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I (Sometimes) Miss WordPerfect for DOS

In college, I wrote software documentation for mainframe users, which meant I had the opportunity to use text editors and word processors on a variety of computer platforms. I composed documentation on everything from glorified typewriters (DEC VT102 and IBM 3270 terminals) to slick WYSIWYG ("what you see is what you get") Apple Macs.

I was probably not alone in being captivated by the Mac experience. Toss in PageMaker, a few fonts, and a LaserWriter for a complete desktop publishing system, and the Mac was hard to beat. Yet, I quickly realized that I wrote better on my MS-DOS 2.1 PC running WordPerfect 4.2 from floppy disks. How could this be? The Mac was easier to use and the papers I typed looked much better on paper. Why did I type so much more, and much better, on the PC?

I didn't work on the Mac; I explored. I'd play with fonts, formatting options, and the nifty features of Word or PageMaker. I'd also play Crystal Quest, Lode Runner, and Dark Castle for hours. The Mac temptation at its worst for me. I still remember discovering Tetris on the Mac. More hours lost.

My PC was a typewriter. The sparse screen of WordPerfect, with little more than a document name and position information ("Doc 1 Pg 1 Ln 1") didn't beg to be explored. The screen was analogous to the paper in a typewriter. You had to type to fill the blank blue or black screen, the blank space demanding to be filled with words.

I am distracted easily. I think most people are, but especially creativity workers -- artists. The Mac OS, Windows, and any other GUI experiences, are like playgrounds. That is great when your job is visual design, but not so great when you need to be focused on writing.

To circumvent my nature, I started writing everything longhand on legal pads and then typing and formatting the work. I still am more productive when I can't point-and-click my way to something other than work. That's one reason I liked typing on a laptop at coffee shops or bookstores -- until they added free WiFi to the menus.

WordPerfect on a basic DOS-equipped system was the perfect typewriter. There was no multitasking (AKA multidistracting). You didn't get lost in the Web conducting "research" for your latest assignment or creative work. You typed. And it was good. I keep trying new ways around distractions, but nothing seems to match those simple DOS days.

No, I am not going to give up my MacBook Pro, Pages, Adobe Creative Suite, and thousands of fonts. I love my Mac too much. I will write about some possible options in the near future and explain how they help me reduce distractions, at least a little. The key is to be immersed in writing, so I've been using applications that attempt to recapture the spirit of WordPerfect for DOS.

For now, I'll reveal that my favorite writing application on the Mac is Scrivener. Visit Literature & Latte ( for more information on Scrivener. It is not a design program; Scrivener is for composing text. The full-screen mode does remind me of DOS: nothing but the text I'm writing, not even the Mac menu bar is displayed. It's a distraction-free environment.

I need to get back to a writing project. It seems I got sidetracked.


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