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The First “Word Processor”

March 11, 2013

Here’s an article about the first novel written on a Word Processor. It’s a bit of a dry read, so here’s the coolest parts:

  • “The machine was IBM’s MTST (Magnetic Tape Selectric Typewriter), sold in the European market as the MT72”
  • The author, Len Deighton, leased instead of buying, because he realized the machine would be obsolete before he paid it off. The machine cost $10,000 in 1968.
  • The MTST was 200 pounds and had to be lifted into Deighton’s apartment through a window by a crane.
  • His personal assistant seems to be the one who actually knew how to use it
  • It was basically an electric typewriter and a computer. You’d type on the typewriter, onto paper, and then the letter would get stored in the computer on magnetic tape. Deighton opted for two magnetic tape drives that could hold two different versions of the book at once.
  • You could “print” with a button, that would then print back out to the typewriter.
  • You could pause the printing to add more text or move to a new page, or hyphenate a word, or for any reason. (Why you wouldn’t make the change in the computer… I’m guessing it was more trouble than it was worth…?)
  • Printing was 150 wpm.
  • The term “word processor” was devised to make people feel like they were buying something worth the expense. And not just a fancy typewriter.
  • “Mortally afraid of losing text to power outages, Deighton had one of the first uninterrupted power supplies custom-made for the Olivetti word processor he moved on to next.” One imagines that’s because of a problem he had with the first one…?
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