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Salad Days

Barnaby quit in the summer of just after working on an important sister program of WordStar, MailMerge, which helps businesses personalize letters with names plugged in from mail lists.

Introduction

Rubinstein was telling the truth as he knew it. Barnaby, indeed, had largely forgotten about computers. He had lost excess weight; he had traveled; he had stopped smoking and shaved off his beard. In superficial ways he seemed a different man from the writer of WordStar.

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And yet Barnaby had left software before and returned; and in late , unknown to Rubinstein apparently, he had again. He could no longer flee computerdom so easily. A barrier had tumbled, the one between his work and the rest of the world. But now Barnaby was hearing a woman—formerly perplexed—say that WordStar was the rage at the stores where she was shopping for her new business computer. Another science-fiction leader, I discovered, also was hoping to catch up with —Seymour Rubinstein.

He was like a canny Hollywood scriptwriter. Barnaby was somewhat vague about his software plans, in part because he really did not know what he would create in the end, but perhaps 56 also because he did not want to alert the competition. He would not, in early , say he was working on a new word processor, only that he was at the keyboard of his new IBM.

It ran WordStar. Barnaby offered his opinion of the WordStar version he had bought at ComputerLand—competent but unimaginative. Well, how could he outdo his WordStar? Smart computers and dumb humans could coexist more gracefully. And I look at my habits, and I do use a lot of them. But most of them I could replace with the same number of keystrokes or only one more keystroke using a combination of other commands. Back at MicroPro, Rubinstein, by early , had fallen behind some previous goals of his own. Fewer than people worked for the company, or less than half the peak number, and the company had saddled itself earlier with hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in office leases it no longer needed.

They pay very well, and their salesmen were getting incredible commissions. I know one guy—his first month in sales he took home five grand in commissions. Another pioneer in micro software, Lifeboat Associates, a distributor, also found itself overexpanded and laid off employees. And yet it was the one receiving angry phone calls from frustrated customers. It was, in a sense, a victim of its own reputation for quality. I disagreed somewhat. MicroPro had succeeded largely because Rubinstein had aggressively sold himself and his programs. And yet it was also true no other MicroPro product had commanded as much attention as WordStar, the first big one.

Nothing had appeared that was both as good as WordStar and marketed as successfully. We were talking now in summer Barnaby had removed himself from the payroll of Chang Laboratories, and I suspected it might be because he worried about living up to his first success. I suggested that he and Rubinstein might both benefit by working together again as a team.

Not long afterward I was talking to Seymour Rubinstein. During our conversation I expressed my astonishment over a newspaper article; supposedly, a programmer—unnamed—had dreamed up WordStar in a week or so during vacation. And I still wonder about the chances of you two coming together again. You can put in there a blurb that as of this writing Barnaby came back for a test run to see whether he could get involved again.

Will he be working on WordStar? Like a movie man, he excitedly described his coming attraction. Barnaby stayed some months with MicroPro. In fact, he had helped fit WordStar into the little memory of the Epson lap-sized portable marketed that year. A micro magazine, meanwhile, came out with a report that a version of WordStar for big machines, Version 4.

In October , however, I was still waiting. MicroPro suffered in other ways. NewWord even offered twists of its own. You could tell it to go to a certain page number, for instance, without having to specify a word on the page you were looking for. Glen Haney, the 60 president of MicroPro, told me that most copies of WordStar in use are bootlegged ones. It takes all of two or three minutes—maybe less—to copy a disk worth hundreds or even thousands of dollars.


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Yes, anti-bootlegging gimmicks exist. Computer users want to befriend others with similar machines so they can draw on them for technical hints or back up equipment. And what better way to cement a new friendship than at a copying session where the users swap programs? Many software companies overprice their wares.


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They themselves rip off people—their more imaginative rivals. No criticism of NewWord here. It is much cheaper than the original WordStar and offers some improvements. Machines in that vein were still good for word processing, and critics claimed that MicroPro had kissed off the 8-bit market. MicroPro replied that it had wanted to take full advantage of the hard disks and other capabilities that were showing up in powerful new computers such as the IBM AT.

Company officials, including president H. Like many talented people, especially writers, he was the very antithesis of a team man. There was a difference between being one of forty programmers and rrr ing away in front of the keyboard at midnight while the head of the company watched. No matter how many creativity experts MicroPro brought in—and the company in fact had experimented with one—you could no more replicate a Rob Barnaby than you could a Welles or Mankiewicz.

It was entirely inevitable that the MicroPro officials at the Twin Bridges Marriott felt compelled to 62 say that was beyond one or two genius programmers. WordStar indeed had some merits. Still, it was far from the earthshaker that the original WordStar had been. Barnaby and Rubinstein had so brilliantly conceived their program that it could hold back the competition for years and years.

Well into the presentation at the motel, the room darkened. It was movie time. MicroPro officials trotted out advertisements that would appear in the Wall Street Journal , Fortune , Time , and other major publications. The company was as proud of the ads as of WordStar It was a combination sales talk and seminar.

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Similar dog-and-pony shows would take place in cities across the country and overseas. It was a crucial time. Even though plain old WordStar lacks windows, you might be able to upgrade your software to include them.