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What we think of as a word processor today is a computer software program designed for the composition, editing, formatting, and printing of a textual document.

Actually, word processors precede computers. There have been three types of word processors: mechanical, electronic, and software.

Although there is no trace of machine existing, perhaps the first record of a word processor we have was patented in 1714. Henry Mill, an Englishman, patented a machine that he described as being capable of writing so clearly that you could not distinguish it from a printing press.

More than a century later, William Austin Burt patented the Typographer, which had a lever allowing the selection of a character to be printed, which was then pressed against the paper. A handle on the side was used to jump between lines, allowing up to fifteen lines per page. Although the original machine was destroyed, the inventor build a replica that is in the Smithsonian.

Of course, these were more in the form of early typewriters than today's definition of a word processor.

In the early 1930s, machines that came closer to meeting the definition of a word processor were invented. They allowed a primitive erasure and replacement of characters using a tape that essentially covered the character to be replaced. We would define these machines as typewriters too, but they did meet the criteria to be defined as word processors.

The invention of the Selectric typewriter by IBM in the early 1960s introduced an element, often referred to as a typeball, that rotated and pivoted to the correct position before striking, and which could be changed to bring different fonts into the same document.

The first devices to be marketed as word processors were standalone office machines that combined the keyboard and printing functions of an electric typewriter with a recording unit and a dedicated computer processor for the editing of text. The first of these was an advanced version of the IBM Selectric, but others soon came on the market in the early 1960s. Some would allow only a few lines of data to be saved at a time, which was sufficient to correct typos or other errors if they were caught early enough. Others allowed for the saving of entire documents on memory cards or disks.

The widespread use of personal computers replaced these electronic typewriters for most uses, but they are still manufactured and a wide selection can still be purchased online. Some people prefer typewriters to computers, and computerized typewriters might be seen as the ideal instrument for those who want to write without distraction.

For that matter, manual typewriters are still produced and available.

Since this is a software category, the focus of this guide is on software-based word processors, which were among the first applications bundled with home computers.

Just before the arrival of the mass PC market, IBM developed the floppy disk, and one of the first applications to make use of them was Vydec, in 1973, whose Vydec Word Processing System saved data to floppies. As the machines sold for $12,000, it didn't become a household name.

Perhaps the first word processing software program to become popular among computer users was WordStar, available first for the CP/M, then DOS, then Windows. By the mid-1980s, it was supplanted by WordPerfect, which was itself beat out by Microsoft Word in the 1990s, largely due to the overwhelming popularity of the Windows operating system and the fact that Word was bundled with Windows installations. Today, there are probably hundreds of word processing systems on the market, perhaps more.

Word processors are used to create several types of files, including text, rich text, HTML, Word files, and several others. A word processor differs from a text editor in that the latter only allows editing and creating plain text documents, although there are hybrids that might not be so easy to classify.

Common features in most word processors include text formatting, indentation, lists, tables, copying, cutting and pasting, spelling and grammar checks, autocorrect, word wrapping, layout adjustments, headers and footers, as well as text search and replace functions, macros, and the ability to import data from other sources, to merge data from other documents and files, and to use multiple windows. Dictionary and thesaurus data are often included, as well.

The primary purpose of this guide is to list standalone word processing programs, but those that are commonly part of an office suite may be appropriate here if it is also available as a standalone word processing program.

 

 

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