Word processor

A word processor is computer software used to compose, format, edit and print documents. Word processing is one of the earliest applications for office productivity and the personal computer. Although early word processors used tag-based markup for document formatting, most modern word processors take advantage of a graphical user interface to provide WYSIWYG editing, possibly as a front-end to a tag-based system. However for specialised text processing applications systems like TeX and derivatives are used.

The 'word processing' typically refers to text manipulation functions such as automatic generation of

  • batch mailing using a form letter template and an address database (aka mail merging),
  • index of keywords and their page numbers,
  • table of contents with section titles and their page numbers,
  • table of figures with caption titles and their page numbers,
  • 'see also' cross referencing with page numbers.
Page number and footnote information is extremely hard to maintain without a word processor because addition or deleting of text can affect pagination i.e. page numbers can change in each edition. Other word processing functions include spelling and grammar checking.

Word processors can be distinguished from several other, related forms of software:

Text editor programs were the precursors of word processors. While offering facilities for composing and editing text, they do not offer direct support for document formatting, but batch document processing systems such as LaTeX and programs that implement the paged-media extensions to HTML and CSS fill this gap. Text editors are now used mainly by programmers and web site designers for creating and modifying computer programs, and by computer system administrators for creating and editing configuration files.

Desktop publishing programs, meanwhile, were specifically designed to allow elaborate layout for publication, but offer only limited support for editing. Typically, desktop publishing programs allow users to import text that they have written using a text editor or word processor.

The word processor has become a central component of the office applications suite and is increasingly only available in this form, rather than as a standalone program.

Table of contents
1 Origin of word processing
2 Word processing programs
3 See also

Origin of word processing

The term word processing was devised by IBM in the 1960s, and originally encompassed all business equipment—including manually operated typewriters—that was concerned with the handling of text, as opposed to data. Electromechanical paper-tape-based equipment such as the Friden Flexowriter had long been available; the Flexowriter allowed for operations such as repetitive typing of form letters (with a pause for the operator to manually type in the variable information). In the sixties it began to be feasible to apply the technology developed for electronic computers to office automation tasks. IBM's Mag-Card Selectric was an early device of this kind. It allowed editing, simple revision, and repetitive typing, with a one-line display for editing single lines.

In the early 1970s Lexitron and Vydec introduced pioneering word-processing systems with CRT screen editing, but the real breakthrough occurred in 1976 with the introduction of a CRT-based system by Wang Laboratories. This was a true office machine, affordable by organizations such as medium-sized law firms. It was easily learned and operated by secretarial staff.

The Wang word processor displayed text two-dimensionally on a CRT screen, and incorporated virtually every fundamental characteristic of word processors as we know them today. The phrase "word processor" rapidly came to refer to CRT-based machines similar to Wang's. Numerous machines of this kind emerged, typically marketed by traditional office equipment companies such as IBM, Lanier, CPT, and NBI. These all, of course, were specialized, dedicated, proprietary systems. Cheap general-purpose computers were still the domain of hobbyists.

With the rise of personal computers, software-based word processors running on general-purpose commodity hardware gradually displaced dedicated word processors, and the term came to refer to software rather than hardware. Early word-processing software was ludicrously clumsy in comparison to dedicated word processors; for example, it required users to memorize semi-mnemonic key combinations rather than pressing keys labelled "copy" or "bold." The cost differences were compelling, however, and personal computers and word processing software soon became serious competition for the dedicated machines.

The late 1980s, saw the advent of laser printers, graphic user interfaces (pioneered by the Xerox Alto and Gypsy word processor), and a "typographic" approach to word processing (WYSIWYG displays with multiple fonts). These were popularized by Microsoft Word on the IBM PC in 1983, and MacWrite on the Apple Macintosh in 1984; these were probably the first true WYSIWYG word processors to become known to a large group of users. Dedicated word processors became museum pieces.

Word processing programs

Programs still available and in use

Historically important programs

See also

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