Microsoft Word Comes of Age

News Analysis: Microsoft's ubiquitous word processing program celebrates its 18th birthday in 2007, having successfully wended its way through the growing pains of childhood and challenges of adolescence.

Microsofts ubiquitous word processing program, Microsoft Word, celebrates its 18th birthday in 2007, having successfully wended its way through the growing pains of childhood and challenges of adolescence.

Word essentially started as a product known as "Bravo," which was brought to Microsoft in 1981 by Charles Simonyi,who is regarded by many as the father of Word, from Xeroxs Palo Alto Research Center.

Microsofts official Word development team was given the green light in 1982, and the first version was released in 1983 featuring the "WYSIWYG" (What You See Is What You Get) design philosophy, a Microsoft spokesperson told eWEEK.

But the application was not officially released as Word for Windows until 1989, which is the date Microsoft regards as its birthday.

The latest version of the product, Microsoft Office Word 2007, will be released to consumers and small businesses at the end of January, along with the 2007 Microsoft Office suites and Windows Vista.

There are currently more than 450 million Microsoft Office users worldwide, the spokesperson said.

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Microsoft Word grew up in a word-processing market that had more than 300 different titles on multiple platforms, but it was among the earliest applications to appear on OS/2 and Apples Macintosh computers, in addition to versions for MS-DOS, she said.

Early programs such as Electric Pencil gave way to WordStar, WordPerfect and other brands, but Words official release in 1989 was two years ahead of the delivery of WordStar and WordPerfect. Within five years, Word was able to claim a 90 percent share of the word-processing market, the spokesperson said.

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One Microsoft executive, corporate vice president Peter Pathe, has been parenting Word since its infancy.

He joined Microsoft in 1991 to manage the development of the TrueType font system, and in 1993 he moved to head the Word Business Unit in Microsofts Desktop Applications Division.

Under his watch, revenues for the business had more than tripled to over $2 billion annually by 1997, and Microsoft Word was the most popular word processing software, the spokesperson said.

Word also made technical gains, being able to browse and edit documents directly from the World Wide Web by 1994 and, in 1995, a single version of Word replaced the many individual language versions previously shipped.

This, along with native support of Unicode character sets and device-independent page layout, let users share e-mail and word processing documents online around the world, she said.

Next Page: The role of word processing.