OK, here’s a question for you – what was 60cm x 60 cm x 60cm, sat underneath your desk, had two 30cm slots and a loud, humming fan?
I’m sure there’s a joke in there somewhere, but believe it, or not, it was a word processing unit for one of the original dedicated word processors. All it did was word process, nothing else. None of your fancy PC stuff (that was yet to come). To work this beast, you had to turn it on, insert your 30cm floppy (and I mean these really were floppy – thin plastic covered film) disk and boot it up from that!! This took several minutes, whilst you sat fascinated by dancing green characters moving rhythmically across your bulky CRT screen (this was obviously a device to keep you occupied and not dwelling on just how much time all this was taking). The reward for your patient rumination was being presented with a simple black screen on which you could perform very basic word processing, by way of bashing away on your metal keyboard.
If you desired to print out your efforts, this was facilitated by way of a platen roller printer, which was as big as your base unit and which lived in a special cabinet, which helped to keep away the dust and mostly provided sound proofing, for this was a noisy animal. The platen roller had to be regularly removed and treated to a cleaning with platen roller cleaner (which if inhaled would send you high a kite!) to keep the print outs clear. If you wanted to use a different font, then you had to manhandle part of the print head to insert a different daisy wheel, from its special protective case.
Yes, welcome to ye old techie kit – aka word processing in 1985. Although it sounds antiquated now, it was the very cutting edge of technology in those days – after all, it was a major step forward from the dreaded type writer, with correction fluid and carbon copies (but that’s another story!)
Shortly afterwards, word processing moved onto PCs and a package called WordPerfect proved popular. This offered far more functions than the dedicated WP. The concept was brilliantly simple – every function was assigned a function key on the PC keyboard. Each function key performed 4 possible functions – it depended on whether you used the function key on its own, or in conjunction with the alt, control or shift key – this might all sound rather complicated – but there was no need to remember which did what, as you were provided with a little colour coded template that went over the function keys to tell you which to press for your desired operation.
In case you were wondering, the mouse was yet to be born, so the keyboard was where all the action was. I remember being told that WordPerfect would soon be superseded by Word and laughingly disbelieving! (little did I know right!!)
Along came Windows and the Office Suite, which were developed and grown and the rest I’m sure you’ll know.
The various word processing, spreadsheet, presentation etc packages have morphed into apps and are incredibly sophisticated and user friendly compared to those early offerings – you can whip up a document or spreadsheet in mere moments and change the colours, layout, fonts, etc at a mere click or two of a mouse. We all take it so much for granted (much like turning on that light switch at home!) and never think about all the development over the years and how things have changed and updated to get us to where we are today.
For example, just click on a button and your text is centred. When I was taught how to type, I was taught how to centre text by finding the middle of the page, and then backspacing one space for every two characters of my text line and voila the text was centred! No need for all that nowadays – although the typing layout knowhow that was once the hard-earned qualification of the secretary / PA / typist has largely fallen by the wayside, being replaced instead by intimate knowledge of the favoured software. Personally, I welcome the new tech. as it has made life so much less burdensome (and less stressful) for the administrator (even if it has done us out of a job to an extent!)
So next time you’re effortlessly tweaking your multipage report layout, spare a thought for those earlier days and be thankful for there’s now an app for that!