Fired up the old Kaypro. It’s a little temperamental these days, but given we’re about the same age, and computer years go by about a zillion times faster than human years, it’s amazing it still works at all. And you know the best part? It has WordStar, the best word processor ever made.

WordStar was one of the most popular, if not the most popular word processor in the pre-GUI era. Once you’ve memorized some basic commands it is very easy to use - and fast too! The Kaypro’s full stroke keyboard (which emits a tiny beep every time a key is pressed) is a joy to use as well.

Andy Kay “invented” the Kaypro (except he didn’t, the circuitry was largely copied from the “Big Board” computer - a DIY kit that required literal centuries of soldering at home to complete... and he got sued over it) in 1982. The Kaypro was riding on the coattails of the Osborne (ever hear of the Osborne Effect?) - an all-in-one portable computer that came bundled with a software package so any luddite could pick one up and jump instantly into the age of computing. This was still a revolutionary idea in 1982, when one would buy a computer, buy disk drives, buy a monitor, select software - all without having a clue about computer hardware, or software, or knowing anybody who had any clue either. Computers like the Kaypro and Osborne made uncharted territory a little more inviting.

Kaypro wanted to be the Volkswagen of computers. And for a couple years they did sell in huge quantities. But Kaypro ran into a problem that was rather the opposite of the Osborne Effect. Their marketing banked on selling the Kaypro as a known quantity in an age of unbridled incompatibility. Every Kaypro was more or less compatible with every other Kaypro. It was the first safe choice in buying computers. But it turned out to be the wrong choice.

In 1982 the IBM PC and MS DOS were just one of a multitude of standards. Nobody knew they would become the standard for future computers. Kaypro didn’t take the risk, other companies did, and by the time Kaypro responded they were left in the dust. Further they already had typecast themselves - nobody was interested in their desktop PCs, they only knew Kaypro for their portable computers. And perhaps more frustratingly, the sort of buyers Kaypro did attract with their marketing were not the sort of people who needed to run out and buy a new computer every two or three years. They bought Kaypro because Kaypro was safe, staid, and they didn’t want to be hassled with thinking about every new feature and update. Arthur C. Clarke owned a Kaypro. He used it for over a decade. 


WordStar on the other hand, had phenomenal, lasting success. George R.R. Martin still swears by it. Anne Rice use it until her old DOS computer died and she had to switch to MS Word (which she hated). It is kind of fun for me because it’s a bit like using a typewriter in its simplicity, but you have the ability to edit and any time. Writing, stream of consciousness style is easy because there’s nothing to distract you. You just type and words appear on the screen. You’re not thinking about fonts or margins, just the words. When you’re done with that you can format the whole thing with a few commands. No squiggly lines under words either. You want to spell check? You check the file with another program after you’re done typing. Not having all the options staring you in the face constantly is freeing in that way.