Dec 7, 2023Liked by John Paul Wohlscheid

I visited Syntactics in i think 1986 or 1987, and ported CrystalWriter to the Torch Computer, running Unix, in the 1980s. It was in Pascal & ran on a wide range of Unix systems.

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Jul 8, 2023Liked by John Paul Wohlscheid

I wrote a lot of the code; what would you like to know?

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Syntactics also had a spreadsheet like program, but it did not go very far. There wasn't much to it. It was designed to work on 24x80 terminal screens.

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One thing we did a pretty good job of was performance. In the 80's, RAM was measured in megabytes; some disks were still as slow as 80ms, no SSD. Terminals were generally connected at 9600 Baud. Unix and CrystalWriter could handle lots of terminals on a single box.

One terminal (by Teletype) was beautiful to look at. Clean design, clean text. But it was built on discrete components; no CPU. All other terminals had some minimal CPU with 2KB or 4KB of RAM and some amount of ROM.

Terminals were not consistent on the number of function keys. We settled on 8, which was available on most terminals. Then we overloaded them. F1 was for File; after pressing it, the function keys labels (on the screen) changed to give a new set of options.

Those old days did not have many choices settled. Should it be "Mark & Move" or "Copy & Paste". We [perhaps] invented the overloading of the Home key to toggle between beginning of the line and beginning of text on the line.

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4. We ported to every version of Unix / machine manufacturer / terminal that we could get our hands on for cheap. Keep in mind that 24x80 terminals was the main input/output device for users. That's 24 (sometimes more) lines of 80 (sometimes more) columns of fixed-width font text. Of course, there were no standards. (Or should I say, there were "too many standards".)

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3. I left before it's demise. It took a few years to get it to market and several more years to die. The lesson for startups is -- Engineering is a minor part; Marketing is the big part of success. We had engineers, but limited marketing.

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2. Miserable success. Occasionally we would get a contract for dozens of copies with some company. but that could not keep the company afloat.

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1. It started in Pascal, latter translated to C to make it more portable to Unix variants. We were building a Word Processor for Unix while everyone else was rushing to build WPs for Windows. Eventually we ported to Windows, but by then, CW was not much of a competitor.

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I found a few tidbits:

This technical report on text processing discusses a very early version of Crystal Writer. Apparently it was developed in UCSD Pascal for a Western Digital system.


There was a fancier version called the Crystal Document Management System. This article has a screenshot of that:


Finally, it looks like testing Crystal Writer was mandatory for Unix 93 certification:


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