Here is a PC Magazine cover from 1988: https://archive.org/details/PC-Mag-1988-02-29. It boasts a review of 55 different word processors. All of them would have been commercial; none of it was free, let alone open-source.
It wasn't just word processors. Here is a different cover: https://archive.org/details/PC-Mag-1988-05-17. It boasts tests of 43 different consumer-level database products. And magazine covers like these two weren't extraordinary.
Are they really equivalent though? A word processor - with multi-page documents, pagination, rich formatting and layout, footnotes, headers, footers, ToC (table of contents) and so much more - seems a magnitude greater than simply a note-taking app.
I can understand why many developers might tackle a simple note app (or a simple blog generator, or static site generator). But a word processor feels like a much more complex beast.
It was a time of evolutionary explosion. And while I don't miss a lot of the aspects of it, it is certainly nostalgic in a lot of ways
(though I'm not the type to play with 80s hardware - emulators are more practical)
Oh and about the "none of it was free" well ;)
The "extension language" is it's so easy to just add some code and recompile it, there's no point in adding an extension language.
I like microEmacs a lot because I can use it remotely over a tty interface.
Missed a "if you're a major programming language creator and profficient with parsers and compilers since the 80s" between these two parts of the sentence...
Visual Studio clunks and grinds its way to opening, and I find I'm reluctant to exit it because it's slow to exit, too.
Why did I move from ecco pro to onenote? Because I want something that automatically syncs to all my devices, easily searches across a decade of notes and lets me get things done from my phone. Onenote’s low quality outline authoring experience is trumped by its networking features.
This for me is the key: we expect tools to live on the network. All those apps of old, they were based around files, their business models were based around buying files, and they targeted one form factor and often only one OS. We need tools based around networks, not files, that target every form factor and every OS, but doing that costs a lot of money to rent servers and build frontends, and that means we get locked in saas products. Tons of saas products, all solving the same set of problems on the network but doing it through a web interface because it allows them to write once and run everywhere.
What would really help is a free substrate for networked open source products. If you could deploy something cloud-native without having to pay for servers, you’d see more community and native apps and less web saas in the productivity tools space.
I agree and it's why I'm a fan of apps that sync data via something like Dropbox or Google Drive. The application can still be file based and the developer doesn't have to run servers. There are the obvious limitations, but for personal use it works pretty well.
I have to mention Joplin here, which became my note-taking app after a lot of research. There are certainly more powerful apps, but Joplin is open source, runs on all devices, (Windows, Linux, Android and iOS in my case), syncs data via Nextcloud or Dropbox, and supports E2E-encryption. It also allows inserting images directly into the notes, which I found cumbersome with other markdown-based note apps.
The developer is also very active and adds useful features and bugfixes very regularly. Definitely worth the few bucks I donate every month.
It used to be that everyone had to maintain their own personal "library"- now this activity is relegated to cranks and luddites. The second order effect is a change in demand for personal information authoring/management/etc.
A small number of tools, like Scrivener, that may have been competitive in the 1980s, have a market today. The idea of an isolated, focused, non-networked writing environment, surviving like the crocodile.
I don't have a hypothesis for the lack of innovation in the spreadsheet space. The incentives are certainly there. Literally billions/trillions of dollars of assets are subjected to all kinds of spreadsheet risk. Yet that workflow persists, and small and large businesses that attempt to tackle it rise and fall by the wayside.
It doesn't hurt that a wide variety of white-collar workers are already familiar with Excel and stand to gain a great deal of leverage across their job with every small investment in learning about its features, but the incumbent advantage of Excel being universally available, without question or complaint, cannot be overstated.
 Back when businesses were mainly concerned with internal document sharing it wasn't as much of an issue. But as that expanded to marking up documents with outside lawyers, accountants etc that changed quickly. When the Internet happened for the masses in the late 90's it was game over for most of the competition.
And if you're niche, you can't establish a new file format in a networked world, so you end up having to be interoperable, with markdown in text or xls for spreadsheets. And if you're interoperable, you end up shrinking your market even further: people your users are sharing with don't need to use you.
You really can't build much of a moat on "powerful UX that boils down to a sharable file format". The only way to make space for yourself then is to become a platform in your own right (see emacs/vscode etc).
And what prevents spreadsheets becoming a platform? The install base of Excel, for a kickoff, but also the enormous limitations of csv on the other hand.
In short, the conditions that allowed all those 1980s applications to flourish – bespoke file formats, invested users, no truly dominant players, less networked sharing - have all gone. And so have the apps.
Lotus Word Pro also took a refreshingly different UI approach to MS Word. Long before Microsoft introduced the Office 'ribbon', Lotus Word Pro essentially had the same idea with their floated tabbed property box. The low resolution of screens at the time meant the design of the property box was a bit cramped. But it was still much better designed and organised than the Office 'ribbon' that would come later. See the Lotus Word Pro example below:
Somewhere, in my office, is still a CD with Lotus 96 on it, but I've had no real desire to reinstall it in a VM.
With a peak in 2002 it seems.
I find it weird how generations need to change words. I guess Startup was new, and unconventional? For a few seconds they were? Then they got real slick with MBA’s?
In some ways, I miss the Microsoft of the 80s and 90s. Sure, they were totally evil, but at least they made good UIs.
I could quote at length but basically for most people there are now better ways of doing work than using word processors and spreadsheets.
Other commenters have it right I think- network effects drive up the cost of not being on the dominant software. I also think that the security and privacy aspect plays a huge part too- it's one thing to install software sold by a retailer you trust in a non-networked computer, it's another to do so directly from a random website on an always on networked computer.
has anyone cloned Lotus Improv, either literally or ideologically? The closest thing I've used recently that was close was probably Airtable, but that's more an iterative improvement on FileMaker/Access, with a web focus, than really a competitor to Improv. There also used to be a Java desktop app, but it wasn't targeted for casual desktop use, and I've long since forgotten its name.
Sourcecode : https://github.com/gnustep/gap/tree/master/user-apps/FlexiSh...
Review of alternatives: https://arstechnica.com/civis/viewtopic.php?f=20&t=546563
as far as I know Quantrix Modeler https://quantrix.com/products/quantrix-modeler/ started as a clone and has continued on with the same idea, though by now I assume it's accreted enough bells and whistles to be just barely recognizable.
ETA: also it's 2.5 grand a seat so...
(I'm not saying it's Not Worth That, but I definitely would not get back my investment for what I use spreadsheets for.)
This is big part of why the application market place consolidated and dried up. I peeked at the PC mag word processor roundup that was posted in this thread, and one thing that struck my eye was that Word and WP cost like $450-$495 in 80s dollars, which is about $1000 in todays dollars. Its pretty hard to imagine anyone paying $1k for a word processor alone these days. And in that scale $2.5k for a spreadsheet doesn't seem all that preposterous. Also if the high-end software cost that much, it would leave more room in the lower end for smaller software to compete.
I was quite wrong in my previous comment; a quick scan of The Macintosh Garden reminds me I was programming in Wingz, a really nice macro host.
I had a heavy macro-based workflow worked out, but could not really replicate the whole thing in other editors.
That said, I absolutely loved Groove the product and Groove the team. It was a dapp with a wonderfully-usable interface, built on a pure P2P blockchain-like infrastructure that achieved distributed consensus for generalized transactions.
It had an extremely loyal following in the NGO and GOV space. They "got it" as to the unique benefits of a secure end-to-end encrypted system for small team collaboration.
But the enterprise and consumers chose centralization as the winning architecture, and the rest is history.
Groove's revenue exceeded expenditures, though, right? Or could have? I'm not sure it was reasonable to expect success at that scale for an entirely novel class of application in an era where startup investments were still expected to 'mature' only after about a decade or more. Groove was only ~8 years old, and 1.0 had been released ~6 years prior.
> But the enterprise and consumers chose centralization as the winning architecture, and the rest is history.
As I recall, around 2.x you were more-or-less switching from a distributed architecture to a decentralized one, but... your point is taken. I suppose I should admire that you saw the writing on the wall as soon as you did.
The wheel keeps turning though, and I wonder if another stab at the idea could succeed today. Certainly the various risks of centralization are much more apparent, and to a broader audience, now.
Today it could almost certainly be built MUCH more economically - likely on the not-dissimilar and rich/mature matrix.org infra at the bottom, and using Electron on top.
And I would sell not to enterprises nor to decentralization zealots: I'd build a small focused GTM org focused on public sector and those who will need to collaborate when trying to deal with an APT.
Well, that's certainly a growing market segment, both domestically and internationally. It is starting to feel like there may soon not be anyone left who doesn't have to deal with an APT, if only as collateral damage.
Thanks for engaging!
Indeed. See also: Surface...everything.
Only for the submission. You can write externally. There used to be "It's All Text" before Firefox's extensions got gutted, which automated that copying. I wonder where that lies on their list of "apps" to edit with.
You might like to take a look at Waterfox. It's a fork of the last pre-Quantum of Firefox, with frequent security update releases (roughly every 8 weeks), that still runs XUL extensions.
It's my default browser since Firefox Quantum, because recent Firefox versions simply can't do all the customisations I like — such as a vertical tab bar combined with a flat bookmarks bar, a smart download manager in a tab, and so on.
That's linear thinking. Computer science peaked in the 80s-90s. There arent bold new ideas to add, just incremental progress. Today it's all about polishing and making things more addictive in order to make the highest profit. Rounded corner screens for displaying slightly improved versions of newsgroups (facebook), IRC (slack/discord), BBS (google)... I can't think of a new mode of communication invented in the last decades. One could say video, but live TV existed before. Scaling up is incremental. Right here, HN is barely different than newsgroups. If change had been non-incremental , we d be dismissing HN as something that only crazy people do (the equivalent of riding a horse to work)
Okay but, could anyone broadcast on TV? Could anyone have their own TV channel?
TikTok, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitch... preceded by JustinTV, Vine, Periscope.
It's a different ballgame. There's whole new revenue streams, individual content creators are collectively making a ton of money . Consumers are directly (or nearly directly) compensating creators in many cases (e.g. Twitch) unlike before.
This is the entire history of computing.
Any time I see a statement like this around here it never seems to include a suggestion. That's not to say there isn't something to be done, but when I think about my computer or phone there's no new idea I'm wishing they had.
>I can't think of a new mode of communication invented in the last decades.
Human communication is confined to the human senses. So again, what are we missing? What should be developed?
> what are we missing? What should be developed?
We can only speculate, but despite all the tech thrown at it, our communication is still pretty mundane, serial dialogues. A technology like the internet could enable new modes of organizing information in which the output is more than the sum of the parts (like a spreadsheet for minds). Wikipedia did this, and open source software. Another is the ability to have direct payments without middlemen (what blockains do), that would enable a ton of new possibilities.
There's been an explosion of competitors and imitators, too. Some, like Roam, definitely have a utopian 1980s hypertext ethos.
Lotus Agenda for example would take your notes and automatically categorize them based on the categories you created in the earlier not taking process, allowing you to filter your notes by different "views" with no input on your end (after the initial category creation). For example you could mention a contact in a Task or Note and then that note would appear under the view for that contact automatically. Etc.
All this in 640k.
Anyway, I think it will get there. The fact that Notion is using 500MB of RAM on my machine is definitely a downside compared to older software...
It just changed everything, people stopped create desktop apps and started to create web apps. However, web as a platform was really weak for complex apps, so only now we see how companies re-discover lost apps from 80s and re-create them in the web (Notion, Coda, Airtable, Fibery)
What gets me about this line of thought is that the technology didn't disappear. Anyone who wants to recreate "the lost apps of the 80s" just needs to grab a text editor and start coding.
Everyone has the power to create any app they like. Stop pointing the finger at other people asking why they don't do the work for you.
recreating his old 'Frontier' in/with the web browser
For some perspective, this was an app developed by 5 core devs that grew to ~125M+ users who by necessity were split across implementations concurrently released for Windows 3/95, NT, OS/2, Mac, Motif, OpenLook, because we were an early enterprise product and needed GTM help offered by each of those platform vendors.
Our tiny dev team chose to prioritize platform breadth thru a "portability layer" developed in a pre-internet pre-browser era, with the constraint that its ~3M+ LoC (in C) had to run in a 250KB working set that grew to a couple MB by the time I left.
Yes, I wish the UI could have been better on each platform. But as a pragmatist I remain proud of the paradigm and its usability given the constraints.
(see also Ray Ozzie answer in other comment about portability layer https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=26697054 )
Things you got with Notes out of the box with minimal systems configuration effort: easy document sharing, easy authentication, entitlement, encryption of documents (and emails) across an organization. Easy provisioning of strong encryption across an organization. I could send digitally signed documents both within IBM and to peers outside IBM fairly easily. I could create a library of security processes for IBM's internet operations, pick out the organizations and people who could have access across the company, and it just worked. For bonus points we got document retention, audit logs, it all just was there out of the box. I didn't need to know ahead of time if someone was using Windows or OS/2 or a Mac.
It's easy to dismiss it all today as horrible bloatware, and as "just" an email tool it was probably overkill. I think too many companies (IBM especially) bought it, set it up, and utterly failed at educating people how to use it (IBMers were notorious for sending around email chains with multiple copies of Freelance or Powerpoint presentations, instead of a link to the presentation in a central repository, partly because IBM's services arm and IBM's CIO didn't want the overhead of managing such things.).
Notes issues were a nightmare, exceeded only by the problems caused by oversized apple talk and netbios networks, and physical layer problems in networks that predate the "base T" paradigm.