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The History of Microsoft Word

written by: dean0088•edited by: Michele McDonough•updated: 9/3/2009

This article details the history of the popular word processor MS Word and its changing face through the last two decades. From humble beginnings to world domination - the history of MS Word is fascinating and interesting.

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    Humble Beginnings

    Microsoft Word 5.1a (color) Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing program on Earth and it is available on a number of different operating systems with the two most prominent being Macintosh and its native Windows. As I type this article, I’m using Word 2007, just like millions of other people around the world today. However, do we really know about the long and deep history of MS Word?

    It all started in 1983 when Microsoft, a small but growing computer company without a success to its name released a program called "Multi-Tool Word." This was a basic word processor in plain text that allowed the processing of basic text documents and for them to be saved, printed and edited in the future. While the program itself was nothing special, the fact that it formed a baseline for what would be in twenty years time is substantial.

    For the remainder of the decade, Microsoft made more profit from this one piece of software by recoding it several times so that it would work on different operating systems such as DOS and Macintosh. All of the work came to a head in 1987 when they released a version of Word (albeit basic) that would work across all platforms. This version was also the first version that incorporated rich text format (RTF) instead of just plain text. This allowed people to give their text more depth by altering fonts, boldness and other such characteristics.

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    Growing Pains

    Two short years later, Microsoft released Word for their own Windows operating system. In stores, it cost a total of $500.

    In the 1990s as computers became more powerful and widespread, one piece of software for all the different operating systems became unfeasible. Therefore, Microsoft began making different versions for the different operating systems. For example, there was Word 6.6 for Mac which was released in 1994. It wasn’t until Word 97 was released for PC that the Word we all know and love was born. Because there were so many PCs in the home, they made it more user-friendly and easier on the eye. The also introduced an animated assistant that would pop up and give the user help and advice at times when they were starting a new task.

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    Post Y2K and Present Day

    When the Y2K scare began to build and build, Microsoft stopped using two numbers to denote the year the software was released and began using four (i.e. Word 2000). This was to make it easier for the OS and programmers to access the version and so the computer wouldn’t confuse the dating of the product with 1900. It also epitomized how the tech world dealt with the Y2K panic – by simply not abbreviating dates anymore. The 2000 version also featured multiple items on the "clipboard" and a toned-down assistant (the assistant in ’97 annoyed people by popping up at uninvited times).

    In 2003, the Office brand (a popular software package from Microsoft) officially took over Word and renamed it MS Office Word. It was still available by itself but would carry the Office branding. Since then, only one subsequent version has been released – MS Office 2007. The main update on this release over the previous one, was the use of the xml technology evident in the file extension .docs.