Microsoft Word turns 25

A look back at the changes and challenges Microsoft's flagship word-processing program has been through during its first quarter-century

Enter Microsoft -- and Xenix: Simonyi (at left of inset photo), developer of Xerox Bravo, joined up with Microsoft after he received an offer from Bill Gates in 1981.

Enter Microsoft -- and Xenix: Simonyi (at left of inset photo), developer of Xerox Bravo, joined up with Microsoft after he received an offer from Bill Gates in 1981.

If you've been using Microsoft Word for the past quarter of a century, it can seem like Word has always been the top dog of the word-processing world--and for years, it's been incorporated into Microsoft's Office suite. Today, Microsoft's domination is so complete that, from the public's point of view, there is almost no "word-processor market." (Does anyone remember Lotus Manuscript?)

In fact, Microsoft's word processing program got off to a shaky and awkward start in October 1983, and it didn't become all-consuming until at least five years later. Even as Word adopted the market-leading position, it suffered its share of stinging criticisms and setbacks. This is the story, briefly, of how Microsoft Word evolved on its 25-year journey from obscure upstart to Absolute King of the (Software) World.

The First WYSIWYG Word Processor: Xerox Bravo

Before there was Word, there was Bravo, the world's first WYSIWYG ("what you see is what you get") word processor. Charles Simonyi and Butler Lampson developed the revolutionary program at Xerox Palo Alto Research Center in 1974 for an amazing machine called the Xerox Alto. The Alto holds the distinction of being the first computer to use a mouse and a graphical user interface (GUI). Although Xerox never sold the Alto commercially, its long-lasting influence can be felt today in all modern computers and operating systems, including a little application called Microsoft Word.

Enter Microsoft--and Xenix

Charles Simonyi, developer of Xerox Bravo, joined up with Microsoft after he received an offer from Bill Gates in 1981. On day one of his long tenure, Gates, Paul Allen, and Simonyi decided to produce database, spreadsheet, and word processor applications. Simonyi soon hired a former Xerox intern named Richard Brodie and began work on "Multi-Tool Word." With Brodie doing most of the programming, they developed version 1.0 in Microsoft's Xenix (a UNIX-like operating system, now defunct). Not long after, marketing scrapped the "Multi-Tool" part of the name as being too cumbersome, and "Microsoft Word" was born.

The Early DOS Days

Word 1.0 was first released for Xenix and MS-DOS in October 1983. DOS versions 1.0 through 5.0 looked nearly identical to the screen shot seen here. These early versions of Word featured a sometimes confusing "moded" interface (the same keys could perform different tasks in different modes, or submenus) that harkened back to its Bravo roots.

It was a step up from competitor Corel WordPerfect's arcane function-key combinations, but a better interface was on the horizon--although it would take a different computer entirely to bring it to Word.

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection

Tags microsoft word

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Benj Edwards

PC World
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

George Khoury

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic

David Coyle

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

I rate the printer as a 5 out of 5 stars as it has been able to fit seamlessly into my busy and mobile lifestyle.

Kurt Hegetschweiler

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

It’s perfect for mobile workers. Just take it out — it’s small enough to sit anywhere — turn it on, load a sheet of paper, and start printing.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?