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From SCRIPT to Web Editors - Word and Text Processing at UH
by Lee Ann M. Lee

During the first 10 years of working at UH (first as a student and then as a full-time staff member) I specialized in the field of text processing and word processing. The following article details my personal experiences with the hardware and software that was considered "state-of-the-art" in the field of text and word processing during the 1980s and early 1990s.

When I started working at the UH Computing Center (UHCC) in the early 1980s, Time Sharing Option (TSO) ports were a precious commodity and we used "dumb" terminals to connect to the IBM mainframe. The first text processor I used was Waterloo SCRIPT, which ran on the IBM 370 mainframe. I would use the TSO editor to type in the text of a document, then proceed to add control words called "tags", or formatting commands similar to HTML. SCRIPT would generate the formatted output, which could be viewed on the screen, saved as a file, or sent to a printer. All our UHCC documents were done using SCRIPT and printed on the IBM line printer. Print trains were used to get special characters such as European language characters. To me it was the greatest thing since sliced bread… it sure beat using a typewriter.

The next toy I remember was the Wang Office Automation System, which was a stand-alone word processor. The Wangs had a cool green monitor and you could actually see most of the formatting and control characters on the screen. If I recall correctly, a diamond meant centered text and a little arrow indicated a tab character. All the formatting was done with function keys; there were no pull-down menus. Back then there was no such thing as WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get), so the only way to really see your output was to print it. The output looked great because we had a new daisy wheel printer. I remember the printer taking up a whole table. Although the printer itself was small, it was enclosed by a huge cover that was needed to insulate the sound. Another cool thing was saving documents to diskettes. The diskettes were eight inches across and a lot lighter to carry around than 9-track tapes.

Another thing we could do with the Wang was phototypesetting. That was so much fun. It was similar to SCRIPT where you would type in the text and use control characters or formatting commands to manipulate the text. It was possible to get three or four different fonts on a page in different point sizes. The phototypesetter was huge and took up at least the size of a five- to six-foot table. I remember loading the paper to be printed. When it was done printing, the paper had to go through three baths of chemicals, similar to developing photographic prints. I don't remember using the Wang for the newsletter, but we did produce some very good-looking publications.

The next step in our evolution was in the late 1980s with first generation microcomputers and laser printers. We first started publishing the UHCC newsletter using WordPerfect for DOS and a 300 dots per inch (dpi) HP LaserJet printer. WordPerfect was one of the first word processors that supported two-column layout. I remember the preview feature was terrible and we killed a lot of trees creating that first newsletter. Does anyone remember downloading fonts to the printer or using font cartridges? I'm glad we don't have to do that anymore.

The next move we made was to the Macintosh system. It was awesome because there were no control codes to remember. I remember working in the Mac lab where I used the latest and greatest Mac Plus which had a 9" monitor and PageMaker version 1. Can you believe that PageMaker fit on one 500K diskette? Later I got a Mac for my office, a two-page black and white Radius monitor, and a postscript printer. We were truly living the desktop publishing revolution.

Currently there is a new revolution going on where everyone and their dog have a Web site. It's great… people can get updated information instantly from practically anywhere in the world, and you don't have to kill any trees. There are some good HTML generators like Microsoft FrontPage and Adobe PageMill. There are also Web servers that can guide you through the steps of creating a Web site, such as Geocities. I've used Microsoft FrontPage to create some simple web pages, although I needed to edit the HTML code to tweak the pages. That takes me back to my SCRIPT days and reminds me that what's old is new again. Still I can't believe how many things have changed since I started working here 20 years ago.

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