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Since versions 1-5 of MS-DOS only came with the Edlin line-based editor, but were released on the IBM PC and compatibles, which had screen-based user I/O, my feeling is that most users wouldn't have bothered with it. Microsoft's MS-DOS Editor (edit.com) and IBM's E, didn't exist until the 1990s.

My question is, what were the most popular text editors during the 1980s era? Did DOS programmers gravitate toward certain editors over others?

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  • 14
    Not text editors per se, but Borland dev tools and Norton Commander were quite popular.
    – Grabul
    Apr 29, 2023 at 20:10
  • 10
    I typically used TurboPascal to edit text files.
    – RonJohn
    Apr 29, 2023 at 20:15
  • 8
    I know a lot of Unix users who used vim and microemacs but being able to answer "most popular" would require statistics about which editors were in use and by how many people, not only in one country but all over the world. Since this information is not available, this question can't possibly be answered.
    – cup
    Apr 29, 2023 at 21:00
  • 3
    The Borland Turbo C editor was THE text editor for everyone in my surroundings back in the day. You could put only the editor on a floppy and leave the rest of the IDE behind. Everybody used it even if they couldn't program at all. Later (about 1990) there was an editor simply called q.exe (can't recall full name ) that was very popular because of its macro capabilities and it could do up to 144x66 characters using high-res VESA modes with custom fonts.
    – Tonny
    Apr 30, 2023 at 8:53
  • 2
    I'd be very surprised to find that there's any kind of survey of which software was popular at that time. This is probably not a question which could be answered authoritatively. May 2, 2023 at 8:09

16 Answers 16

22

There were many editors available for DOS, both standalone and included in development environments. I suspect that most developers using IDEs used their IDE’s built-in editor; those were perhaps the most popular editors for programmers. Some programming environments provided simple editors as part of their example code. Note however that DOS IDEs weren’t anything like modern IDEs, and their main benefit was integrated debugging and perhaps online help rather than advanced editing capabilities.

Many file managers included simple text editors; I don’t know how many people used them for general text editing, let alone programming.

Among standalone editors, a couple spring to mind as being popular back in the 80s:

  • Brief, a somewhat expensive but very capable editor, later bought by Borland
  • QEdit, now available as The SemWare® Editor
  • VEDIT, famous for being able to edit massive files

Many word processors were usable as plain text editors; this includes the heavyweights of the 80s (WordStar, WordPerfect etc.). A cut-down version of WordPerfect was sold as WordPerfect Editor in the 90s. A number of shareware word processors were also popular as text editors:

There were many free text editors available too, such as Sled which I used for a long time.

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    For me personally it was the Turbo Pascal 3.0 editor and I had a cut down version (13k?) without any of the Turbo Pascal bits which I acquired when I worked at Borland in the mid 80s. Somefolks might have use micro-emacs. The text editor in Sidekick or Wordstar 3.3 in non-document mode was another choice but I think I used Vedit later on.
    – PeterI
    Apr 29, 2023 at 20:46
  • 1
    I still use Vedit in Windows 10. Apr 30, 2023 at 1:31
  • 1
    I used QEdit in 1990-s. Not sure it existed before 1990.
    – i486
    Apr 30, 2023 at 13:47
  • 3
    Someone mentioned it in another answer but I'd add Multi-Edit to this list. I seem to recall it being somewhat popular at least amongst demosceners which was I think how I found it.
    – Sam
    May 1, 2023 at 10:45
  • 1
    @Sam Today I still use Multi-Edit (the Windows version) as my first editor of choice, for almost my all editing needs! It is almost infinitely customizable and configurable, with everything controlled by macros written in its own C-like macro language (considerably easier than emacs).
    – printf
    May 2, 2023 at 10:22
22

WordStar was one of the earliest and most popular word processing programs for CP/M and MS-DOS. One of the key features for a lot of people was the non-document mode. This did a few important things:

While the WordStar document format is nearly lost, the keystrokes live on. Turbo Pascal, which worked quite well as a text editor even if you weren't editing Pascal code, used the WordStar commands, as did quite a few other programs. For people who learned to program in that era, WordStar commands live on.

I eventually moved on to Vedit, and I still use Vedit today. I configured it to use WordStar commands, and they are second nature, as they should be after 40 years or so. Control-Q R top of file, Control-Q C bottom of file, Control-K B start of block, etc.

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    If you loved WordStar, check out wordtsar.ca :-)
    – paxdiablo
    Apr 30, 2023 at 13:30
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    It was a sad day when Ctrl was demoted to the bottom row. Apr 30, 2023 at 22:37
  • There was also IBM PE (Personal Editor) .
    – rcgldr
    May 1, 2023 at 20:24
  • @rcgldr I know. I have resigned to simply using the default layout, because it is much easier when you switch systems a lot May 2, 2023 at 9:18
  • @ThorbjørnRavnAndersen - I deleted my prior comment due to a typo. The change to move Ctrl to bottom row occurred with the change from XT to AT. A lot of people "used" keymappers back in the days of MS-DOS, mostly due to using WordStar for editing, to move Ctrl back next to the A key. My version rotated: Ctrl -> Caps Lock -> Alt -> Ctrl, and swapped Esc <-> ~
    – rcgldr
    May 2, 2023 at 13:49
15

My favorite editor as a professional programmer in the DOS enthronement was E. The OP is mistaken in saying that E was not available until the 90s. True, it was not included with PC DOS until 1993, but it had been an in-house editor at IBM for at least a decade prior to that. They initially commercialized it as Personal Editor in 1982. It was upgraded in 1984 and rebranded as E.

What I liked about it was the flexibility. You could open multiple panes on your DOS screen (for example 1x3 panes or 2x2). Each pane could contain different files, or different views of the same file. It was a fairly small program that you could easily run from floppy along with whatever text files you needed to be editing.

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  • 1
    I used E so much at IBM that my fingers/brain still expect an editor to behave like E. It was an outstanding program.
    – Andy Clark
    May 1, 2023 at 21:07
  • 1
    I recall using PE (Personal Editor) back in those days.
    – rcgldr
    May 2, 2023 at 13:52
11

I remember that in the late 1980s Multi-Edit for MS-DOS was quite popular.

8

If you came from CP/M then you were familiar with Wordstar.

Turbo Pascal used the same keys as Wordstar, so it was also a popular editor (as you can already see from the comments) for everything that was plain text on MS-DOS.

7

Lexicon

Lexicon was a text editor / word processor MS-DOS program that was extremely popular in the Soviet Union and Russia at the end of 1980s and in 1990s. Some estimate that Lexicon was illegally installed on 95% of all Russian PCs. The last version for MS-DOS was 1.4.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lexicon_(program)

Word & Deed

http://winwd.narod.ru/wd.html

6

My favorite text editor, until Windows 7 rendered it unusable, was PC-Write 3.01, a shareware program for which I purchased the manual.

I don't know how many other people used it, but it ran quickly on the 4.77 MHz 8088 I owned when I first bought it, and it ran lightning-fast on later machines.

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  • 2
    I think the asker meant text editor, not word processor… Apr 29, 2023 at 19:27
  • There was also Sprint which I put to good use. Apr 29, 2023 at 19:31
  • @WeatherVane Sprint was great but unfortunately I don’t think it qualifies as popular. Apr 29, 2023 at 20:01
  • @StephenKitt just saying. It wasn't a text editor either. It was a text formatter. Apr 29, 2023 at 20:11
  • 4
    @user3840170: PC-Write could edit plain text files, and was the primary program I used for editing text files in the under-500K range until Windows 7 rendered it unusable.
    – supercat
    Apr 29, 2023 at 23:46
6

WordPerfect was the leading word processor from roughly 1986 to 1993, with 60% market share at its peak. (The previous leading word processor was WordStar.) It was available for many other operating systems as well. Corel still releases new versions, and it’s hung on with lawyers, largely because its page numbering is still standard for citing court cases. A botched release for Windows let Microsoft Word overtake WordPerfect as the market leader. (Some Wikipedia user falsely, and without giving a citation, attributes this to Microsoft supposedly not giving WordPerfect Corp. a copy of the Windows API.)

It was so well-known that a parody, NerdPerfect, sold 50,000 copies in 1987–88. Released by VaporSoft, Inc., whose slogan was “Software before its time”—well, see it for yourself. (One of the creators followed up to that video.)

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  • The question is about text editors. May 1, 2023 at 12:11
  • 2
    @reinierpost The two categories weren’t as distinct back then. Turbo Pascal, for example, supported WordStar commands in its IDE, because WordStar was widely used by programmers.
    – Davislor
    May 1, 2023 at 18:04
  • I've never seen anyone use WordPerfect to edit plain text files. If it could be done and was done, the answer ought to mention that. May 2, 2023 at 12:54
5

I have always preferred the Norton Editor. Over the years I have investigated many other text editors and I have always returned to the Norton Editor.

╔═══════════════════════════════════════╗
║             Norton Editor             ║
║   A Programmer's Full-Screen Editor   ║
║             Version  1.3C             ║
║  (C) Copyright 1988, S. Reifel & Co   ║
╚═══════════════════════════════════════╝

At 32439 bytes it is a small program that loads (and runs) very fast. It does not come with too many whistles or bells. It has all the right features to be productive:

  • split-screen mode is available to work on 2 files at the same time
  • files can be longer than the (conventional) memory would allow
  • lines can be longer than the screen is wide with an optional auto-wrap feature
  • it is possible to incorporate control characters (printer codes) in the text
  • both finding and replacing work in forward and backward directions
  • its block operations are based on (temporary) markers in the text rather than the more modern method of expanding a text selection
4

Many have already mentioned WordStar but no one has mentioned Galaxy, which I used extensively in the late 80s (87-89). I found it better than WordStar, as (to me) it seemed easier to use and more intuitive.

If I recall correctly (and I may not be), I seem to remember Galaxy having a better UI, with respect to the presentation of the actual document.

Whereas WordStar documents would be riddled with ridiculous tags used for formatting (i.e. ^PS, ^PB, and ^PY for underline, bold and italics respectively), Galaxy represented such formatting by highlighting/shading the characters. Underlining was also shown visually, rather than with tags.

As an illustration, the heading of a document in WS would look like this, taken from page 7-5 of the WS 3.3 Reference manual:

Example of WordStar bold and underline

This image shows Galaxy bolding in bright white and italic as green:

Screenshot of Galaxy showing bold and italic text

I used Galaxy on an amber monochrome monitor, so I don't recall having ever seen this colour highlighting. However, you must admit that the formatting was a lot less intrusive - not quite WYSIWYG, but certainly not littered with tags that made a document look like raw HTML.

I can't remember much more why I loved Galaxy so much, but I distinctly remember loathing WordStar, after having used it for three months to produce a report. Once I discovered Galaxy, I was hooked. I continued using it until I discovered, in 1989, that the university had a room full of Macintosh SE computers and then switched to Word for the full WYSIWYG.

There is a video here of a chap demonstrating the Galaxy, DOS applications - Galaxy word processor (shareware), which is where I got the above screenshot from.

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  • 1
    WYSIWYG is great for word processing. The question is about text editors, which is a different situation. Apr 30, 2023 at 17:50
  • 1
    The screen shot looks a lot like a turbo vision application - was this the version you used on the versions of MS-DOS asked for? Apr 30, 2023 at 22:39
  • @ThorbjørnRavnAndersen - I couldn't find many references, or screenshots, of Galaxy, and the only link I found was the YouTube video. So, seeing as it was both a long time ago and my memory of the program is a little hazy, this could well be a different version from that which I used. As I mentioned, I had never used it on a colour monitor, so it looks different from what I recall. Apr 30, 2023 at 23:34
  • 1
    @manassehkatz-Moving2Codidact - IIRC, Galaxy could be used for simple .txt files. I seem to remember making a number of plain text readme files with it, as well as more florid documentation and user guides. Admittedly, I may have got a bit too enthusiastically carried away with the WYSISYG aspect of Galaxy, whilst writing my answer. :-) I'll amend it tomorrow... Apr 30, 2023 at 23:39
3

I started on PC-DOS in 1985.

The word processor first used was MultiMate and then Word - the DOS version. I was a programmer so not really writing letters etc. Then I used Windows 1 Write

Most of my writing was code for which I used

  • MicroEmacs - An editor with emacs key bindings but no lisp
  • Pmate - a programmers editor - one feature was that it did not load all the file into memory so I had to edit other peopls' files when they got too big.

The point of this and other answers to note is that there were many popular editors and no one dominated (From magazines I suspect WordStar was the most popular which was then overtaken by WordPerfect) There are also two types of editors one for writing letters etc and then others for programming.

See texteditors.org for breif descriptions of many of them.

3

I used to use edit.com that came with MS-DOS 6.22 and looked a lot like Q-Basic. I also used WordStar for MS-DOS a little bit but mainly edit.com because it was easily accessible.

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  • 2
    It pretty much was QBasic; the EDIT.COM file is merely a stub that launches QBASIC /EDITOR. May 1, 2023 at 12:53
  • No, only in 7.0 it became a stand-alone editor (I think it was done as a demo/testbed of the new ‘close-awareness’ API of Windows 95 DOS boxes). I have a copy of 6.22, and EDIT.COM is just a stub launcher there. May 1, 2023 at 20:02
  • @user3840170 apologies, you are correct. May 3, 2023 at 10:40
3

As a young teen I was using XTree and later XTree Gold on my 286 from 1989 onward.

It was a file commander but had an Editor as well, which was very handy. I spend many hours "shortening" text files to save space on my 20 Mbyte MFM drive, before I learned about block sizes, and then PKARC followed by ZIP compression.

enter image description here
From https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/XTree

3

The text editor within Borland Sidekick was great. At the end of the 80s, I was developing a Lisp-based add-in for AutoCAD (around 500 kloc of Lisp) and having a TSR editor at my fingertips was a huge advantage; I could load up a file, edit it, save it and reload it into AutoCAD without having to reload AutoCAD.

One weirdness was that it used the same memory region that AutoCAD used for its frame buffer, after exiting Sidekick, the AutoCAD display often had bits of noise in it - but nothing that was permanent. I got a lot of use out of that really cheap license.

3

Personally, I used Turbo Pascal and Wordstar. Using the same keystrokes saved a lot of time when context switching. Turbo Pascal was one of my first serious programming languages. I Wrote a custom cost accounting system using it. I Also wrote a mortgage analyzer in Basic on a Kaypro 10 and IIRC the editor uses the same keystrokes as Wordstar. Wordstar was my first text editor because that is what I used in school. Since it was used at school in the early 80s everyone I knew was using Wordstar.

I will also note that since edlin was the only editor shipped with MS-DOS in the 90s while supporting Windows I would walk people through editing configuration files using edlin. That is not an activity for the faint of heart.

0

Microsoft word was available in 1983. I don't know if it was the most popular, it was used by some establishments. enter image description here

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    Word was available in 1983 but it was not the one you show. The picture is of Word for Windows 2 from 1988. Word in 1983 was a DOS program.
    – mmmmmm
    Apr 30, 2023 at 10:48
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    Did original Word have a non-document/plain text mode? Apr 30, 2023 at 20:49
  • 2
    I received my first copy of Windows as part of Word for Windows, I think it was version 1.1. Microsoft was trying very hard to get Windows to catch on, and in my opinion Word was the killer app. I was already familiar with the DOS version. May 1, 2023 at 1:51
  • I had previously uploaded a screenshot of the original word, at time of posting, and SE msg was "Unable to upload image because it is WEBP which is a new industry standard that we haven't encompassed yet" so I only have an image of word v1.1 that uploaded, sry. so i didnt have time. sry. May 1, 2023 at 15:35

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