Apple Writer – The Beacon of Innovation in the 1970s

Know everything about the most popular text processing software on Apple II computers.

Click and subscribe if you share our enthusiasm for science, tech, and engineering!

Apple Writer is the text processing software that Apple introduced in the year 1979. This development was so groundbreaking at that time because, in that era, people had to build their own software for specific tasks as the number of professionally built software was very meager.

It ran on Apple II set of devices and the newer version; the Apple Writer II became the international bestseller. Even when this creation is truly amazing, the life of its creator, Paul Luttus, is even more interesting.

Paul Lutus – creator, explorer, and a hermit

It's hard to describe Paul Lutus in a few words. To put it short, He was a dropout at 7th grade in 1957 who went on to be crowned as the “Scientist of the Year” by Oregon Academy of Science in 1985.

His life is worth reading about, and one of his greatest contributions to the tech world was the Apple Writer. He developed the Apple writer on his Apple II computer to help him write a paper on the science of relativity.

Paul Lutus
Source: p_lutus/Twitter

He was a genius and showed love in engineering electronics and coding. In 1973, he designed electronics for NASA. In 1977, he bought his new computer – The Apple II. He found that the existing word processors didn’t interest him that much, so he made his own word processor called Apple Writer.

At that time and age, there weren’t a lot of word processors developed in code. Most word processors were separate machines built for this specific task.

This is why the creation of Paul Lutus made headlines. It elevated the status of computers and showed that they are great for content creation.

His love for coding and the way he chose to code, in solitude, earned him the name the Oregon Hermit.

"You may have heard about me. In the computer business, I'm known as the Oregon Hermit. According to rumor, I write personal computer programs in solitude, shunning food and sleep in endless fugues of work. I hang up on important callers in order to keep the next few programming ideas from evaporating, and I live on the end of a dirt road in the wilderness." Paul Lutus, Computer Programing.

Advertisement

After his contribution to NASA, he wanted a life of away from everything, even electricity. He built a cabin on top of the hills of Oregon and built a cottage by himself.

In 1976, he heard news about the new Apple II and placed an order immediately afterward.  Then he went on to cut a path through the forest to lay electric lines to power his cottage.

This is just a brief part of his life as in 1988, he ventured out for a solo journey around the whole world in his sailboat.

Paul Lutus is a man full of surprises, and simply pioneers in everything he does!  

Advertisement

Let’s look at Apple Writer in detail and the subsequent versions that came after the first generation.

Apple Writer I – The one that began it all!

A powerful yet simple to understand word processor software Paul Lutus wrote during his years in solitude in the hills of Oregon. He had a cottage there and bought an Apple computer to complete a paper.

He wanted to have more freedom while preparing the paper and needed a system that could directly print the file from the computer using a printer or fax machine.

He began coding a new program and create a word processor that can easily run on an Apple computer and named it Apple Writer 1. It supported 40-column text field and was working from a DOS 3.2 Diskette.

Advertisement

Since this was the first implementation of word processing software from Paul, it didn’t have the refinement of the software that we use today. For example, every letter, even small caps letter that you write would be shown in ALL CAPS.

If the user were to insert an all-caps word or letter, it would be color inverted, meaning they will appear as black on white text.

The Apple writer 1 could connect directly to a printer using a serial bus system, which is actually a modified game paddle port. The program was not intended for public use as it had a very primitive UI, something that was enjoyed by the creator himself.

Advertisement

Apple came to know of Paul’s Word processing software and showed interest in buying it. The deal got Paul $7,000, and Apple got the complete rights to the product.

Apple renamed the software to Apple Writer and released it in 1979 for a price of $75.

Interface

Apple Writer I Interface
Source: Archive.org

As you can see, the first version of the Apple Writer was very basic. It didn’t have any fancy stuff that we have on our computers today, but that time, this program was far ahead in versatility compared to the competition.

It had a black and white layout, and every character was set to CAPS LOCK format by default.

Advertisement

Pros:

  • This was one among the first fully software word processors
  • People didn’t have to buy standalone word processor hardware
  • It could run form a floppy disk without any additional hardware requirements
  • Inspired many to code and write
  • Made a case for the computer and how they will influence technology in the future

Cons

  • Couldn’t display LOW CAP characters
  • Very basic display
  • Users experienced many bugs in the system

Apple Writer 1.1

The Apple writer 1.1 was an incremental addition to the original Apple writer 1.0. The new version came with a more intuitive UI and had a built-in Spellchecker.

It was more stable than its predecessor as the new version removed many of the bugs that plagued the first version. The developers at Apple found to be increasingly hard to develop the Apple writer 1 beyond a certain point.

They could only do minor modification like changing the UI and fix bugs. This is why this version of Apple writer had the 1.1 tag rather than Apple Writer II.

Interface

When you look at the interface of Apple Writer 1.1, nothing much was changed from the Apple Writer I. This was expected as the new version was not centered around a visual overhaul, but as a means to provide customers with a more stable product.

Advertisement

The users accustomed to Apple Writer I will have no problem using the new versions at all.

Pros:

  • It was more stable than AppleWriter 1

Cons:

  • Couldn’t display LOW CAP characters

Apple writer II

After the grand success of Apple writer 1 or “Easy Writer,” Apple approached Paul Lutus to ask him to modify the program. However, by then, Paul had already made a new version of Apple Writer I – The Apple Writer II.

This version had some major upgrades in terms of how information was displayed and processed.

The most notable change was the ability of the software to display both lowercase and uppercase letter on the screen. The storage amount was also increased from a 40 column text to 80 column text.

Advertisement

The software also implemented text wrapping and the ability to automate some tasks like in the macros. The software could save files in the text in binary like it used to in previous generations and came with a glossary feature.

The cursor movement was also made fluidic with the use of four arrow keys.

Interface

Apple Writer II Interface
Source: Archive.org

Apple Writer 2 was less cluttered and had a simple design. It helped users to get into typing as soon as the program loaded. If they had doubt on anything, pressing “Function key” and “?” brought up a guide that explained everything to the users.

Pros:

  • A much more simple and user-oriented UI
  • Addition of help guide
  • Increased the maximum column text size to 80
  • Intuitive cursor movement

Cons:

  • Lacked features for connectivity
  • Couldn’t save large files

Apple Writer IIe

Apple Writer IIe Interface
Source: Archive.org

The Apple Writer IIe was a modified version of Apple II aimed at improving the software's capability, especially processing and saving the file. Apple IIe, released in 1983 was able to create larger files thanks to the 80 column text support.

It also included TAB key functionality as the previous generation Apple keyboards didn’t come with one. The new software also allowed the keyboard to be connected to a printer to directly print the input characters, mimicking the function of a typewriter.

Pros

  • Fixed many of the bugs from Apple II
  • Added support for external devices like printers and modem

Cons

  • The OS couldn’t use many of the features targeted at incorporating external devices

Apple Writer 2.0

Apple released a new OS for their computer lineup called the ProDOS – Professional Disk Operating System. It was released in the year 1983, and a new version of Apple Writer was released in 1984 that took advantage of many of ProDOS’ features.

It helped Apple Writer 2.0 to add functions like setting margins and accessing a modem for additional features.

Pros:

  • A very intuitive and easy to use UI
  • More functions were available like TAB and FUNCTION
  • Could save large files
  • Support for Modem

Cons

  • Technical constraints of that era prevented additional modification
  • The era of integrated software has begun

Apple Writer 2.1

The Apple Writer 2.0 being a newer version running on a new OS certainly caused some stability and compatibility issues. The Apple Writer 2.1 was a more refined version of the Apple Writer 2.0.

For example, Apple Writer 2.0 had compatibility issues with certain printers and interface cards. The team managed to do it by changing characters from Low ASCII to High ASCII.

The 2.1 Version fixed this in addition to many stability modifications.

The rise of AppleWorks

Apple didn’t stop trying to create their own software for office productivity, partly because they wanted to have an all-in-one system and partly because every Apple Writer software sold gave Paul Lutus 25% of its price.

Rupert Lissner created the AppleWorks in 1984. He created the AppleWorks to be a single system that can do many of the office processes through one software.

The software was an instant success and gained the likes of millions. It was also a product that influenced many other companies to create their own all-in-one suites – Microsoft Works, Beagle Works, ClarisWorks, etc.

The software made it possible to do Word Processing, Database creation, and Spreadsheet calculation under one banner.

Before AppleWorks, Apple had standalone modules to carry out various office tasks. They had AppleWriter for word processing, VisiCalc for spreadsheet creation and calculation and DB Master for Database Management.

The AppleWorks integrated the functionalities of these modules under one name and added more functionality to it by introducing a shared memory pool called “clipboard.” These didn’t just mean that users could do more; it meant that the users could do more things efficiently and quickly.

Rupert Lissner spent two years developing AppleWorks, and it showed in its refinement and ease of use. Apple refined and upgraded the software with each iteration and added graphical enhancements that gave it a modern look.

With the advent of OS X, Apple wanted to design a software that could go well with the new layout and look of the new operating system. The new set of Office software was Keynote, a presentation app, and Pages, the new word processor.

These two modules marked the end of AppleWorks.

AppleWriter Going Freeware

With the massive success of AppleWorks, Apple decided to discontinue the Apple Writer Series. Paul Lutus made the Apple Writer a freeware so that anyone can use or copy it without paying anyone.

Electronics

17 Apple Products From the 90s We Forgot About

This also made sure that no one could sell it for profit and if anyone did, legal action could be initiated at that person.

"I used Apple Writer for years until eventually, my typing speed increased so much that the program couldn't keep up with me anymore when typing long paragraphs. I eventually resorted to disabling word-wrap while typing and re-enabling it prior to printing (Control-Z, I think it was). Later, I bought a Zip Chip that increased the computer speed to about 3.5 MHz, and the problem disappeared." Paul Lutus

Conclusion

AppleWorks definitely changed computing and content creation. We can even say that it actually inspired almost all of the software-based word processors that we use today. The man behind the creation, Paul Lutus is undoubtedly a visionary and a man of wonders.