#9 WordPerfect 5.1

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.

wordperfect 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.


8 responses to “#9 WordPerfect 5.1

  1. I even wrote a song about it:

    Show Me The Codes
    (sung to the tune of “Send in the Clowns”)
    by David Leffler
    (with apologies to Stephen Sondheim)

    Isn’t it strange, I can’t reveal
    Coding in documents, what is the deal?
    Show me the codes!

    Isn’t it odd, I don’t approve
    No longer “Perfect”, just “Word” – and I can’t move.
    Oh where are the codes – show me the codes!

    Just when I stopped questioning which
    Finally finding the one that I wanted – was ditched
    Upgrading my version again with my usual flair
    Sure of my macros – no software was there

    Don’t you love a farce; my fault I fear
    I thought that everyone wanted what I wanted – sorry my dear
    Oh where are the codes – show me the codes
    I sure need a beer!

    Isn’t it rich, isn’t it queer
    Losing my word “app” this late in my career
    Oh where are the codes – show me the codes
    Unseen is unclear!

  2. Ok, I’m one of those who will admit WP 5.1 was a gift when it came out. I was so into it that I actually went out and learned the macro language and automated our entire practice that way back in 93′. I’m still a devout WP uses, alas at a much later version, but reallllly miss the old 5.1. It was awesome.

  3. Our office started with Word Perfect, and I admit I am a 5.1 fan. Like Mina, I learned the macro language and built a lot of forms. Then we joined the MicroSoft Office Suite users. Fortunately, our company has a large IT department.

  4. I, too, was a Wp5.1 lover and macro devotee. A few Oklahoma lawyers put on seminars at Family Law Sections about using the program and how to automate all sorts of things either through merge or macro features.

    After begrudgingly migrating to a Windows version (6.0, I think), I put macros down, not wanting to reinvest the countless hours needed to learn the “new” macro language … but, eventually, I picked it up once again and I can easily say that the macro language that matured with Wp6.1 and as it was tweaked through Wp8 (it is essentially unchanged after WordPerfect 8) is vastly superior to Wp5.1 for DOS, as much as I liked it.

    And, some of us do still share with the WordPerfect community. My main contribution in that regard is a macros manual which I wrote and which is freely available on-line or for download called, “A Common Person’s Macro Manual.” It can be opened or downloaded here – see a link at the top of the following page: http://www.dougloudenback.com/wp.htm

    I still refuse to purchase a copy of MS Word and I’m sure, at age 65, that I never will.

  5. Wordperfectvery much lives on. I’ve been to several offices where I see mutliple PC’s at an attorney’s desk, with one PC running an older OS and WP. The bluescreen, with the horizontal split at the bottom is always a giveaway.

    Users really had to learn to draft documents at a much different level back then. Almost like the days before WYSIWYG html editors.

  6. I have kept WP 5.1 loaded on every primary laptop I’ve ever had – it works remarkably well and is supported by a number of folks who create patches for running it under XP and MOPH (a/k/a/ Vista). Take a look at “WordPerfect for DOS Updated” for all this kind of info: http://www.columbia.edu/~em36/wpdos/. In a new “less is more” world, the smartest thing Corel could do would be to make a PR splash and release WP 5.1 code into the public domain and then include links for cheap WP Office X4 upgrades.

  7. Pingback: Setting up my secretary | Bill Chance

  8. I loved WP 5.1 and kept running it until I left private practice and went to an organization where I was informed that Word was the standard. The standard for what? WP allowed cleanly formatted documents [from which you could strip away excess and errant codes], beautifully precise macros and was a pleasure to use. Yes it was pre GUI, but Word gives us bloated documents, lousy macros abilities, and formatting nightmares that don’t improve with new versions of the program. I’ve been using Word for 12 years now at work and I still hate it. I’ve still got those WP disks and took the precaution of burning them on CD. Maybe I’ll reinstall it……….

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