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Tracing the History of the Computer - WordPerfect Word Processor



WordPerfect is a software program for word processing. At the height of its popularity in the late 1980s and early 1990s, it was the de facto standard word processor, but has since been eclipsed in sales by Microsoft Word. Although the DOS and Microsoft Windows versions are best known, it has been available for a wide variety of computers and operating systems, including Mac OS, Linux, the Apple IIe, a separate verson for the Apple IIgs, most popular versions of Unix, VMS, Data General, System/370, AmigaOS, Atari ST, and OS/2.

WordPerfect for DOS

WordPerfect was originally produced by Bruce Bastian and Dr. Alan Ashton who founded Satellite Software International, Inc. of Orem, Utah, which later renamed itself WordPerfect Corporation. Originally written for Data General minicomputers, in 1982 the developers ported the program to the IBM PC as WordPerfect 2.20, continuing the version numbering of the Data General series. The program's popularity took off with the introduction of WordPerfect 4.2 in 1986, with automatic paragraph numbering (important to the legal market), and the splitting of a lengthy footnote and its partial overflow to the bottom of the next page, as if it had been professionally typeset (valuable to the academic market). WordPerfect 4.2 became the first program to overtake the original market leader (WordStar) in a major application category on the DOS platform. In 1989, WordPerfect Corporation released the program's most successful version ever, WordPerfect 5.1 for DOS, which included a pull-down menu that version 5.0 lacked.

WordPerfect used almost every possible combination of function keys with Ctrl, Alt, and Shift modifiers. This was in contrast to WordStar, which used only Ctrl, in conjuction with traditional typing keys. Many people still know the function key combinations from the DOS version, which were designed for the layout of the original 1981 IBM PC keyboard, with two columns of function keys at the left end of the keyboard. For example, the Tab key and the related F4 (Indent) functions were adjacent. This plethora of keystroke possibilities, combined with the developers' wish to keep the user interface free of "clutter" such as on-screen menus, made it necessary for most users to use a keyboard template showing each function. Infamously, WordPerfect used F3 instead of F1 for Help, F1 instead of Esc for Cancel, and Esc for Repeat (though a configuration option in later versions allowed these functions to be rotated to more standard locations).


WordPerfect Corporation produced a variety of ancillary and spin-off products. WordPerfect Library (introduced in 1986) was a package of utilities that included a customizable memory-resident menu driven DOS shell called Shell, task switching (which allowed several programs to remain open and selectable by a hot-key combination under DOS), an open application interface (API) that other software developers could access, an advanced (for its time) macro processor, a Clipboard, a Calculator, a Calendar with a running to-do list and alarms, a flat-file database called Notebook that could be used by itself or in WordPerfect merges, and other features. LetterPerfect was a scaled down version of WordPerfect with the more advanced features removed but with file and (for the most part) keystroke compatibility.

WordPerfect for DOS not only shipped with an impressive array of printer drivers, it also shipped with a printer driver editor called PTR, which features a flexible macro language and allows technically-inclined users to customize and create printer drivers.

Internally, WordPerfect used an extensive WordPerfect character set as its internal code. The precise meaning of the characters, although clearly defined and documented, can be overridden in its customizable printer drivers with PTR.

The relationship between different fonts, and between fonts and the various sections in the WordPerfect character set, were also described in the printer drivers and can be customized through PTR.

WordPerfect for Windows

WordPerfect was late in coming to market with a Windows version. WordPerfect 5.1 for Windows was released in late 1991, by which time Microsoft Word for Windows was already at version 2. WordPerfect's function-key-centered user interface did not adapt well to the new paradigm of mice and pull-down menus, especially with many of WordPerfect's standard key combinations pre-empted by incompatible keyboard shortcuts that Windows itself used (e.g. Alt-F4 became Exit Program instead of WordPerfect's Block Text). The DOS version's impressive arsenal of finely tuned printer drivers was also rendered obsolete by Windows' use of its own printer device drivers.

Internally, WordPerfect for Windows still used the WordPerfect character set as its internal code. This caused WordPerfect for Windows to be unable to support some languages - for example Chinese - that can be natively supported by Windows.

WordPerfect became part of an office suite when the company entered into a co-licensing agreement with Borland Software Corporation in 1993. The offerings were marketed as Borland Office, containing Windows versions of WordPerfect, Quattro Pro, Borland Paradox, and a LAN-based groupware package called WordPerfect Office (not to be confused with the complete applications suite of the same name later marketed by Corel) based on the WordPerfect Library for DOS. The WordPerfect product line was sold twice, first to Novell in June 1994, who then sold it to Corel in January 1996.

Between the weaknesses of the Windows version, and Microsoft's simultaneous aggressive marketing of Word for Windows as part of the Microsoft Office applications suite, WordPerfect's sales suffered a decline from which it never recovered. Amongst its remaining avid users are many law firms and a few universities, to which Corel now caters as niche markets (with, for example, a major sale to the United States Department of Justice in 2005). In November 2004, Novell filed an antitrust lawsuit against Microsoft for alleged anticompetitive behaviour that Novell claims led to loss of WordPerfect market share.

In 1993, WordPerfect Corporation attempted a unique marketing experiment for WordPerfect 6.0 for Windows. A compact disc named Innovators was released containing a demonstration version of WP 6.0 along with eleven music tracks primarily written by Sam Cardon and Kurt Bestor. The two re-released the disc in 2000 without the demo, but with two additional audio tracks.

Comparison to other word processors

WordPerfect aficionados cite many reasons why they consider it superior to its competitors (especially Word), including:

  • the Reveal Codes function, which allows the user to view and edit all formatting codes, and thus obtain complete control over the text;
  • more stable handling of long, heavily formatted documents than Word (not true in WordPerfect 5.0 for DOS);
  • easier and more reliable editing of tables, especially when they contain merged cells and the user wants to add or delete cells;
  • powerful features for creating tables of authorities in legal documents, and including footnotes in word counts, which appeals to writers and legal professionals;
  • multi-level paragraph numbering which works properly (compared to Word, which for a number of years suffered from a major bug in this area);
  • a wide variety of import and export filters.

Those preferring the MS Word cite its better integration with other MS Office programs (such as e-mail programs), and WordPerfect's poor implementation of Windows conventions in its early Windows versions. Later versions have provided better compliance with interface conventions, file compatibility, and even Word interface emulation.

Corel added "Classic Mode" in WordPerfect 11. This was an attempt to win back users that had switched to MS Word because WordPerfect for Windows was so different from the DOS version they knew and loved, and to entice any hold-outs still using it to upgrade. See WordPerfect 12, which was released in 2004, for an extended description of the Classic Mode.

WordPerfect includes a one-click PDF creation feature, which lets users create PDF documents without buying Adobe Acrobat. It also features a built-in dictionary and a thesaurus which suggests new words from a drop-down box while users type. Unlike Word, all editions of WordPerfect since version 6 also use the same file format, making it easy for users to share documents regardless of which version individual users have installed.

WordPerfect for Macintosh

Development of WordPerfect for Macintosh did not run parallel to versions for other operating systems, and used version numbers unconnected to contemporary releases for DOS, Windows, etc. The first release reminded users and reviewers of the DOS version, and was not especially successful in the marketplace. Version 2 was a total re-write, adhering more closely to Apple's UI guidelines. Version 3 took this further, making extensive use of the technologies Apple introduced in Systems 7.0-7.5, while remaining fast and capable of running well on older machines. Corel released version 3.5 in 1996, followed by the improved version 3.5e. It was never updated beyond that, and the product was eventually discontinued. As of 2004, Corel has reiterated that the company has no plans to further develop WordPerfect for Macintosh (such as creating a native OS X version).

For several years, Corel allowed Mac users to download version 3.5e from their website free of charge, and some Mac users still use this version. Like other Mac OS applications of its age, it requires the Classic environment to be installed to run on OS X. An alternative for Mac users wishing to use a more up-to-date version of WordPerfect is to install the Windows version on top of Virtual PC for Mac. There does not appear to be any third-party development of a WordPerfect clone or work-alike for OS X.

WordPerfect for Linux

In 1995, WordPerfect 6.0 was made available for Linux as part of Caldera's internet office package. In late 1997, a newer version was made available for download, but had to be purchased to be activated. Hoping to establish themselves in the nascent commercial Linux market, Corel also developed their own distribution of Linux.

Although the Linux distribution was fairly well-received, the response to WordPerfect for Linux was varied. Some Linux promoters appreciated the availability of a well-known, mainstream application for the OS. Developers of other Linux-compatible word processors questioned the need for another application in the category. Advocates of open-source software scoffed at its proprietary, closed-source nature, and questioned the viability of a commercial application in a market dominated by free software. The performance and stability of WordPerfect 9.0 (not a native Linux application like WP 6-8, but derived from the Windows version using the experimental WINE compatibility library) was highly criticized.

WordPerfect failed to gain a large user base, and as part of Corel's change of strategic direction following a (non-voting) investment by Microsoft, WordPerfect for Linux was discontinued and their Linux distribution was sold to Xandros. In April 2004, Corel re-released WordPerfect 8.1 (the last Linux-native version) with some updates, as a "proof of concept" and to test the Linux market. As of 2005, WordPerfect for Linux is not available for purchase.


Versions for DOS include:

  • 1982 WordPerfect 2.2 for DOS
  • 1983 WordPerfect 3.0 for DOS
  • 1984 WordPerfect 4.0 for DOS
  • 1986 WordPerfect 4.2 for DOS
  • 1988 WordPerfect 5.0 for DOS
  • 1989 WordPerfect 5.1 for DOS
  • 1993 WordPerfect 6.0 for DOS
  • 1995 WordPerfect 6.1 for DOS
  • 1997 WordPerfect 6.2 for DOS

Versions for Apple II include:

  • 1985 WordPerfect 1.0 for Apple II
  • 1986 WordPerfect 2.0 for Apple II

Versions for the Apple Macintosh include:

  • 1988 WordPerfect 1.0 for Macintosh
  • 1990 WordPerfect 2.0 for Macintosh
  • 1993 WordPerfect 3.0 for Macintosh
  • 1995 WordPerfect 3.5 for Macintosh
  • 1997 WordPerfect 3.5e for Macintosh

Versions for the NeXT Computer include:

  • 1991 WordPerfect 1.0.1 for NeXT Computers

Versions for Microsoft Windows include:

  • 1991 WordPerfect 5.1 for Windows
  • 1992 WordPerfect 5.2 for Windows
  • 1993 WordPerfect 6.0 for Windows
  • 1996 WordPerfect 7.0 for Windows
  • 1997 WordPerfect 8.0 for Windows
  • 1999 WordPerfect 9.0 for Windows (WordPerfect Office 2000)
  • 2001 WordPerfect 10.0 for Windows (WordPerfect Office 2002)
  • 2003 WordPerfect 11.0 for Windows (WordPerfect Office 2003)
  • 2004 WordPerfect 12.0 for Windows (WordPerfect Office 12)

Versions for Linux include:

  • 1996 WordPerfect 6.0 for Linux
  • 1999 WordPerfect 8.1 for Linux
  • 2000 WordPerfect 9.0 for Linux

Versions for Java include:

  • 1997 WordPerfect for Java

Future Versions

Many expect a future version of WordPerfect to support OpenDocument, though no formal announcement has been made. Corel is an original member of the OASIS Technical Committee on the Open Document Format, and Paul Langille, a senior Corel developer, is one of the original four authors of the OpenDocument specification. Also, Corel sent a letter to Massachusetts supporting their selection OpenDocument, saying, "Corel strongly supports the broad adoption of the open standards Massachusetts has outlined, including XML, the OASIS Open Document Format and PDF.... Corel remains committed to working alongside OASIS and other technology vendors to ensure the continued evolution of the ODF standard and the adoption of open standards industry-wide." Many find it improbable that Corel would invest so much effort, and say that they will work to ensure adoption, without implementing it themselves.

In a September 2005 interview with eWeek's Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols the communications manager for Corel WordPerfect, Greg Wood, was paraphrased as saying "While Corel won't commit to a date for adding OpenDocument to WordPerfect, the company made it clear that it is working towards that goal" although a direct quote said "it is not appropriate at this time for Corel to disclose its plans for OpenDocument in future versions of WordPerfect Office". However in an October 2005 interview with BetaNews's Ed Oswald the general manager of Office Productivity for Corel, Richard Carriere, said "...the reality is that there's no adoption of these standards and, as far as I know, there still needs to be some development to make it into a real product. Fine, Sun announces that StarOffice will support ODF, but the reality is people need to exchange files, and today nobody is exchanging files using ODF. On the other hand, if you talk about open formats, here we are with support for PDF in WordPerfect. You can save documents in PDF and exchange them very easily. That's an open format. We have also supported [a Corel schema for] XML for many versions". This was interpreted as, at best, sitting on the fence or, at worst, no support ever in the blog of OASIS legal counsel Andy Updegrove and by ZDNet reporter David Berlind.


In the late 1980s and very early 1990s, WordPerfect was the word processing package of choice for the vast majority of people who were involved in document production. I myself worked for three different companies between 1987 and 1992, and they all used WordPerfect. The demise of the software was a real blow as it really was a great application.




History of Word Processors

This article is derived from

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