Tweet from a Commodore 64? We Do That and More to Celebrate the Beloved PC's 30th Birthday

Day 3: Word Processing

On day three, I decided it was time to write.

I knew right off that this would be an entertaining adventure on a machine that could display only 40 columns of text (natively, in text mode, at least), instead of 80 columns; 80-column text displays, present on high-end business PCs of the day (like the IBM PC), were considered the standard necessary to represent the width of text on letter-sized, typewritten paper. (Trivia: The 80-column standard originated as a reflection of the number of columns on a Hollerith punch card.)

But first, I needed some software. I combed through my illicit disk archive and pulled out as many disks as I could that appeared to contain word processing software. I found three working disks with three working programs: OmniWriter, Easy Script, and Super Script 64.

Omniwriter, a 1984 program published by Human Engineered Software, felt like the most intuitive, easy-to-use, and powerful of the three. Like other word processors for 40-column systems, Omniwriter simulates 80 columns of width by simply scrolling the screen around a virtual 80-column-wide page as you type. (It's worth noting that a few word processor packages simulated 80 columns on a standard C64 in a high-res graphics mode, but I did not run across one during this experiment.)

Word processing on the Commodore 64 with OmniWriter
Word processing on the Commodore 64 with OmniWriter.

Easy Script is a simple, bare-bones word processor created by Precision Software, Ltd., and published by Commodore in 1982. It is so "easy" that it doesn't even include word wrap, and it doesn't pretend to simulate a page. I was not impressed.

Word processing on the Commodore 64 with Easy Script
Word processing on the Commodore 64 with Easy Script.

Finally, I tried Super Script 64, a 1985 application also created by Precision Software. As a sequel to Easy Script, it felt similar, but had nicer features including word wrap, pagination, tabs, and even more that I didn't dig into very much.

Word processing on the Commodore 64 with  Super Script 64
Word processing on the Commodore 64 with Super Script 64.

The Keyboard: My attempts at writing on the C64 were thwarted early on by the clumsy keyboard layout of the Commodore 64, which I feel is not conducive to word processing. (Cue 30 defensive comments from people who wrote term papers on the thing.) At any given time, you are only one key away from accidentally clearing the screen, and there is no dedicated backspace key that works the same in all applications.

Commodore 64 keyboard
A closer view of the Commodore 64 keyboard.

I will grant you that the Commodore 64's keyboard was very adequate for the unit's price range, target audience, and the era in which it was designed. As I found in my week of typing with it, you can become accustomed to the layout, even if it is rather clumsy for someone who is used to the now-standard IBM PC 101-key layout.

Next: Day 4, Video Games

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