I (Sometimes) Miss WordPerfect for DOS

In college, I wrote software documentation for mainframe users, which meant I had the opportunity to use text editors and word processors on a variety of computer platforms. I composed documentation on everything from glorified typewriters (DEC VT102 and IBM 3270 terminals) to slick WYSIWYG (“what you see is what you get”) Apple Macs.

I was probably not alone in being captivated by the Mac experience. Toss in PageMaker, a few fonts, and a LaserWriter for a complete desktop publishing system, and the Mac was hard to beat. Yet, I quickly realized that I wrote better on my MS-DOS 2.1 PC running WordPerfect 4.2 from floppy disks. How could this be? The Mac was easier to use and the papers I typed looked much better on paper. Why did I type so much more, and much better, on the PC?

I didn’t work on the Mac; I explored. I’d play with fonts, formatting options, and the nifty features of Word or PageMaker. I’d also play Crystal Quest, Lode Runner, and Dark Castle for hours. The Mac temptation at its worst for me. I still remember discovering Tetris on the Mac. More hours lost.

My PC was a typewriter. The sparse screen of WordPerfect, with little more than a document name and position information (“Doc 1 Pg 1 Ln 1″) didn’t beg to be explored. The screen was analogous to the paper in a typewriter. You had to type to fill the blank blue or black screen, the blank space demanding to be filled with words.

I am distracted easily. I think most people are, but especially creativity workers — artists. The Mac OS, Windows, and any other GUI experiences, are like playgrounds. That is great when your job is visual design, but not so great when you need to be focused on writing.

To circumvent my nature, I started writing everything longhand on legal pads and then typing and formatting the work. I still am more productive when I can’t point-and-click my way to something other than work. That’s one reason I liked typing on a laptop at coffee shops or bookstores — until they added free WiFi to the menus.

WordPerfect on a basic DOS-equipped system was the perfect typewriter. There was no multitasking (AKA multidistracting). You didn’t get lost in the Web conducting “research” for your latest assignment or creative work. You typed. And it was good. I keep trying new ways around distractions, but nothing seems to match those simple DOS days.

No, I am not going to give up my MacBook Pro, Pages, Adobe Creative Suite, and thousands of fonts. I love my Mac too much. I will write about some possible options in the near future and explain how they help me reduce distractions, at least a little. The key is to be immersed in writing, so I’ve been using applications that attempt to recapture the spirit of WordPerfect for DOS.

For now, I’ll reveal that my favorite writing application on the Mac is Scrivener. Visit Literature & Latte (http://www.literatureandlatte.com/) for more information on Scrivener. It is not a design program; Scrivener is for composing text. The full-screen mode does remind me of DOS: nothing but the text I’m writing, not even the Mac menu bar is displayed. It’s a distraction-free environment.

I need to get back to a writing project. It seems I got sidetracked.

- Scott

2 thoughts on “I (Sometimes) Miss WordPerfect for DOS

  1. Pingback: Why I Use Scrivener « Tameri Blog: Readers and Writers

  2. avatarWednesday

    I hear you loud and clear. I was a technical editor in the 80s when WordPerfect was in use at Fortune 500 companies. I edited courseware that taught the little employees how to use it. I also edited courseware for Multimate, Works, and WordStar. We wrote everything in Wordperfect. Luckily, I kept my personal copy from way back there.

    Word exasperates me, and the Internet distracts me. So I still use Wordperfect 5.1 on a 12-year-old 386 to lay track/write first drafts. I also have it on one running Windows ME and a netbook running XP. These machines never quite, so as I kept buying new hardware, WP went right along with the other new stuff I also had to load.

    I have to submit mss. in Word, but I write in WP because it’s the only word processor that gets out of my way, stays out of my way, and doesn’t slow down my brain by ordering me to use the blasted mouse. The only other word processor I’ve found that comes anywhere close is built into Liquid Story Binder (like Scrivener only for Windows). But it saves into RTF and I can convert more easily from WP to Word than RTF to Word. Also, it’s within LSB and I often don’t want to be inside LSB. I just want to write.

    WP 5.1 works fine (with some tweaking) on PCs running up to Windows XP. On Windows 7, I’m having to use it on a Virtual PC, and once I’m in it I dare not get out until I’m done, as switching between the Virtual PC and Windows 7 will eventually make the system freeze. But there’s a site online that’s devoted to those of us who won’t let WP go.

    http://www.columbia.edu/~em36/wpdos/index.html

    So if you’re truly mourning WP, please know that you can still use it. If you’re determined enough and willing to invest the time. But as Windows progresses, Microsoft is making it harder and harder to use. For example, Word 97′s suite imported and exported WP documents. The current Word only imports it. If you want to export a document for use in WP, you must change it to RTF or a .txt document.

    Even 25 years ago, Works was an inferior product. Turning it into Word was like PageMaker being turned into InDesign: they can add more bells and whistles and charge more money, and market all they want, but for those of us who were around when the old software was first created, we know it doesn’t mean they’ve actually improved a thing.

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