Saving a loved one from a document disaster

The Words are Perfect, the keyboard action less so


On Call Welcome to the weekend, wherein you will doubtless be called upon by friends and family to demonstrate your IT prowess when you'd far rather be sipping on a beverage in a hammock.

But if you thought turning up the volume on Skype notifications for gran was a pain, spare a thought for those on the other end of the phone in decades past, when DOS was king and remote access seemed impossibly exotic. Welcome to On Call.

Our story today comes from a reader Regomised as "Dan" and concerns a user in distress over a disappearing document.

And this was no ordinary user. This was Dan's partner, Regomised as "Ashley", to whom he'd loaned a PC (a rare commodity when our story is set) running MS-DOS and WordPerfect. This was the era before the dominance of Microsoft Windows, when the screens of day were imbued with the soothing blue hue of WordPerfect (rather than the dreaded Blue of the Screen of Death that was just around the corner.)

WordPerfect was a relatively new innovation back then. The first iteration for the IBM PC had arrived in 1982 and 1989's WordPerfect 5.1 pretty much dominated the marketplace before its crown was snatched by Microsoft Word (and the Office application suite.)

Still, in its day WordPerfect (with all its many and varied printer drivers) was an excellent tool for churning out documents, even on relatively low-powered kit.

And so it was that Ashley was using Dan's PC to tap out a final paper for a final course at university (this hack had to use WordStar on some distinctly elderly amber-screened kit in the lab, and so is instantly made envious.)

Dan was at work when the inevitable happened.

Ashley called him "completely freaking out" that a document had "disappeared," Dan explained. "With no remote control in those days," he added, "I feared I would be rushing home from work to resolve this."

He asked his partner what was on the screen.

Nothing. The screen was completely blank.

Ashley confirmed the power lights were on. The monitor was definitely on. Brightness was turned on. The hardware seemed to be operating. Perhaps a loose video cable?

All was good to go. Dan pondered his next move (one that did not involve a hurried exit from the office and an awkward conversation with the boss. And then he remembered something about WordPerfect. It always showed the document position and page number in the bottom right of the screen.

Carefully, he asked: "Are you sure there's nothing in the bottom right corner of the screen?"

There was a pause. "Yes! It says page 153"

Then: "No – 154..."

Then: "No – 155..."

Following by an exasperated: "What's going on?"

Dan thought quickly and, with enviable patience, asked if perhaps there was something resting on the keyboard?

Of course there was. The corner of a reference book was resting on the Enter key "and had filled the document with hundreds of empty pages."

Dan suggested perhaps moving the book elsewhere and, after dispensing some encouragement around the use of the backspace key, listened as Ashley counted backwards from 155 as the extra pages were deleted.

Crisis averted and paper handed in on time.

Do you remember those fun times talking users through problems while guessing what exactly was on the screen? Or hauling a family member out of a silly situation of their own making? Tell us about your moment on the telephone with an email to On Call. ®

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