Software Spotlight: WordPerfect

edited September 2015 in Software Spotlights
WordPerfect is an extremely powerful word processor for MS-DOS, Windows and several other platforms.

If you were doing any kind of business word processing in the late 1980s, you were almost certainly using WordPerfect.

WordPerfect was originally written for the Data General Minicomputer in 1979, and competed against WANG word processing workstations.

WordPerfect 2.20 was the first version avaialble on the IBM PC. It was also ported to many other OSes.

On the PC WordPerfect mainly competed with WordStar.

WordPerfect 3 introduced printer drivers. This was a somewhat new approach for the day. For most programs, you would have to update or buy a new version to get additional hardware support. Instead, modular printer drivers enabled vendors to provide additional hardware support independent of the application. After a while, almost every printer provided a driver compatible with WordPerfect for DOS.

The most popular versions of WordPerfect were 4.2 and 5.1 for DOS. By about 1989 it had defeated WordStar (WordStar's failures are another story :P ). Often sited reasons for WordPerfect's success included line numbering and footnote features that are important to legal and academic professions.

WordPerfect was a very difficult program to use. In fact, it was almost the definition of non user-friendly software.

It wasn't until version 5.1 that the DOS version got drop-down menus, and even then it seemd more like an afterthought.

Before that, you would start WordPerfect and it would leave you at an almost blank screen with just a cursor and line number. You were expected to memorize key commands, and/or place a keyboard "overlay" around your function keys describing what they will do - in this specific application. That was simply the typical way things were done in DOS and earlier platforms.

For a power typist this was fine as they would always keep their hands on a keyboard, and learning a few odd key strokes was nothing compared to some of the more advanced features. But for writing an occasional letter, it was a bit overwhelming.

WordPerfect pretty much died when Windows 3.0 came out. Suddenly a world of standardized Mac-like applications were available to PC users. And WordPerfect was late to the game with a Windows port. They also lost the advantage of having piles of custom printer drivers, as Windows had its own printer driver system.

Worse yet, the initial version for Windows (5.1 for Windows), was extremely buggy.

But nothing spells death for a good software product like getting bought up and tossed around.

SSI, which had renamed themselves to WordPerfect Corp (not a bright idea, as WP was not their only product) was bought up by Novell, and shortly after acquired by Corel. Leaving many users wondering "who owns it today?", and feeling as if this was no longer a stable product that their business should rely on.

Novel WordPerfect 6.1 did enjoy some stability and small success on Windows 3.1. But with the above issues, and the overhead of re-learning the user interface, many went ahead and made the jump to Microsoft's word processor.

The transition to 32-bit windows, did not go over very well initially. The first release of WordPerfect 7 was buggy, and did not work on Windows NT. Novell blamed Microsoft, and accusations were flying back and forth for many, many, many years. They are probably still arguing about it. :P

Once they updated Word Perfect 7 for NT, they did not make a direct update available. Users had to purchase or obtain a new CD. And they did the same thing with Word Perfect 8. Such wonderful customer support.

There were a number of interesting ports:

- WordPerfect 1-3 for Apple Macintosh (Version number not related to DOS version)
- WordPerfect 1.x for NextStep (Version number not related to DOS version)
- WordPerfect 4.1 for the Atari ST ( ... rfect.html )
- WordPerfect for the Apple IIe/IIgs ( )
- WordPerfect for Amiga
- WordPerfect for Linux (6-8 was native, but 9 was a WineLib port)

Today, WordPerfect still has a few deeply entrenched users, and it is available for purchase from Corel at

There is a more detailed timeline of WordPerfect's history located here:

And, there is an interesting first hand account from one of the people who ran the WordPerfect Corp:


  • Wow, it seems to be Interesting archive.

    I also have the following disks I can offer.

    WP 5.0 (04-29-1989) / 5.25" (2D x 12EA)
    WP 5.1 (09-25-1991) / 5.25" (2D x 12EA)
  • Cool I remember in the early 2000s my father had wordperfect on our brand new XP machine, rather than MS Office 2003. I wish I remember what version. I also used some other corel software pretty cool stuff.
  • That would be great.

    Apparently there were a number of minor updates to WordPerfect 5.1 for DOS (and other versions) that are only indicated by the file dates. The disk sets all look physically identical (except for a different number of printer driver disks) and all have the 1989 copyright date. So I am sure there are plenty of others minor revisions out there that should be archived.
  • I remember finding this on a Toshiba luggable (orange gas plasma screen), the DOS version showed up as an almost completely bright orange screen, and for the life of me I couldn't figure out how to exit the program, let alone do anything in it!
  • FYI, WordPerfect 8 for UNIX has been discovered, I've put it on

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