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Memories Limited to 640KB - IBM Writing Assistant


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Sometime around 1985, I got my first personal computer, an IBM PCjr. Sure, sure, laugh... the Junior was and continues to be the brunt of many a joke.

But I learned a LOT on that PCjr. It's not really an exaggeration to say that it launched my career. I learned to program in BASIC and Turbo Pascal on the Junior. I learned a little about Assembly Language. I was introduced to the early online world of BBSes using its slow - even for the time - 300 baud modem. I played lots of games on it. And, I wrote papers for school on it.

Our PCjr came with a copy a word processor called IBM Writing Assistant. While I had used a computer before we the Junior, I'm almost positive that I had my first experience with a word processor on that Junior, and it was Writing Assistant.

Honestly, Writing Assistant was a pretty good, if basic, word processor. It had all the features I needed at the time: a nice WYSIWYG text mode interface that allows you to lay out text on the screen pretty much the way it will print out on paper, easy intuitive keys to move around the text, on-screen help, spell checker, the ability to mark text as bold and underlined, basic cut and paste operations, headers and footers.

It was good enough that I don't think I ever even considered switching to another word processor the entire time I used the PCjr. I think I stuck with it right until I switched to Windows 3.

I was dedicated to Writing Assistant to a fault. In fact, after I had been using Writing Assistant at home for many years, they "introduced" us to word processing at school. They taught us to use a program called "PFS: Write" on the Apple //'s. The first time I saw PFS: Write I blurted out, "They ripped off IBM Writing Assistant!" Of course, much later, I would come to find out that it was much the other way. "IBM Writing Assistant" was in fact an OEM rebranded version of PFS: Write, which had started out in the MS-DOS world.

Eventually, I did move on from Writing Assistant. Sometimes by force. In college, we had to use Enable. I had a job that forced me to use WordPerfect. That Windows word processor I mentioned earlier was WordStar Legacy. Eventually, like everyone else, I settled into Microsoft Word.

Recently, in a fit of nostalgia, I wondered if IBM Writing Assistant was as good as I remembered it. I still have the manuals, and the original 5.25" disks. And thanks to the wonders of DOSBox, it is now running on my modern computer. In fact, I wrote this little article using it. And the truth is, it's not that bad. For all the years of "advancement", the truth is, if you just want to write a short paper on something, it still works really well. Maybe I'll actually continue to do some writing with it. And thanks to its "print to file" feature I'll be able to import the text into
whatever I want.

How about you? Do you have any old programs that still hold up many years later despite being "obsolete"?

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