25 years of Office roadkill

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25 years ago, Bill Gates announced that Microsoft would smash together its three application programs -- Word, Excel, and PowerPoint -- offering them in a cohesive bundle known as Microsoft Office for Windows. When Office 1.0 arrived in 1990, the apps had very little in common and worked together only under duress.

The second version of Office (enigmatically known as Microsoft Office 3.0, comprised of Word 2, Excel 4, PowerPoint 3, and Mail 3) started carving out a new software category, defining by example the term “office productivity.”

By hook, by crook, FUD, and ruthless pursuit of market share, Office turned into the aging juggernaut you see today. This is our tribute to the many competitors that have fallen prey to the productivity Goliath.

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Word processors: Early DOS word processors

Electric Pencil -- Born: 1976; died: ca 1983, cause of death: neglect EasyWriter -- Born on the Apple II: 1979; ported to DOS: 1981; died of bugs Volkswriter -- Born: 1982, in response to EasyWriter’s bugs; died: ca 1989 Here’s to all of the pioneering commercial word processors, including Homeword, PFS:Write, Bank Street Writer, XyWrite, DisplayWrite, PC-Write, many more. They all flourished then fizzled. All were crushed by the time Office hit the stands. Electric Pencil came first; its history as told in InfoWorld’s May 10, 1982 edition: “The original idea for the first word processor came eventually to Michael Shrayer … [who] had never worked in the computer field.” Shrayer grew bored keeping up with the word-processing Joneses, and Electric Pencil withered away.

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Word processors: WordStar

Born: 1979; not quite dead yet Of all the clobbered word processing programs from the DOS era, this one still has a measureable pulse. WordStar’s primary claim to fame: It gets out of the way. No fonts. Control keys move the cursor. Couldn’t spellcheck its way out of a paper bag. As for formatting? That’s something you hire somebody else to do, right? In 1984, MicroPro, the company that made WordStar, grossed $70 million, which made it arguably the largest software company in the world. By 1988, it was toast, but holdouts remain. George R.R. “What is dead may never die” Martin acknowledges that he uses WordStar 4.0. WordStar for Windows, a rewrite of the word processor known as Legacy, never got off the ground.

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Word processors: MultiMate

Born as WordMate: 1982; sold to Ashton-Tate: 1985; died when A-T was sold to Borland: 1991 Legend has it that the original MultiMate user manual was written by an old Wang pro, then programmers used the manual as the spec for WordMate. Connecticut Mutual Life Insurance, a big Wang shop, bought PCs to replace the Wangs and hired W.H. Jones and company to build the software to support the move. The original group of five programmers kept the rights to the software, formed their own company, and the rest was history. What, the keys on the IBM PC didn’t match those on the Wang? No problem. MultiMate shipped with stickers for the wayward keys, plus a big plastic template to tie it all together.

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Word processors: WordPerfect for Windows

Born: 1991; stable release 5.2: 1992; became WordPerfect Office Suite WordPerfect for Windows existed as a standalone product for a short time, ultimately becoming the backbone for various WordPerfect Suites (more later). InfoWorld’s inimitable Ed Foster presided over a lengthy discussion of WordPerfect’s demise in his December 28, 2007, article “How did WordPerfect go wrong?”: “WordPerfect was late with its first Windows version, and then the bundling of Word with Microsoft Office on many PCs resulted in WordPerfect's sale -- first to Novell, then Corel in 1996 -- aimed at producing a competitive office suite. While retaining popularity in some markets, particularly legal circles, WordPerfect now generally gets little attention as a Word competitor.”

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Word processors: Word for DOS and Mac

Born on Xenix: 1983; ported to DOS shortly thereafter, and Mac: 1985; last DOS version: 1993 Microsoft cannibalizes itself, too. Programmer’s programmer Charles Simonyi started building Multi-Tool Word for Xenix in 1981, bringing in Richard Brodie to work on the p-code compiler that became key to Microsoft’s development of applications for more than a decade. Microsoft distributed free copies of the renamed Microsoft Word in the November 1983 issue of PC World. You can download Word 5.5 for DOS, free. Remarkably, Word for DOS was designed to be used with a mouse. Word for Mac outsold Word for DOS between 1985 and 1989, when Word for Windows rolled over both.

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Spreadsheets: VisiCalc

Born on the Apple II: 1979; ported to DOS: 1981; died: 1983, eaten by 1-2-3 VisiCalc was long dead before Office was a gleam in Charles Simonyi’s eye, but many of the VisiCalc constructs lived on, both in Excel and in other products that fell to the Microsoft juggernaut. It’s hard to overstate how important VisiCalc was to the emergence of the computer industry. Dan Bricklin and Bob Frankston first released it on the Apple II back in 1979. Porting it to DOS was a mean feat, but VisiCalc for DOS shipped with the first IBM PCs in 1981. When Lotus 1-2-3 arrived in 1983, VisiCalc bit the dust. Lotus bought VisiCalc in 1985 and put the company out of its misery.

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Spreadsheets: Lotus 1-2-3

Born: 1983; bought by IBM: 1995; died: somewhere in between At one time the highest-flying application on personal computers, Lotus 1-2-3 failed to make a convincing transition to Windows. It continued to linger in various guises for many years. Tied to the IBM PC at the feet and ankles, 1-2-3 (1=calculations, 2=charts, 3=database, get it?) compatibility became the bellwether for PC clone manufacturers. It was that important. Lotus 1-2-3 was absorbed into the DOS-based Lotus Symphony (more about that product later), then moved to Windows in Lotus SmartSuite. The port to Windows in 1991 was a massive kludge, and 1-2-3 faded into oblivion. Excel beat it to a pulp.

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Spreadsheets: SuperCalc

Born on the Osborn I: 1981; ported to DOS: 1982; ported to Windows: 1984; died from neglect Adam Osborn had SuperCalc built to ship with the Osborn I “luggable” computer. Widely held to be faster, more precise, more feature-laden than VisiCalc, it never did supplant VisiCalc in the market. As Lotus 1-2-3 ran over VisiCalc in the DOS market, SuperCalc remained in second place. Other DOS spreadsheet wannabes (TWIN, VP-Planner, Javelin) never overtook SuperCalc. Computer Associates bought Sorcim, the SuperCalc company, in 1984 and promptly shipped CA-SuperCalc for Windows. The product, which introduced a version of pivot tables, fell far behind Excel. In the end, Computer Associates -- the second software company to exceed $1 billion in annual sales, after Microsoft -- let it fade away

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Spreadsheets: CalcStar

Born: 1981; faded with its companion product, WordStar, ca. 1988 While luminaries like George R.R. Martin keep WordStar alive (or at least mention the product every few years), I don’t know anybody who admits to using CalcStar. MicroPro bundled WordStar, CalcStar, the InfoStar report generator, and a glue program called Starburst to create what many consider to be the first Office-style productivity program suite long before the advent of Windows -- and long before anyone would dare call a hodgepodge of programs a “suite.” WordStar was once the epitome of word processing software. CalcStar was well regarded by some, but it never reached the level of popularity of 1-2-3.

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Spreadsheets: Microsoft Mutiplan

Microsoft Mutiplan -- born for CP/M: 1982; ported to DOS: 1983, Mac: 1985; died in a complex fratricide Originally code-named “EP” for “Electronic Paper,” Microsoft built Multiplan for CP/M (!) using p-code (see the Word for DOS slide) to compete with VisiCalc. As 1-2-3 rolled over VisiCalc in the DOS world, Microsoft kept plugging away at Multiplan for DOS. By 1986, MS had sold a million copies of Multiplan. Bill Gates said that MS made more money on Mac Multiplan than on any other platform. As Windows started unfolding, much thought was given to porting Multiplan over to Windows. For reasons that are still unclear, MS started all over with a new product, based on Multiplan, called Excel. Multiplan died from fratricide.

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Spreadsheets: Quattro

Born to Borland: 1988; run over by an Excel truck Quattro 1.0 was codenamed “Buddha” because it was expected to assume the “Lotus” position. Quattro, of course, is Italian for 4, as in 1-2-3 ... 4. Quattro started as a DOS program aimed directly at Lotus 1-2-3. Lotus sued Borland for copying its menu structure, claiming copyright. The case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which split in a 4-4 decision. That split let stand a lower court, which ruled in Borland’s favor. Quattro Pro -- still for DOS -- appeared in 1989, two years after Microsoft released its first version of Excel for Windows. The last DOS version shipped in 1995.

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Spreadsheets: Quattro Pro for Windows

Born to Borland: 1992; sold to Novell: 1994; sold to Corel: 1996; lives on in Corel WordPerfect Office With the Excel juggernaut rapidly rolling over Lotus 1-2-3, Quattro Pro, and even Multiplan, Borland knew it had a problem: DOS spreadsheets were rapidly being overshadowed by their Windows kin. Quattro Pro was rewritten from scratch for Windows. Borland developed its own C++ compiler at the same time it built Quattro Pro for Windows. The two advanced -- and crashed -- hand-in-hand. QPW sold reasonably well when the price dropped to $49. Novell bought both WordPerfect and Quattro Pro in 1994, hoping to meld the two and take on Microsoft Office. Corel bought them from Novell in 1996. Dreams die hard.

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Presentations: Harvard Graphics

Born for DOS: 1986; ported to Windows: 1991; run over by PowerPoint In the days of DOS, you just couldn’t beat Harvard Graphics. You could take data from Lotus 1-2-3 or Lotus Symphony, mix it with text, and come up with a vector-based presentation that looked great on a printer and only slightly weird on a screen. The company claims it was “the first presentation graphics program to include text, graphs, and charts.” Like many DOS stalwarts, Harvard Graphics jumped to Windows too late, after PowerPoint -- and especially Office -- had already staked out the turf. In 2001, Serif acquired distribution rights to Harvard Graphics, and it faded away.

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Presentations: Full Impact

Born for the Mac: 1988; euthanized when Borland bought Ashton-Tate: 1991 It’s hard to define “presentation” programs, but Full Impact arguably fills the bill. At least, it was marketed as a presentation program, something of a precursor to PowerPoint. Ashton-Tate, which grew to fame and fortune on the back of PC-based dBase, paid for Full Impact’s development in exchange for marketing rights. A-T used Full Impact, a word processor known as FullWrite Professional, and dBase Mac to get a toehold in the Mac market. Excel for Mac stomped on its toe. A-T sold out to Borland in 1991, and Borland immediately pulled the plug on Full Impact in favor of its own Quattro Pro.

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Integrated suites: Context MBA

Born on the Apple III: 1981; ported to DOS: 1982; crawled to its demise by 1985 Widely regarded as the “first integrated package,” Context MBA had modules that covered word processing, spreadsheet, charting, database, and communications. Given the Apple III’s sales record, it’s a wonder the company didn’t go under immediately, but the port to DOS (and the $695 price tag) kept Context afloat. The Achilles’ heel? Speed. While Context MBA sported all sorts of neat features, spreadsheet re-calcs measured in minutes didn’t help. It could take longer to scroll to the bottom of a report than it would take to re-type it. Blame UCSD Pascal, and Lotus 1-2-3/SuperCalc/VisiCalc, all of which succumbed to Office.

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Integrated suites: Ashton-Tate Framework

Born: 1984; sold to Borland: 1991; sold to Selections & Functions: 1994; still alive and FRED kicking Although Context MBA may have been first -- depending on how you, uh, frame such things -- Framework was among the first, and by many accounts the best integrated DOS suite. It was a windowed, DOS-only, combination of a word processor, spreadsheet, database, graphics, and outlining program. By choosing from the “Apps” menu at the top (first use of the term “apps”?), one could switch among the programs. On a DOS screen. FRED, a high-level programming language, came baked in. Borland nearly let it die, but Selections & Functions bought it, ported it to Windows, and continues to nurture it.

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Integrated suites: Lotus Symphony for DOS

Born: 1984; cloned to the Mac as Lotus Jazz: 1985; died: ca 1992 What do you do if you have a wildly popular DOS spreadsheet, but you want to create an integrated package? Why, you just strap on a word processor, and there ya go. Lotus Symphony (not to be confused with IBM Lotus Symphony -- described later -- an entirely different suite) ran in memory. All of it. Symphony included a word processor, charting program, and database program, and it stored the data for all of the programs in spreadsheet cells. Pressing Alt+F10 let you switch among the different programs’ views of the same data. By the time IBM bought Lotus in 1995, Symphony’s fat lady had already sung. And keeled over.

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Integrated suites: Lotus SmartSuite/IBM Lotus SmartSuite

Integrated suites: Lotus SmartSuite/IBM Lotus SmartSuite Born 1994; last release: 2002; support ends September 2014 Microsoft shipped Office 1.0 in late 1990, and finally hit a stable version, 3.0, in 1992. In the intervening two years, all of the major software companies watched, and many of them decided to take on Microsoft. Enter Lotus. Armed with Lotus 1-2-3, it bought up the other pieces: Freelance Graphics in 1986; Ami Pro in 1990; Threadz -- which became Lotus Organizer -- in 1992; relational database Approach in 1994. Lotus SmartSuite 2.1 (the first version) included Lotus 1-2-3 Version 4, Ami Pro 3, Freelance Graphics 2, Approach 2, and Organizer 1.1. In the early years, Lotus SmartSuite ran neck-and-neck with Borland Office (next slide), and behind Office in many ways.

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Integrated suites: Borland Office for Windows

Co-joined with WordPerfect Corp: 1993; sold to Novell: 1994; morphed into Corel WordPerfect Office Suite (see next slide) In early 1993, Borland’s Philippe Kahn -- who had a spreadsheet and database to sell -- and WordPerfect’s Alan Ashton announced the companies would work together to build a great Windows suite. By all accounts, the apps didn’t hang together, they hung separately. Borland Office for Windows never escaped the pasted-together image. In 1994, Windows users could buy a “suite” consisting of WordPerfect 5.2, Quattro Pro 1.0, and Paradox 1.0 for Windows, for $595. Lotus SmartSuite cost $795. Office 4.3 ran $899. In spite of the significant price difference, Office outsold the others by a factor of three or more.

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Integrated suites: Novell PerfectOffice

Born, er, bought: 1994; sold to Corel: 1996; litigated: 1995-2014 To make several intertwined stories short, Borland Office for Windows 2.0 was reported as sold to WordPerfect in 1994, while in fact Novell bought WordPerfect in June 1994 and, in a separate transaction in October 1994, bought Quattro Pro and the right to sell up to a million copies of Paradox from Borland. Whatever the lineage, Novell PerfectOffice (WordPerfect, Quattro Pro, Presentations, Envoy, Groupwise, Infocentral) hit the market with a thud. Novell became embroiled in a nasty antitrust suit against Microsoft, hotly debated to this day, which Microsoft won. Novell sold PerfectOffice to Corel in 1996, but the final appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court was turned down just last month.

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Integrated suites: Corel WordPerfect Office Suite

Bought from Novell: 1996; currently available No discussion of the evolution of WordPerfect would be complete without an update. While Office certainly put a dent in WordPerfect’s sales, Corel has done a very credible job of keeping the product alive and up to date. It’s a success story. Not roadkill. Not at all. WordPerfect Office X7 -- including Version 17 of the venerable word processor -- appeared just last month. With Quattro Pro, Presentations (with Flash), the WordPerfect Lightning digital notebook, PDF compatibility, WinZip, and remote desktop software for the iPad, it’s still a contenduh.

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Integrated suites: IBM Lotus Symphony

Born: 2007, given away: 2012 Although the name “IBM Lotus Symphony” looks a lot like the name of the DOS suite “Lotus Symphony,” in fact the two have absolutely nothing in common. Nor is it related to Lotus SmartSuite. (Both are discussed in earlier slides.) When IBM bought Lotus in 1995, it bought the rights to the Lotus names. Reuse, repurpose, recycle. The IBM Lotus Symphony products -- imaginatively entitled Documents, Presentations, and Spreadsheets -- never went anywhere, victims of the Office onslaught. IBM apparently brought the products to market when IBM Lotus SmartSuite hit the skids. IBM has donated the source code to the Apache Software Foundation, turning over development to Apache OpenOffice.

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Integrated suites: Corel Home Office

Born: 2009; last rites currently being administered You have to wonder why Corel -- which has a perfectly usable WordPerfect Office Suite -- would dabble in yet another suite that has “fail” written all over it. As best I can tell, Corel negotiated with Ability Software International (based in Horley, U.K.) to private-label a version of its Ability Office suite. It’s a modest company with modest goals: To make an inexpensive Microsoft Office-compatible word processor, spreadsheet, presentation program, and a database. Unfortunately, the renamed Corel Write, Corel Calculate, and Corel Show can handle simple Office documents but fall to pieces on anything complex. Corel Home Office: bug. Microsoft Office: windscreen.

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Integrated suites: Microsoft Works

Born for DOS: 1987; dumped in favour of Office Starter Edition: 2009 Few lament the passing of Microsoft Works, but in its day, it served an important purpose: To convince Microsoft customers that they should spend real money for the real Office. In my experience, not many people took the bait. Works went through a zillion versions (we’re talking Microsoft here). The final version, 9.0, included Word 2003 (yes, the full version of Word 2003), a spreadsheet program that created files legible to Excel (earlier versions of Works didn’t make Excel-friendly files), and a flat-file database program that produced files Office wouldn’t even try to open. We’ll miss you, Works. Not.

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Microsoft Office pushed, nudged, winked, cheated and bludgeoned its way to the top

Some of the programs that fell in its wake didn’t deserve to die. Others simply succumbed to a better way of working. Even the old-timers -- the Electric Pencils and VisiCalcs -- held on for many years past their prime, only to be swept away as Windows and Office cleared out the clutter. George R.R. Martin notwithstanding, Office has raised the bar. Now we’re in uncharted territory. Office has credible competitors on all sides, on all platforms, and all of them are out to snag some of Clippy’s billions. Could happen. Did we miss your favorite trainwreck? More Office-fried crispy critters? Tell us in the comments.

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