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A quick look back at Microsoft Word on its 40th anniversary and its conflicting launch dates

Microsoft word with mouse

A few months ago, we looked back at the launch of the first Microsoft Mouse device, which was released on May 2, 1983. We also stated that the mouse was "later bundled with the first version of Microsoft Word, which launched just a few months later in September 1983."

Well, today is one of the dates that has indeed been listed as the official launch date of Microsoft Word 1.0 for MS-DOS. Microsoft posted a history of the company and claimed this as part of its 1983 coverage.

September 29, 1983

Microsoft ships it’s full-featured word processing program, Word for MS-DOS 1.00 and provides a free demonstration copy to subscribers of The PC World Software Review.

So today is the 40th anniversary of Microsoft Word, right? Well, maybe not. The same Microsoft history page where that statement was posted also has a video, and during that video (go to the 2:32 mark) the presenter says that Microsoft Word actually launched on November 29, 1983.

And if that wasn't confusing enough, other online histories of this word processor program claim that the launch date was October 25, 1983. If anyone reading this 'quick look' back at the release of Word 1.0 can give us some definitive evidence that one of these dates, or some other date, is correct, we will update this article accordingly.

Microsoft word 10

Now that we have gotten that out of the way, let's look at how Microsoft Word came to be.

PC World posted an article during Word's 25th anniversary that stated back in 1981, Microsoft hired Charles Simonyi. He was the lead developer behind an earlier word processor called Bravo. It was notable for being the first such program with a graphical user interface. Along with another developer named Richard Brodie, work commenced on Microsoft's attempt to launch its own word processing program.

The business already had a lot of competition. Wordstar was a popular word processing program in the early days of personal computing, and in 1982 another program for DOS, WordPerfect had launched.

Originally, Microsoft was going to name its program Multi-Tool Word. Infoworld magazine from May 30, 1983 announced the new word processor, and that it would be bundled with a Microsoft Mouse, although the article said it would just be an "option" to actually use the application. The article touted some of the program's features like automatic text reformatting, and the use of style sheets.

Thankfully, the company decided to shorten the name of the program when it finally launched as just Microsoft Word. It also bundled a demo version of the software with the November 1983 version of PC World magazine. It was the first time that a software program would be bundled with a print magazine.

The price for Microsoft Word 1.0, with the included mouse, was $498. That was a ton of money for anything back then and, adjusted for inflation, the Word and mouse bundle would cost $1,514.39 in 2023 dollars.

The release of Word 1.0 was, in fact, a bit of a bust. It did not sell well as many people preferred to use competing products like WordStar, and especially WordPerfect, which became the go-to word processing program for most folks with PCs in the early to mid-1980s.

Indeed, it wasn't until Microsoft launched Word 1.0 for Windows six years later in 1989 that the program began to take hold and more people began to use it. It also sparked a huge rivalry with WordPerfect, which we may write about someday.

In any case, no matter the exact date, this year is indeed the 40th anniversary of Microsoft's first release in word processing software. It didn't set the world on fire back then, but it did lay the foundations for Microsoft's success in that field years later.

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