Microsoft Multi-Tool Word

Microsoft Word will be 40 years old in 2023. As it approaches middle age, let’s see what it looked like as a baby.

The first version was actually called Multi-Tool Word. It was first available for UNIX, quickly followed by the PC version in 1983. As the screen photos show, the user interface was primitive by today’s standards–heavily text and menu based.

Multi-Tool Word
Source: Microsoft, 1983

It’s biggest innovation at the time was the “what you see is what you get” approach, meaning the printed output matched what you saw on the screen. Today, we take this for granted, but in the early PC days it was common for the printer to have a different interpretation of a document than the monitor screen.

Micro-Tool Word
Source: Microsoft, 1983

Other features included an auto-formatting feature, which eliminated the need for manual reformatting, and a ruler at the top of the screen that allowed users to set margins and tabs. The press release announcing the PC version on May 2, 1983, mentions many features that are standard on today’s word processors. They include:

  • An auto-format feature, eliminating the need for manual reformatting
  • A ruler at the top of the screen that allowed users to set margins and tabs
  • An undo command
  • Advanced word-wrap capabilities
  • Style sheets

Published by

Michael Nadeau

I am the author of Collectible Microcomputers (Schiffer Books, 2002) and have been an editor of many technology publications including BYTE, 80 Micro, and HOT CoCo. My interest in the history of information technology is broad. I use my blogs, ClassicTech and Vintage Computer Photos, to build on the work I did for Collectible Microcomputers.

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