I was a tech writer at IBM in Austin, TX in the late 80s. We were writing documentation for the RS/6000. I loved the publishing software we used and was sorry to see it replaced in the marketplace by cheaper, less powerful software geared towards desktop computing. There was a complex set of context menus that enabled you to work your way through a document incredibly quickly once you mastered the software.

I think the company was located in MA?

I'm trying to remember the name of it. I can't find it anywhere! Does anyone remember this software?

I don't remember what we worked on... Maybe proprietary computers? It was definitely not Windows or Macs, which were not powerful enough in those days (did they even exist? No idea).

I eventually became a Unix sysadmin, inspired by my experience with that software. In using it I found that I preferred the "technical" part over the "writing" part of "technical writing".

  • Mass-11 perhaps?
    – Jon Custer
    Commented May 20, 2021 at 2:06
  • To early for FRAMEmaker ? Commented May 20, 2021 at 7:29
  • @StefanSkoglund FrameMaker is rather early '90 - But memory is sometimes graceful on time ;) Could well fit.
    – tofro
    Commented May 20, 2021 at 7:33
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    @StephenKitt ding! ding! ding! It was Interfleaf. Can you elevate your comment to an answer? I wouldn't be surprised to learn that FrameMaker contributed to Interleaf's demise. It came along right after. I worked at IBM in 88 or 89.
    – april26
    Commented May 20, 2021 at 10:09
  • Maybe Wang (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wang_Laboratories)? Massachusetts doesn't narrow it down very much. Before the rise of Silicon Valley, the 128 and 495 corridors were the center of the tech universe.
    – Flydog57
    Commented May 20, 2021 at 13:50

3 Answers 3


This sounds like Interleaf (released as “TPS”, “Technical Publishing Software”, in 1985), a sophisticated document creation system produced by the company of the same name, based in Massachusetts. It was the first WYSIWYG document system, and typically ran on workstations, initially Sun and Apollo workstations. Over time it was made available on a large number of minis and workstations; Interleaf 5 was available for DG Aviion, DEC VAX/VMS, DEC Ultrix, various HP systems, IBM RS/6000, Sun and SGI workstations; Interleaf 6 required Motif and was available on a smaller number of workstations. As micros became more powerful it eventually ended up available there too, on Macs (for a short while) and PCs (version 5 on 386+ PCs with DOS, version 6 on 32-bit Windows).

The name comes from the software’s ability to interleave text and graphics on-screen. Documents are deeply structured which makes Interleaf a good fit for technical documentation.

Screenshot of Interleaf, from BYTE Magazine

  • 2
    i moved to MA from TX for my first sys admin job at O'Reilly & Associates in 1993. I happened to see the company sign from the highway - so exciting! I loved that software.
    – april26
    Commented May 20, 2021 at 10:21
  • 1
    A very important additional platform for Interleaf was DEC VMS. I used it a lot back then to write technical documentation.
    – tofro
    Commented May 20, 2021 at 13:38
  • 3
    I attended a training course for Interleaf on the 6150 at IBM St John's Wood (London) in 1986. I'd completely forgotten the name and my employers never sold a copy.
    – grahamj42
    Commented May 21, 2021 at 6:03
  • I worked for Apollo Computer in the mid to late 1980s and absolutely loved Interleaf for technical documentation. They especially got the user interface right -- in particular, the system of context-sensitive pop-up menus that remembered your most recent choices. Everything I've used since then has been horribly clunky in comparison.
    – Dave Tweed
    Commented May 29, 2021 at 0:06

Was it perhaps DisplayWrite/36?

From Wikipedia:

Office/36 was a suite of applications marketed by IBM from 1983 to 2000 for the IBM System/36 family of midrange computers. [...] Components of Office/36 include: [...] DisplayWrite/36, a word processing program.

DisplayWrite/36, in the same category as Microsoft Word, had online dictionaries and definition capabilities, and spell-check, and unlike the standard S/36 products, it would straighten spillover text and scroll in real time.

  • 1
    More information in the brochure: typewritten.org/Articles/IBM/g580-0454-5.pdf
    – JRN
    Commented May 20, 2021 at 7:06
  • 3
    We used DisplayWrite (on the IBM PC) as a word processor, and I don't think it matched the OP's description of " There was a complex set of context menus that enabled you to work your way through a document incredibly quickly once you mastered the software." I would guess the OP was referring to an SGML/SCRIPT based application - IIRC there were several of them.
    – alephzero
    Commented May 20, 2021 at 9:32

You may be thinking of BookMaster (plus BookManager), which ran over top of SCRIPT/VS, which ran over top of ISIL/GML. (GML has, as descendants, SGML, HTML and XML.) As a program, it's pretty resource-light by today's standards (it requires 4MB of memory, minimum), but it was designed to work with reference-set-size publications as data.

  • 4
    BookMaster does sound like a good candidate, but no, it was Interleaf, from one of the comments above.
    – april26
    Commented May 20, 2021 at 10:14

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