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WordTsar – A Wordstar clone (wordtsar.ca)
108 points by valeg on July 18, 2018 | hide | past | web | favorite | 85 comments

My dad, Seymour Rubinstein, created WordStar. It’s amazing to witness this homage to its enduring legacy.

Very cool! Your comment led me to be interested in finding out a little more about the history. I just enjoyed reading "WordStar of Rob Barnaby and Seymour Rubenstein" https://history-computer.com/ModernComputer/Software/Wordsta...

"Barnaby needed four months to code Wordstar on his IMSAI PCS 80/30 computer. This was done in assembler for Intel 8080 from scratch (according to Rubenstein Barnaby was the mad genius of assembly language coding), as Barnaby wrote 137000 lines of bullet-proof assembly language code. Only some 10-percent of Wordmaster code was used."

Edit: IEEE Annals of the History of Computing 28(4):32-47 · November 2006 -> The Origins of Word Processing Software: 1976−1985 has an interesting section on Wordstar . https://www.researchgate.net/publication/3331079_The_Origins...

Talk about memories. I used to fantasize about getting a Diablo spinwriter hooked up to my system for true letter quality proportional output. All of the pros went that way.

When I finally develop observable dementia among the last things to go will be WordStar keymappings, they were laid down so thoroughly in my long-ago teenage brain, along with the somewhat different Wordmaster mappings.

Wow, amazing - I worked for Micropro back in the early 80s - ask him about the Barnaby monitor throwing incident sometime...

In Sausalito? I worked at Autodesk down the street.

I don't remember when Micropro moved to Sausalito, but recall it was near the end of Wordstar's reign.

We had a phrase that described the value of the piracy of Wordstar. The "Wordstar Effect" held that the primacy of a file format was a huge boost to revenue even if you only captured 5% of paying customers.

Fourth St. San Rafael, also Northgate Mall

Are you able to release the source code?

My dad was a professional writer for decades. He started using a computer to write when the Osborne computer first came out, using Wordstar, and swore by it until he died a few years ago. I too am constantly amazed by how WordStar had many advanced features on a system with no HDD and only two 5.25 floppy disks. It is a nice homage to recreate it, good job. I hope you continue to polish it, and provide a license

Like other HN users, I like to do things myself.

So when G RR Martin was taking so long to write Winds of Winter, I thought I would just hack a copy myself. And by "hack", I mean I would write it.

I had a good sense of the characters, and I knew what I wanted to happen so I started writing.

It came out utter rubbish.

Wondering why, I realizes I was using Google Docs whereas George Martin used Wordstar.

This is all coming together.

This is just a ploy to ensure that George RR Martin doesn't stop writing once the original WordStar stops working!

WordStar was the first word processor I used. I've lived in Vim for years now, but I still have WordStar manuals in the software museum section at the back of my bookcase. I haven't gotten them out in approximately forever:


I need to hook up my old Okidata so I can use control-character-triggered physical backspacing to put double-quote "unlauts" on top of my vowels.

And "B" plus "p" makes a passable ß (well, in a different font).

Fun times.

By the way, with regard to other comments here about diehard users, I never had more than a passing relationship with WordPerfect 5.1, but I've heard of people who stayed with it for years and years (and years). For them, it was and remained the perfect writing tool.

You'll find that this system is still in use even today. GNU roff, for example, in non-UTF-8 locales with a terminal as the output device renders the bullets in bulleted lists as a "+" overstruck by an "o" to give a crossed circle.

And the manual systems on the BSDs and on Linux operating systems still use TeleType Model 37 overstriking semantics for boldface and underlining, even though (for starters) GNU grotty has been capable of the more modern (from 1976!) system of specifying character attributes on terminals for decades.

* https://sources.debian.org/src/groff/1.22.3-10/tmac/tty.tmac...

* http://jdebp.info./Proposals/ul-manual-page.html

* http://jdebp.info./Softwares/nosh/italics-in-manuals.html

I remember hearing that law firms used WordPerfect for years longer than most, because the templates (may not be the right term) for creating legal documents were widely available and it was easier to create the precisely formatted documents in WordPerfect than in Word.

I recall two things about it: firstly, it did a good job of showing the control-format chars inline, for markup you knew had formatting.

Secondly, it consumed an outrageous amount of the screen to show the list of available commands, which was a design 'thing' at the time: p-code UCSD OS did this too, and if you had enough brain cells left from the life of beer at university it felt like this was tractable screen space being eaten in ways you'd rather have back.

So as an EMACS/Vi person, it didn't make sense: watching other people be phenomenally productive in it, was a bit of an "oh, ok.. that makes total sense now" moment.

The CP/M DOS crossover years, when this predominated were quite interesting. It was also a time of variable speed floppy drives, so they "sang" at you as they chuntered around the disk surface (constant linear velocity sectors == variable radial speed)

You could reduce the screen theft of the menus. It defaulted to a large menu for new users, as you became more proficient you could adjust the "help level" and reclaim the screen.

Yes, like spreadsheets, if you came from classic CompSci you could choose to not invest enough time in this stuff to become the expert, and take false-evidence reasoning (like me) to say "toy". I did this, with word* and with the first spreadsheets (my god, just use a pen and paper, or expr or BC) and other solecisms.

Maybe others were smarter. I think I excelled at being super-dumb about what I was seeing.

The shrunk-header bar, was fine. Actually, a pane of 'what can I do' is now a "thing" Google does, in its web apps. It reminds me of what wartstar was doing!

There's also WormStar[1], an expanded wordstar-mode for Emacs. Commit to GitHub 2 years ago, but recommends Emacs 19.34 (which was released in 1996).

Personally I was more a Brief guy in my DOS days.

[1]: https://github.com/dfr62/wormstar

Wordstar was one of those programs back in the 80's that made me wonder how masochistic some computer users would be in order to try and remember all those dot commands and Ctrl keystrokes.

The along came WordPerfect and made Wordstar look like UX bliss... For the life of me I can't recall which maniac thought up Shift-F7 (IIRC) as the 'Quit' key for WordPerfect.

WordPerfect document formatting was and is total trash compared to Wordstar's.

Wordperfect was far more powerful than Wordstar, you just had to get used to operating in their strange kinda-sorta-but not really WSYWIG mode; and pull up the codes view to sort out occasional oddities. All in the most unfriendly set of shortcuts and codes imaginable. :)

WP had unbeatable table of contents, footnotes and index generation at the time - far better than Wordstar, and Word.

To this day I am utterly lost without Reveal Codes. So lost. Something is happening to this text... but why? Gosh.

Do you mean WYSIWYG? I am not familiar otherwise.

I was genuinely asking since I couldn't find WSYWIG vs WYSIWYG, and thought it might be something else. Oh well...

I used to live in "show codes" mode, a.k.a. F3

In my opinion it was miles ahead of Wordstar and a bit similar to what is now HTML tags.

The macro language of wordperfect 5.1 did let me add auto-correction for common typos.

And some other things like: if typing a comma after a space, move the comma to be before the space, and the same for dots.

I'm sure wordstar was nice, but for me it was just not as powerful.

The point was that those commands used muscle-memory and were conceived so that the majority of editing tasks could be executed with leaving the "home" position

I can still remember a few. ^KQ was quit, ISTR ^KS to save.

These were also used by the ‘joe’ editor, right?


JOE 4.6 was released just this year.

Still my primary editor on cli.

Function key overlays explain a lot.

Started my word processing with Wordstar (and spreadsheets with Lotus123). Those were the days.

Anyone got a link to printed output produced by WordStar? I used it as a young kid on my Dad's computer. I imagine that most "real" users printed the stuff they wrote, but I've never seen an example!

A modern day usage of similar output is the screenplay format. So the output would look something like this:


What's the advantage of Wordstar over:

  - Word
  - Emacs/VIM + Markdown + Latex + Pandoc
  - VScode/Atom + Markdown + Latex + Pandoc
  - LyX
Very cool otherwise.

I never became used to it, because I never tried really, but IIRC Wordstar has a very smart keyboard layout, really thought out. Word relies on arrow keys, but those are not always in great places on the keyboard. (Otherwise, arrow keys are a fine way to move the cursor around, IMHO.)

Also IIRC, you could work with folding and chapters very fast in Wordstar. This is also a benefit vs Word, which is WYSIWYG drivel^H^H^H^H^H^H driven.

Emacs/VIM, well... I live and die by Emacs (vim before) but seriously, it's a huge kludge, all of it. I love it to pieces, but it's really a very complex beast. Only bested by Eclipse in beastliness, which is also great for similar reasons Emacs is. You can do anything with both, if you put in a big effort. But it still pays off.

VSCode/Atom, only dabbled with these, they seem like Emacs + shiny to me. I respect shiny, but personally, I don't need it.

Lyx - tried it a bit. I think the problem for me, was that it promised too much. But if there are problems, you still need to know LaTex and I found myself back in Emacs and googling for LaTex error.

Wordstar/Wordtsar - for me those things are for writing books or large documentation. Personally I'd still use Emacs, because I use it for so much else. I'd still FOMO a little bit about the road not taken, but we have to use the time we wisely.

(Also, Wordstar = warm fuzzy thoughts about CP/M machines with amber monochrome monitors.)

My credentials: In high school and university, I used WordStar 3.3 on CP/M. Today I'm a technical writer. I reluctantly stopped using WordStar when WordPerfect pushed it off the stage.

It's hard to state advantages WordStar has over modern editors. Maybe looking at it in a historical context helps.

User friendly: WordStar was for non-technical users. "User friendly" was frequently abused in industry marketing. The implication of user hostility was real. You often had to assemble your computer from a kit. I don't mean plug in an SSD and a graphics card. I mean solder chips onto a board and cross your fingers. A non-techie could use WordStar out of the box.

Power users: Newbies dedicated 1/3 of screen space to an interactive command list. Power users used all screen space for text.

WYSIWYG: Editing and formatting were traditionally separate programs. Competitors sorta kinda integrated them. WordStar seamlessly combined them for the best WYSIWYG that display hardware allowed.

Flow: If there is a genuine advantage, this is it. WordStar was for professional touch typists, like secretaries and writers, paid to bang out words all day. But keyboards were simpler, typically 50-60 keys. WordStar used only Shift and Control as meta keys and laid out its keyboard commands intuitively. WordStar let you stay in the flow to get to your final draft quickly.

Adaptable: Computer, printer, and communication hardware rivaled the Cambrian explosion in variety and incompatibility. WordStar worked predictably on serial terminals, dedicated displays, and daisywheel and dot matrix printers, serial or parallel, one floppy or two.

Ecosystem: MicroPro and third parties supported WordStar with many add-on applications for spelling, mail merge, and so on. Yes, spell checking was an extra.

Nostalgia: WordStar pushed the envelope in its day. Comparing it to today's editors and word processors, WordStar is quaint. But maybe since then we've forgotten some important reasons about why we use computers. WordTsar might be a good reminder.

> WordStar used only Shift and Control as meta keys and laid out its keyboard commands intuitively.

And comfortably because the Control key was on almost all keyboards above the left shift key. Wish it had stayed there.

I don't think anyone is arguing that Wordstar is coming back to compete with modern editors. It was written in 1978. This is nostalgia. But for those of us who used Wordstar to write high school and college papers, it is well-received nostalgia, and well done.

George R R Martin uses it

And until a few months ago, he blogged on livejournal. I'm glad it works for him, but he isn't exactly an example of keeping up with the latest tech. (Nor is he known for his efficiency and speed of delivery.)

The hot new thing this year is “no distraction” modes, running a single app full screen with no notifications or any extraneous widgets. OSX and W10 both have new features for it. I see this as capitalising in that theme

This year? WriteRoom came out in 2012.

I remember having it years before that. Here's a February 2007 blog post about WriteRoom 1.0. http://osxdaily.com/2007/02/27/writeroom-distraction-free-wr...

This is hilarious, given that the big drawback with DOS was single-tasking. Whats old is new again. I would agree that there are a ton of distractions now and sometimes I need to close my email/chat to get any work done.

We've realized that though we've made computers good at multitasking, humans really aren't very good at it.

Actually I disagree. This isn't the old becoming new again, it's just that the terrible modern web UX design has been slowly spilling over the desktop to the point that some people now want to reclaim their attention spans. Nobody objects downloading something in the background or compiling while you read a pdf full screen or playing some music etc. It's notifications from every social media and the lack of granular control over them that's killing "modern" multitasking.

Do you know when lack of multitasking actually hurt in MS-DOS?

Copying and formatting floppies!

Everything else wasn't that big deal as desktop user.

Always had a soft spot for WordStar. Last version used was WS 3. Took WordTsar for a spin... Fast comments: Seems to be missing N (non-document edit -- used that for editing program source). ^KH (hide block) is ^K> Not sure why (WS 4?). ^JH0 is missing (get rid of help). As are the other help levels. No pure console display. And its big. 16M for GTK3. One file, though, which is very nice. (compare to the original, 81536 bytes).

Congradulations! Very nice work

> WordTsar released

Why do you use a four-component version number?

Since the first number is zero, i assume that the additional number is to express something more major than a major-update.

Now I just need someone to service my daisywheel printer.

Hrm, really cool but what is the licensing?


Undecided, but the source isn’t available yet according to that page.

I dunno, what is the default license when there is no license? I made a good faith effort to find one, including downloading and running, hoping for a Help/About. Nope, no license.

Not that it stands a chance of being a daily driver for me. I appreciate the effort put into it, but it is way rough.

If there is no license you have no rights to the software. If they are offering it for download there is probably an implied license to use the software but certainly not to modify or distribute it.

As far as I understand, the FSF's stance has always been that copyright law does not cover use of a piece of software you have in your possession, and they have done a lot of thinking on the subject. You can use the copy you downloaded, no license needed.

Modification, distribution, making it part of another larger work -- you need a license for those.

The FSF certainly has well considered opinions, but their opinions are in many respects outside the mainstream.

People, even lawyers, often use reductio ad absurdum to argue that some behavior isn't infringing. In a famous draft opinion in the Sony v. Betamax Justice Stevens wrote,

  It would plainly be unconstitutional to prohibit a person
  from singing a copyrighted song in the shower or jotting 
  down a copyrighted poem he hears on the radio.
All the other justices disagreed with Stevens on the second point--it's elementary law that to jot down a poem you hear on the radio is infringement of the reproduction copyright.[1] This sounds absurd (and, well, it is!) but copyrights and patents are a little absurd to begin with.

Usually the absurdity of the scope of copyright law is tolerable because of the impossibility of a plaintiff discovering or proving infringement in personal, private use. Other times courts may use Fair Use or other technicalities to avoid absurd outcomes. But many times the absurdity lies and people are penalized. In any event, courts aren't disposed to finding non-infringement. Modern courts have narrowed considerably traditional theories like merger and the idea/expression dichotomy that circumscribed the scope of copyright outright. And it's non partisan. If Ginsburg had her way copyright would see a considerable expansion in scope. (Her daughter is the author of an influential treatise on copyright, which propounds a radically expansive view of copyrights.)

[1] I forgot where I read the historical account about all the other justices disagreeing on that specific point. I think it was in one of my treatises.

You can’t run the program without making a copy into memory. That is the theory upon which running software without a license is a copyright violation.


Noticed that the domain name ends in a '.' - is this intentionally or a typo? Works fine with or without.

Does DNS simply ignore a trailing '.'?

Just checking here with "google.com." and indeed it does! Google will rewrite the URL to omit the trailing '.' but other sites apparently do not. "irishtimes.com." for example.

(-: Thank you!

Also tangentially, do you do your smiley backwards (like I do) so that Outlook doesn't rewrite them on you?

Yea you can modify it locally. But in this context I meant redistributing your modified version a la free software. It's not much fun to play with something and then not show anyone.

Modify, yes. Distribute, no.

Or George R. R. Martin, who "still uses the MS-DOS version of WordStar 4.0".

I used WordStar briefly at school on (ancient, even then) MS-DOS 2 computers donated by a petrol station whose POS software was burned into the screens. I didn't think much of it - I'd already seen newer software.

Clever name but if Wordstar is still owned by someone there is quite a risk of a trademark infringement suit.

According to USPTO trademark search, WordStar trademark is dead (cancelled on August 14, 1995). This is US-only, of course.

The trademark maybe dead but the product is not abandoned, nor has it been released into the public domain. The current owners are Houghton Mifflin Harcourt:


I'm sure if they felt like it they could assert their IP rights over any clones or similarly named products.

What IP rights?

The trademark is dead. That's naming.

Patents? Seems unlikely.

That leaves copyright. It seems unlikely that anyone working on a Wordstar clone is silly enough to have even glanced at the original source, so that's not it.

Look-and-feel? Dead issues. And there's no API to copy, not that I believe an API is copyrightable as it is a functional spec. The United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit can bite me.

I used WordStar. Thank goodness Turbo Pascal used WordStar keybindings for their commands, too!

Screenshots are showing proportional fonts. Did that come in a later WordStar?

I'm disappointed they haven't released the sources.

WordTsar = Russian World Star

Really want to read about this but the webpage keeps messsing with the scrolling on my phone and reader mode is unavailable.

For some reason the webpage keeps scrolling itself vertically. That’s not a useful feature of a web page IMHO. :(

It does on mine as well. After I scroll down and start reading it begins to make small jumps in the opposite direction. Weird.

That’s carousel or whatever frontend guys name it spinning at the top. Slides with different height. Not a big deal, since it could open a popup, three floating bars and gdpr warning after you explicitly accepted their tracking cookies instead.


Baseless name calling one of the big superpowers "the aggressor" is perhaps even more dangerous, and unwise to say the least. But let's not get political, it's a freaking text editor.

Yeah, that kind of derogatory down-playing of another culture reeks of classic cold-war rhetoric. I hope we can do without that type of othering.

Also, 'Tsar' is a term that was also used outside of Russia (Bulgaria, Serbia) — never mind that the last Russian 'Tsar' died over a century ago; 1721 even if you follow the Russian naming convention!

The wordplay using Caesar is not as catchy though.

On that note we maybe should change the name of the game of Bridge.

If so I would like to change the meaning of playing a trump card at the same time.

Politics are important. Please let us not trivialize them by such non-issues. The etymology of the words goes much much deeper.

"The one who only takes joking for joke and seriously only seriously, he and she have actually taken both of them badly"

> On that note we maybe should change the name of the game of Bridge.

I don't get it—what's the relationship?

Few do as the name sounds so innocuous. But the name likely originated from the russian biritch.


Maybe too contrived.

But I did not think the blatant xenophobia in the OP should stand unopposed.

Especially for a word which already to a high degree has been assimilated into (US) English.


But when I need to explain the joke I must admit defeat :-)

What aggressor? As I understand it, the US and Russia are best pals now. We filthy Europeans are apparently the enemy nowadays.

> pretending that it isn't the culture of the aggressor

Pretending the USA isn't the main aggressor is delusional.

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