A couple of decades ago the Law Practice Management Section of the American Bar Association had computer user group meetings as part of its quarterly meetings. Most of those user groups had about three to seven members show up, but one group consistently had thirty or more members. That group was for users of WordPerfect, the then favorite word processing program of most lawyers who used computers in those days.
The all-time favorite version of WordPerfect was probably version 5.1, which was released in 1989. That is the version that most old users most reminisce about. Two reasons for its popularity were that it had reveal codes and that it had a very robust macro language.
People made macros for everything: from rapid entry of words and boilerplate language, to automatic formatting, to help printing labels and envelopes. One attorney in San Francisco developed a macro for making pleading paper, and gave that macro away for free to anyone wanting it. He did that because the WordPerfect community shared with each other.
That was back in the days of the late 1980s and early 1990s, when most computer users didn’t have graphical user interfaces (or GUI) on their machines. Instead, they had operating systems that were character based. Apple had released the Mac in 1984, but few lawyers had Macs back then. Most lawyers used MS DOS, and WordPerfect ran on MS DOS.
Then something changed. Microsoft released a version of Windows that didn’t work so well, followed by a version that worked a tad better. They also released a Windows-based version of Microsoft Word, and the market share of Microsoft Word skyrocketed.
What happened next is a point of controversy. According to some WordPerfect fans, the Dark Side of the Force, i.e., Microsoft used unfair marketing tactics to rob WordPerfect of market share. According to others, WordPerfect floundered because of poor business practices, like being too slow to adapt its software to run on Windows and selling software that had stability problems. Whatever happened, Microsoft got bigger and bigger, and WordPerfect had a series of reversals and changes in ownership.
Now Microsoft Word is the industry standard, and WordPerfect is an also-ran. A large segment WordPerfect users still claim WordPerfect is still best, but there is little hope that it will regain the glories of its past.
There is a lingering nostalgia about the good old days of WordPerfect 5.1, sort of like some remember the automobile of their youth, even though it might not have had air conditioning, or cruise control, or GPS. They sound like King Arthur in the musical Camelot, except instead of thinking of kingdoms past, they say “Don’t let it be forgot, that once there was a spot, for one brief shining moment, that was known as Word Perfect 5.1”
Ernest Schaal is a retired patent lawyer, living in Gifu, Japan.