On Friday, Microsoft decided to start the month of September with an announcement that was both unexpected but also one that perhaps has been a long time in coming. The company revealed that it is no longer updating or developing its free WordPad word processor and that future editions of Windows will remove it completely.
Like many of its software and hardware products that Microsoft decided to shut down over the decades, the announcement of WordPad's end was not given any amount of fanfare. It just got a brief mention on the company's Depectated features list. That's too bad because the app has been available for nearly three decades. It was included in all copies of Windows 95, which we mentioned celebrated its 28th anniversary just last week.
WordPad was actually a replacement for an earlier free word processor, Microsoft Write. It was first bundled with Windows 1.0 back in 1985. It first used Microsoft's proprietary .wri file format but later was able to read and edit .doc files. Like the future WordPad app, Microsoft Write could handle basic word processor functions.
As The Lunduke Journal of Technology website notes, Microsoft tried to release word processors with the Microsoft Write branding as a paid app for Mac PCs and even the Atari ST. The Mac app was actually a stripped-down version of Word, and the Atari ST was just a modified version of Microsoft Word 1.0 for the Mac. Why Microsoft decided to release these products and put the Write branding on them is lost to history.
In any case, Microsoft decided to finally ditch the Write app and included WordPad in Windows 95. There's no info we were able to find on who decided to launch WordPad or who worked on it at Microsoft. However, it seemed to be designed to offer Windows users simple word-processing features that were not available on the company's NotePad text editor.
You could do things like switch fonts, have the text bolded or turned into italics, create a bullet list, or align the text to the left, right, or center of the page. WordPad even supported inserting images and it had a simple paint function. However, it lacked lots of the more advanced features you could find on Microsoft Word, including a spell checker, the creation of tables, and more.
There's one basic feature that wasn't included in WordPad until the version bundled with Windows 7 launched. Before then, WordPad couldn't justify a paragraph. The odd thing about that is that the discontinued Microsoft Write could perform that task. Once again, the reasoning behind the decision to keep the justify function out of WordPad for over a decade is not available.
Microsoft actually released the source code to WordPad just before the release of Windows 95. It was available to download from the MSDN site until it shut down. We we unable to find it on the Microsoft Learn site that replaced MSDN. However, it appears someone has uploaded that code to GitHub.
Originally, WordPad supported the proprietary .wri file format from the older Microsoft Write app, along with the .txt, .rtf, and .doc formats. Support for the .wri, .rtf, and .doc formats were removed in later versions, but WordPad added support for the newer .docx format, along with the .odt format, with the Windows 7 version. The Windows 10 edition was the first to add support for typing via voice.
However, it was also with the Windows 10 edition that Microsoft decided to make WordPad an optional app for the OS. In 2020, it was revealed that Microsoft was experimenting with including ads with the free WordPad app. However, that rather odd addition was never generally released to the public.
With Friday's quiet announcement of the shutdown of WordPad, Microsoft is likely to make people check out the free edition of Word that's available on the web as a replacement. However, it still feels like the end of an era for this app that slowly became something from an earlier time in Windows history.