The Magic Word Processor

Copyright Dr Alan Solomon (1986-1995)

Once upon a time, there was a poor author named Darren Hardup.  Darren
was poor because he didn't have any money, and he didn't have any
money because he didn't write very much, and he didn't write very much
because he was very pernickety.

He was so pernickety, that often he would spend an entire day
getting one sentence just right.  He used Roget's Thesaurus to try out
different synonyms, and he'd read it out loud to make sure that it
sounded euphonious, and he'd examine the calligraphy to make sure that
it looked pleasing to the eye.  He'd check each word in the Oxford
English dictionary, and then again in Chambers to be on the safe side,
and it was only when he was thoroughly happy with the sentence that he
would move on to the next one.

Using this method, he wrote sentences that were a marvel to behold -
people came from all parts of the kingdom just to admire Darren's
sentences.  Unfortunately, because each sentence took so long to
write, his paragraphs were a bit disconnected, and his chapters were
completely unreadable.  Darren knew this, but his response was to
redouble his efforts on his sentences, which only made things worse.

Darren had a beautiful daughter called Lucinda, who worried a lot
about her father, and the fact that his chapters were atrocious, and
the fact that he didn't seem to sell any of his articles.  She also
worried about the fact that she couldn't afford a decent frock since
they were so poor, and this obviously had a depressing effect on her
marital prospects.  She had her sights set on the Noble Lord, of
course, and without a decent frock, there wasn't a hope in hell that
she'd even be invited to the Right Sort of Ball, and without that,
she'd never even meet the Noble Lord.

One day, Lucinda was slumped over the kitchen table;  she'd fallen
asleep while doing the VAT returns.  Suddenly, there was a flash of
light and a puff of the traditional orange smoke, and a small, dumpy
woman materialised wearing an apron and carrying a black rod with a
rusty star at the end.  Lucinda woke with a jump, saw the dumpy woman,
and raised an eyebrow sceptically.  "I'm your fairy godmother," said
the fairy godmother.

"Don't be silly," said Lucinda, and started to tidy away the VAT
returns.  "No really," said the dumpy woman.  "I've come to change
your life for ever." "OK," said Lucinda, going along with the gag,
"change my life for ever."

"I'll need a few things," said the fairy godmother.  "I'll need your
calculator, a Biro, and a piece of paper." That was easy to get
together, and the fairy waved her black rod over them.  There was the
usual flash of light and puff of orange smoke, and before Lucinda's very
eyes, the calculator changed into an IBM PC, the Biro into a printer,
and the piece of paper into a copy of PC User.

"Wow," said Lucinda.  "What am I supposed to do with this?" But before
she had a chance to say very much, the fairy godmother had gone,
pausing only to leave behind the phone number of Lucinda's nearest IBM

The next day, Lucinda got up bright and early.  She read the copy of
PC User, which seemed to make sense, although it seemed to be a bit
over her head in places.  It showed her a whole new world of Word
Processors, Spreadsheets, Databases and other things for her IBM PC.
But even the copy of PC User didn't tell her how to start up the
computer, and what to do with it when it was started.

She looked round the back - it was a real tangle of wires and cables,
but she soon noticed that there was only one way you could plug them.
So she plugged the keyboard into the keyboard socket, the monitor into
the monitor socket, and the mains lead into the power socket and into
the wall.  She switched the power on, and nothing happened.  Then she
switched on the Big Orange Switch, and was rewarded with a whirring
sound.  But apart from that, nothing happened for a very long time,
and then suddenly the disk drive made a grinding noise and the screen
showed a Basic prompt, as the IBM fell into Cassette Basic.  And then,
everything she typed at the keyboard resulted in "?Redo from start".

Her copy of PC User didn't seem to have anything to say about this,
but it did have a reader registration card.  She filled that in,
telling the absolute minimum of pork pies, and sent it off, with a
request for lots of back issues.

One day, the story will be told of how Lucinda got from a Basic prompt
into finding out about DOS, and the wonders of Debug and Edlin, simply
by reading copies of PC User.  One day, you'll read the heroic
struggle of how Lucinda did her VAT without even a calculator, since
that had been turned into this wretched PC.  But the story will be
long, and tedious, and unedifying, and will make you wonder why she
didn't simply go on a course (lack of ackers was the problem).

Eventually, there came a day when Lucinda, having mastered Edlin, felt
that there had to be more that she could do with this magic machine.
What she knew that she wanted, was a word processor.  Edlin is a
pretty pathetic excuse for an editor, and a word processor it
definitely isn't.  But Lucinda knew that with a decent word processor,
her father's erratic and intermittent trickle of words could be turned
into a strong, steady, and saleable, torrent.  The trouble was, word
processors tend to cost several hundred pounds, and Lucinda had spent
her last twopence on potatoes and carrots, to boil up with some old
leather book bindings, for supper.  So, with the aid of her back
issues of PC User, Lucinda wrote her own word processor, in
interpreted Basica.

Interpreted Basica isn't the fastest language in the world, and isn't
really suitable for this sort of thing.  Nor is it the easiest
programming language to work in, lacking local variables and a proper
block structure.  But Lucinda didn't know all that, and Basica was all
she had, so she wrote her word processor anyway.

Fortunately for Lucinda, her fairy godmother was watching.  Fairies
tend to be quite competent programmers (and vice versa), and while
Lucinda slept each night, the fairy crept out and turned the
amateurish spaghetti code that Lucinda was writing, into
professionally written and debugged spaghetti code (spaghetti code is
all you can write in Basica).  As a result, when the word processor
was written, it was really quite good.  In fact, it was very good.
And compared to some of the products around even today, it was magic.
And that's what Lucinda called it - Magic Word.

She showed it to Darren, and he loved it.  He immediately started
using it to write a Great Novel, and the wonder of seeing the words
dance on the green screen made him forget to polish each sentence
until it shone.  Lucinda was delighted at this, and immediately
started looking in dress shops.

Her joy was short lived.  A Great Novel has a minimum of 1000 pages,
and even at her father's new writing speed, it looked like a couple of
years before it would be finished, by which time the Noble Lord might
have met some Duchess or something, and got married.  Lucinda realised
that she'd have to do something.  She tried to consult her Fairy
Godmother, but the fairy was working on some other project now and
wasn't interested.  So Lucinda wrote to the only source of good
information she'd ever known.  She wrote to PC User, to the Clinic.
"Dear PC Clinic", she wrote, explaining about her problem.  And the
Clinic wrote back, saying "Sell your word processor"

Part 2

Sell your word processor?  After taking all those months to write it?
And what about her poor father, Darren Hardup?  Now that he'd got used
to a wp, if he went back to his Biro, he'd be back to taking 8 hours
per sentence.  Then it struck her - she could sell copies!

But how to go about it?  First, she wrote a manual.  It wasn't very
long, as Magic Word was so easy to use, it understood everything you
asked for, as if by magic.  She wrote a press release to PC User, to
tell people all about Magic Word, and a few people wrote back asking
for copies.  She wrapped up a disk and a printed-out manual in
cellophane, and sent them off, with invoices.  Pretty soon, she'd sent
off a good few dozen, and was having her first cash crisis.

VAT is a wonderful, mystical system.  For reasons best known to the
Lord High Vatman, you have to pay the tax before you receive any money
- VAT is payable on invoices, unless you elect for cash basis, which
hadn't been invented yet.  It was particularly galling when Lucinda
found that the Grand Vatman Himself had bought copies of Magic Word,
and had not yet paid for them, but was demanding that the VAT be paid.

Lucinda wrote a letter of complaint about this to the Palace, but all
she got back was a form letter saying that although the Noble Lord
sympathised with her predicament, he couldn't intervene in State
Fiscal matters.  Lucinda muttered crossly to herself, and got herself
a good accountant, and a bank loan to tide her over till the invoices
were paid.

Unfortunately, neither accountants nor bank managers work for free,
and soon Lucinda found that she was committed to regular monthly
payments of interest to the bank, and a biggish accountant's bill.
Her solicitor also started sending in accounts, and Lucinda realised
that she was going to have to sell quite a lot of copies of Magic Word
just to keep up.  So she commissioned a graphics designer to design an
eye-catching advertisement "Magic Word - it works just like magic" and
booked a series of full page advertisements in PC User.

At first, sales were disappointing.  Nobody had heard of Lucinda's
company "Magic Software", and everybody preferred to stay with the
known benefits of Wordstar, Word Perfect and Word.  But one day PC
User printed a review of Magic Word, rating it with four "excellent"s
and a "very good", and a number of people ordered it, just to see what
all the fuss was about.

Lucinda was soon copying disks as fast as she could, printing out
invoices, ordering adverts and she wasn't keeping up with demand.  So
she hired an assistant, and then someone else to look after marketing,
and then a book keeper to chase old debts, and a programmer to do
technical support because people kept phoning up asking how to do this
or that, and another programmer to write printer drivers for the
500-odd printers that Magic Word users seemed to have, and then a book
keeper had to do the payroll, and then they got a typist to help with
the correspondence, and someone to rewrite the manual to cover all the
enhancements that would be in version 2, plus another programmer to
write version 2, and someone to deal with purchases and all the
advertising salesmen trying to sell ads to Magic Software and a
telephonist because people phoning in didn't know who they wanted to
speak to and often all they wanted was a leaflet ....  Pretty soon,
Lucinda was running a medium sized company.

As anyone knows, the first thing you have to do with a medium sized
company, is diversify.  So Lucinda hired a few more programmers, and
support staff (typists, hardware engineers, a post boy) and they
started writing Magic Calc, Magic File, Magic Graph and Magic Talk.
Somehow they didn't have the same magic touch as the Fairy Godmother
had, and none of these ever amounted to much.  But none of them were a
real disaster, unlike Magic Wand, which was supposed to be a
full-function integrated product that could do anything that you could
think of.  But it was too large, took up too much memory space, ran
very slowly, and got a real Number One slag-off in PC User.  Things
weren't going to well at Magic Software.

Round about now, Lucinda decided to do the PC User show.  Her two
sisters laughed like anything - "A little tin-pot company like you
doing the PC User show?", they said.  "Phooey".  But Lucinda took no
notice of them, because she had a secret.

A few months ago, she'd met a programmer.  This guy was a real,
hotshot programmer, and like all really wizard programmers he was
secretly a fairy.  He was called William Fences, and he persuaded
Lucinda that OS/2 was the coming thing.  And if he used DDE, and
co-operative multi-tasking, and virtual memory, and a couple of other
tricks that he'd picked up at fairy school, he reckoned he could write
an integrated product that would knock your socks off.

After a few months, he'd done precisely that, and they'd decided to
call it "Magic Works", and it was truly spiffing.  Lucinda had decided
to launch it at the PC User show, and it would turn the Magic Software
company from what is politely called a non-break-even situation back
into profit.

Lucinda took the biggest stand at the show.  After all, she was the
only major British software house present, and she had to make a
splash.  Her two sisters were there, handing out leaflets, although
they were so ugly that no-one took anything from them.  Lucinda
herself spent most of her time demonstrating "Magic Works", which
turned out to be the only product at the show that ran under OS/2.
William Fences was also there, but he spent most of his time gazing
adoringly at Lucinda.

About half way through the show, there was a flurry of trumpets and
flunkeys - "Make way for the Noble Lord".  It was Lord Emap himself,
come to see how his loyal subjects were enjoying his Show.  But as he
passed the Magic Software stand, his eyes fell on Lucinda, and he was
immediately smitten by her beauty and business acumen.  "Who is this
fair maiden?" he enquired of his equerry, "and why haven't we been
introduced?" The equerry immediately went up to Lucinda, and showered
her with invitations to the PC User Exhibitor's Ball.

That evening, at the ball, Lucinda wore her best party frock and
carried her leatherette Filofax with Zircon trim in a special Filofax
pocket - Lucinda was never far from her Filofax.  She got completely
zonked and had a whale of a time, and frugged with just about every
eligible male there, but most of all, she danced with Lord Emap.  But
there was another Show day tomorrow, and so when midnight struck, she
looked at her watch, said "Wow, is that really the time?" and made a
dash for it.  "Stop, wait!" shouted Lord Emap, as he saw the most
beautiful girl in the world disappearing.  She turned to see who was
shouting, and as she turned, her Filofax fell out of her pocket.  Then
she ran on.

So it was that the only clue that Lord Emap had to the identity of the
beautiful stranger, was a Zircon-encrusted Filofax, which
unfortunately didn't have the name and address of the owner filled in
He was very sad, as he had fallen in love with this lovely lady, which
is very frustrating if you don't know her name.  Still, the Halls of
Emap are not without resource, and it wasn't very long before heralds
were touring the length and breadth of the land, advertising
"Whomsoever doth fit this Filofax, shall the Noble Lord Emap marry".

Well, I'm sure you know the rest.  The ugly sisters tried to clain
that the Filofax was theirs, but it was soon clear that they didn't
know the people listed in it.  But when Lucinda saw it, it fitted her
like a glass slipper, and very relieved she was too, as I expect you
can imagine if you have ever lost your Filofax.  And Lucinda and Lord
Emap were married immediately, and they had lots of little Emaps, and
Magic Works was a big success, and they all lived happily ever after.