WordPefect: Wonderfully arcane word processing
By James Grahame
It's easy to forget that most PC users didn't touch a mouse (of the computer variety, anyway) throughout most of the 1980s. That meant users often had to learn an arcane array of perplexing keyboard "shortcuts" for even the simplest tasks. The most unnecessarily complicated programs were word processors. They turned a simple task like banging out a letter into a delightful half hour sequence of completely illogical key sequences. And, for some reason, the most complicated and confusing program of all eventually became the most popular. Heck, I consider WordPerfect even harder to master than WordStar.
The penultimate edition of Word Perfect -- Version 5.1 -- was released in 1989 and quickly dominated the
professional word processing world. The program made use of dozens of
perplexing keyboard shortcuts that required a little color-coded
cardboard cutout above the keys to remember exactly what CTRL-F2 did.
Once you got past the incredibly steep learning curve, the program was
Back then, there was no such thing as "plug and play" computing and
a big part of WP's success was due to the enormous array of printer
drivers that shipped with the program. You could be fairly sure that
your Epson MX-80 dot matrix printer would work properly with only
minimal configuration. Power users could even edit printer drivers and
there was a powerful macro language called PerfectScript that made text
formatting a snap. It also made it incredibly easy to mangle hundreds
of pages almost effortlessly.
The program eventually lost the battle for market supremacy because Microsoft beat them to the punch with dropdown menus, first in Word for DOS and then in progressively more useful versions of Word for Windows. Unfortunately, WordPerfect's function-key paradigm didn't translate well to the Windows world, where various key combinations were often used for other non-sensical purposes (why the heck should ALT-F4 close a window, anyway?!). The classic DOS version of Word Perfect gradually disappeared from offices and universities, to be replaced occasionally less perplexing mouse-driven word manglers.