image of medieval scribe

medieval scribe

I recently had to give a presentation about writing to a group of bloggers and developers. I usually give writing seminars to journalists, who all start off wanting to be writers anyway. That’s not to say, that everyone else is not a writer. We are all taught to be writers, but few spend the time studying it as a craft. The odd thing is that when we grow in our professions and write for our fellow professionals, we get wrapped up in the esoterica of our specialties and use terms that outsiders don’t understand. As a professional, you learn a new language that, while resembling your native language, it’s full of code that only those in your exclusive circle can understand.

I once had to write a proposal for custom software to be used in the newsroom. It kept being sent back to me with all kinds of questions, from the IT department that I didn’t understand. A friend, who is a journalist, but also had an engineering degree from MIT, explained the problem. I was writing the proposal like a newspaper story. I was being clear about what I but I couldn’t explain it in engineering terms. He helped me rewrite the proposal, so that it was acceptable to the software engineers in IT. I had forgotten to write for my audience. It’s a lesson, I never forgot again.

A brief aside -I dictate all of my writing because of my low vision. It doesn’t affect my writing skills but it does hamper my proofreading skills. My screen reader is really very good, but it gets tripped up on all those words that sound alike, but are spelled differently. It sounds great on playback but their are problems. By the way, I know there’s a typo in the previous sentence. That’s the way my voice recognition software heard it, so I’m leaving it in for effect.

Dictation and voice recognition aside, we all use word processors. And for all intents and purposes, there is only one word processor. It is Microsoft Word. A number of word processors mimic the entire Microsoft Office suite. Many of them are free, most notably Google Docs. Even WordPress, the software that powers this website, has a built-in editor that mimics Word. Once you learn Word, everything else works the same. It looks and feels like Microsoft Word.



Now to the point; I miss the competition. I miss the days of reviewing the features of the many word processors on the market. I made a good living at it and it was fun watching the feature wars. While each software company tried to outdo all the others, with updates of their software, Microsoft’s muscle knocked them out of the competition, and also cut into my income in another way.

You see, in the 1980s I supplemented my freelance writing by teaching word processing to law firms and Wall Street financial institutions. Dozens of word processing companies were fighting for market share. The purchasers of the software bought whichever package a salesperson could convince them was the best. These companies depended on freelance trainers. This gave me a great deal of work. Part of Microsoft’s strategy, however, was to send out an army of its own authorized trainers. Before there was the Microsoft standard, I had to learn and teach more than a dozen different word processors. As best I can remember, the list below is complete. And I really knew how to use them. They are in no particular order. Your assignment is to look them up or tell me which one was your non-Microsoft Word favorite.

1. WordStar
2. Multimate
3. Xywrite
4. Apple Writer
5. WordPerfect
6. DisplayWriter
7. Perfect Writer
8. Word
9. Samma Word
10. Volkswriter
11. Scripsit
12. Microsoft Word
13. Easywriter Professional
14. VisiWord Plus