyboards were designed by programmers and users, not by a jealous and vindictive Bill Gates. WordPerfect was lightning-fast at what it did. The unfortunate side was the WordPerfect took away the rich set of writer’s options that WordStar gave us.
WordStar let you work creatively, using flexible, word-level tools. WordPerfect trended toward being an adorable little program for secretaries - It’s not as hard! But the fun was gone. In MS Word, there’s almost no fun left at all. Word is socialism: we know better - we’re in control - this is how it’s done.
Don’t get me started about OpenOffice. It’s Word with fewer bugs and crashes - granted - that sad thing is, the programmers have chosen to compete with Word. Why would you want to say We can be just as boring as you!

Amen on WordStar. It was blindingly fast on a CP/M machine with 64K of RAM and a 2 MHz clock.

I used WordPerect all throughout highschool. Here’s a list of my favourite features.

Reveal codes. It’s nice to know that once the formatting gets messed up, you can look at the formatting codes to fix it. Not possible in word.

Everything can be done without the keyboard. You can do things a lot faster when you never remove your hands from the keyboard. For making long documents quickly, you can’t beat WP.

Which brings us to point #3. The text only UI meant that you didn’t spend a lot of time messing around with fonts and formatting. You spent time writing the document. Kind of like how Balsamic lets you design a UI without wasting time on the specifics, WP let you be free to write the document, without messing around with formatting.

It seems like a lot of lawyers still use WordPerfect. I’ve been told that it offers more consistent formatting that is helpful when drafting legal documents.

I’ll readily admit to being a bit nostalgic about the old DOS days and WordPerfect, but I’d be very, very hard-pressed to say that I miss it. WordPerfect was as powerful as anything but getting it to jump through all of the hoops was also sometimes quite a Herculean effort!

Ah, WordPerfect. No other program has ever had a thriving market of function key overlays going for it…

A lot of lawyers do still use WP. I was blown away whenever I walked into a small firm that was using WP instead of MS Office. Talk about UX shock, give a corel office users Office 2007 with a ribbon!

I really did like the simplicity of WP and my father still makes comments about WP5.1 DOS being the last computer program he was able to operate.

REVEAL CODES! Ah … good times.

One of the things that struck me about the Almost Perfect book is the author’s need to get involved with his employees’ daily lives. The mingling of religion with business reminded me of the worst aspects of working for a family business, but on a huge scale since WP was so successful.

I almost hate to suggest this, being a programmer myself, but maybe if they’d had a few non-programmer types making strategic decisions they might have made the transition to a Windows-based world more successfully. I’m speculating here as I haven’t read the book, but programmers have their own blind spots, of course (most notably, assuming that most people think like they do).

WP was the worst pile of crap that I ever had to support. The in-document hidden format codes, which tried to bridge the gap from the visible codes of Wordstar to the outside-the-text-stream formatting of Word, caused no end of problems for users. On a long-lived, frequently edited document, if you turned on code view you’d see long strings of format codes the effects of which would return worm-hole-like out of nowhere.

Awful, awful software.

Many blind persons have told me how much they love(d) WordPerfect; in fact, many still use old versions they’ve saved for years. Reveal codes is an awesome feature for someone to whom WYSIWYG has no practical significance.

Why can’t latex follow those examples and just die?

Well Emacs and Vim aren’t actually much of a far shot from WordPerfect in terms of UI, yet they are still doing fine. For WP it all boiled down to hardheadedness for better or worse.

I was a faithful WordPerfect user up until 2000 or so, and I still preferred it even then–but I eventually had to bow to the tide of ubiquity of Word. Oddly enough, the thing I most loved about it was the thing that Dennis complained about: the Show Formatting mode, which let you see the markup that controlled the way your document appeared. When your formatting got messed up, it was the only way to fix things. In Word, when your formatting gets messed up… you’re pretty much doomed.