In the days of Wordstar

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By Ike Suarez On my desk, as of this writing, is a copy of the Philippine edition of the book, ?Wordstar 4.0 Made Easy? by Watter A. Ettlin. I found it while cleaning the ?bodega? in our house in a middle-class subdivision in Rizal province. It was among the few books that had miraculously survived the rampaging floodwaters of Typhoon Ondoy in September 2009. ?Wordstar, what is that?? is a question today?s tech and Internet-savvy teenagers will most likely ask. After all, the book first saw print in 1987 and none of them had been born yet. For those familiar with this program, they would know it is a word processing software that is now obsolete. Awareness of its former existence even marks he or she as on the other side of the generational divide. A digital oldie, in other words. Yet, once upon a time Wordstar was state-of-the-art and cutting-edge. MicroPro International, a now defunct company, had first developed it to run on the CP/M platform in 1979 and later migrated it to MS-DOS. It took part in the PC revolution?s start. In the Philippines, during much of the 1980s, to have PCs installed with WordStar was a mark of prestige. Computers were considered as expensive items then. For secretaries who used it, this meant she was employed in one of the country?s top corporations. No mere member also of the typing pool was she. Rather she was an executive secretary, exclusively reporting to the senior VP, board chairman, or CEO. As such she was on the apex of the heiriarchy of secretaries. Thus, it was her privilege to have her very own PC which ran Wordstar and possibly Lotus 1-2-3, the latter being a spreadsheet application. On the other hand, if a Filipino used this program at home, it meant he came from a family affluent enough to own one. After all, the cheapest makes cost a little over P20,000 each at a time when the peso-to-dollar rate was P20 to $1. By contrast, inexpensive portable typewriters could be had for as little over P1,200 each. Indeed, Wordstar installed in an XT or AT PC formed part of the galaxy of ?high tech? devices during this word processing program?s heyday. A few others in this lineup were the beeper, VHS video player, and a color TV able to receive UHF band programs from the US Air Force Base in Clark Field, Pampanga. If one owned all of these, one could arguably claim to be a geek. Knowing how to use Wordstar at that time meant one had premium skills. It often gave a job applicant a competitive edge over job applicants illiterate in this program. This word processor never was intuitive to use. Rather, it was arcane requiring a learning curve a little steeper than learning how to touch-type. Its command line instructions made it so. Hence, publishing books such as ?Wordstar 4.0 Made Easy? turned out to be lucrative. Due to internal corporate problems at MicroPro International, Wordstar?s heyday failed to last long. By 1990, most PC users in the United States had switched to Word Perfect. Nonetheless, Wordstar continue to remain popular in the Philippines during the first half of the 1990s. Filipinos — or the country?s PC community, at least — showed themselves to be this program?s loyalists. The picture changed only when Microsoft Corp. introduced Windows 95 in 1995. With this, its Windows-based suite of office automation tools began edging out stand-alone programs. Wordstar?s star had dimmed and finally faded out from the Philippine computer scene. By 2000, Wordstar had been completely forgotten. I must admit that when I first saw a copy of this book, I did not know when I had bought it. Most likely, it had been in late 1991 when I had started my career as a technology journalist in a pioneering trade publication. I must admit further I had no clue on what to do with this book when I again saw it. As a result, I posted questions on what action to take on it in a number of Facebook sites I was member of. ?Frame it, so the younger generation will know Wordstar existed,? said a comment by a colleague. Another colleague in another site advised me to sell on e-Bay as it was now a collector?s item. As of this writing, I plead guilty to still being undecided. Nonetheless, Wordstar?s now being history shows how intense the churn of new products is in the IT industry. Let it be pointed out that the typewriter — now a museum piece — had remained state-of-the-art for a number of generations, from the late 19th to the late 20th century. In IT, products come and go. Young people may today snicker at Wordstar, if ever they get to learn that this program once existed. After all, today?s cutting edge solutions are cloud-based software, Android phones, and tablet PCs. Wordstar?s demise should tell them that these state-of-the art solutions will one day become obsolete as well. And with this word processing program, these applications they love will belong to the museum of ancient technology as well.]]>

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