Word turns 40: From 'new kid on the block' to 'I can't believe it's not bloatware'

In 1983, David Copperfield vanished the Statue of Liberty and Word for DOS turned up

Microsoft's Word is 40 years old today. Celebrations aside, it's worth pointing out the productivity juggernaut of 2023 was not always the bloated behemoth that is found on so many workstations.

The very first version of Word – or Multi-Tool Word as it was initially known – came out on October 25, 1983 for Xenix and MS-DOS. It featured 16-bit graphics and text mode support, as well as support for that newfangled clicky thing, the mouse.

Coded by a team that included such luminaries-to-be as Charles Simonyi – who had previously worked at Xerox PARC and would later go on to success in Microsoft's application division – it is fair to say that Word was not quite an overnight success.

It faced stiff competition from incumbents, such as WordStar, which, at the time of Word's release, accounted for nearly a quarter of the word processor market. WordPerfect also presented a threat, having debuted on DOS the previous year.

The first version of Word was not exactly a WYSIWYG application, but Microsoft soldiered on and added features incrementally over the years until the final iteration – Word 6.0 for DOS in 1993. By then, there was a new Word in town that would lay waste to all before it – Word for Windows.

Word for Windows would go from obscurity to accounting for 90 percent of the word processor market by revenue in under 10 years.

The first Windows version of Word appeared in 1989, but it took the release of Windows 3.0 in 1990 to give the software the enormous commercial success with which it is associated today. Word for Windows 2.0 emerged in 1991 and was, to the mind of this writer, peak Word for Windows before the bloat began to set in with Word 6.0 for Windows, and the kilos piled on.

The current edition is dubbed Word for Office 365, and we have no doubt that Microsoft's brightest minds are currently focused on how to shoehorn the letters "AI" in there.

However, back in 1983, Word was just one option in a word processor market dominated by the competition. Just as Word once challenged the dominance of its rivals, it has seen its market share eroded in recent years by competitors like Google Docs.

The source code for Word 1.1a, first released in 1984, can be found at the Computer History Museum.

The ZIP file comes in at just under seven megabytes. Imagine that. ®

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