The Retro Word Processor Escapade

The one where I resurrected several computers and operating systems from the distant past while wearing rose tinted glasses and getting nothing done.

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Your computer is more powerful than you think

Here’s where I need to remind you that I’m a software developer. I spend most of my waking hours either writing incredibly dull technical documents or conjuring thousands of lines of jibberish that computers can hopefully do something useful with. One of the major tricks in a software developer’s arsenal is called “Virtualisation” — a crafty trick that inflicts your computer with multiple personality disorder on purpose. You get to invent a second computer inside your “actual” computer and use both at once.

Good enough for George R R Martin

I read an article several years ago about George R R Martin — the author of Game of Thrones. It turns out he writes his books using a copy of Wordstar, running in MS-DOS on a twenty-year-old PC. For those reading this and wondering what on earth “MS-DOS” is, it’s the fore-runner of Microsoft Windows. Imagine only being able to run one program at a time, and having no link to the internet. It turns out George’s reason for using a decades old version of Wordstar is because he hates auto-correct. He has a point — can you imagine training a modern spell checker with the character names for his sprawling fantasy novels?

Resurrecting the past

Virtualisation was the answer — all I needed to figure out was the question or at least some form of validation for the time I spent creating a “pretend” computer running MS-DOS full-screen over the top of my “real” computer, and installing a long forgotten version of Microsoft Word on it — released to the public domain by Microsoft some years ago.

Emulation solves everything

Emulation is the process of teaching one computer how to pretend to be another. Not just a similar computer — an entirely different computer, filled with entirely alien hardware. Within another hour, my Windows 10 machine was having something of a breakdown — with flashbacks of the Atari ST running GEM, and the Commodore Amiga running Workbench.

Down the rabbit hole

Suddenly I was able to run Protext, Wordsworth, Wordstar, Wordperfect, and any number of other word processors that I had not seen for the better part of thirty years. I will admit that Protext has something of a place in my heart, given that most of my college essays were written using it. What’s more, I was finally able to “own” an Amiga — the computer I had never been able to afford during my formative years.

Here’s the thing

I spent the entire evening building pretend computers, seeking out abandoned software, installing obsolete operating systems, and tinkering with results Frankenstein would have been proud of.

Written by

Software and web developer, husband, father, cat wrangler, writer, runner, coffee drinker, retro video games player. Pizza solves everything.

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