WordStar used to write Game of Thrones

BBC News reported on 14th May that Game of Thrones author, George RR Martin, still uses WordStar 4 on a DOS based computer.

The Game of Thrones author has revealed that he did not want a modern word processor amending his writing as he typed, did not fear a virus (malware) from deleting his work, or have auto-correction spell checker change words not recognised in a fantasy novel.

Mr Martin said:

“I actually like it, it does what I want a word-processing programme to do and it doesn’t do anything else. I don’t want any help, you know?

“I hate some of these modern systems where you type a lower case letter and it becomes a capital. I don’t want a capital. If I’d wanted a capital, I’d have typed a capital. I know how to work the shift key. Stop fixing it.”

Mr Martin further expanded his explanation saying:

“I actually have two computers. I have the computer that I browse the internet with, that I get my email on and I do my taxes on. Then I have my writing computer, which is a DOS machine not connected to the internet. Remember DOS? I use WordStar 4.0 as my word-processing system.”

Prior to Mr Martin talking on the Conan O’Brien show about his use of WordStar 4 on a DOS based computer, he previously revealed in a blog posting in February 2011:

“I am a dinosaur, as all my friends will tell you. A man of the 20th century, not the 21st.”

Why should such revelations produce a mini media storm? Well possibly because many have bought into the idea of upgrade to the latest product and throw out the old. However newer does not always mean better, different, sometimes less complex, but generally more complex. Having used computers since the days of the 8bit home computer, from the ZX Spectrum onwards, it is refreshing to hear what I believe to be a positive IT story.

There is much about data loss, bugs and potential compromise in the news currently, almost on a weekly basis (and sometimes daily) it seems… Orange France, Heartbleed, PayPal and eBay… to mention a few recent stories.

An important issue of connectivity has been overlooked with this micro media storm. The very lack of connectivity and complexity George RR Martin employs for writing, is the very same thing which protects his work from malware, cyber espionage, buggy software and frustrating “features” found in many modern word-processing applications and IT.

However, Mr Martin is no ‘dinosaur’.

Why… George RR Martin’s use of WordStar 4 on a DOS system not internet connected, with no auto-correct or other such features is a sensible precaution for a well known writer and author. Mr Martin also uses a newer internet connected computer for email, internet browsing and other tasks.

Being able to word-process on a computer is a great leap over using a mechanical type writer with an ink ribbon in terms of easily redrafting material, although there is a loss in tactile feedback. In drafting this article I have chopped, changed, added and removed words, sentences and whole paragraphs, and corrected the auto-correct spell checking corrections. Note: this article was drafted using a word processor.

WordPrefect 5.1 DOS based Word Processor
WordPrefect 5.1 DOS based Word Processor

I remember using WordStar at college many moons ago on an Amstrad PC1512 running CPM/PC-DOS, using Pen Pal 1.5 and Final Writer on a Commodore Amiga (16bit home computer), and also using WordPrefect 5.1 on Windows 3.1x from a DOS shell; reveal codes was a very useful feature in WP5.1.

I do have nostalgic moments, more often as I get older and when reading about the latest “security breach” of a company’s servers. It maybe time to look back to older technology to move forwards from the spate of malware which can infect modern operating systems and applications.

A computer that boots into an enhanced command line or shell BASIC (computer language) interface from firmware, which can subsequently load a modern OS from a simplified DOS through to a modern GUI (Graphical User Interface) desktop if required, may not be a bad thing. Beyond nostalgia, booting to a shell running BASIC may also encourage computer users into learning BASIC programming language, like the ZX Spectrum or BBC Micro & Acorn home computers.

BASIC is still a taught computer language and a good place to start learning computer programming. BASIC programming language is popular on Microsoft platform in the form of MS Visual Basic, VB .Net and BASIC interpreters are available for many other platforms too. For an excellent Wiki site containing a vast repository of programming language information, please visit RosettaCode.org.

Turning on a modern mobile phone, tablet, laptop or desktop computer and using one’s WIMP (windows, icons menu, pointer) device or hand gestures to navigate, is all well and good and makes life sort of easier with modern operating systems. Having 24/7 internet connectivity with constant updates from social media sites maybe useful too at times. However…

Modern malware is exploiting complexities of modern operating systems, applications, social networking and other on-line connectivity, leaving many tech users in the dark. So should we be looking back to 8bit or 16bit computing, or a BASIC interpreter interface to be moving forward? We don’t need to throw the rubber duck out with the bath water, but creating a computer system which encourages the learning of how to programme, combined with at least a moderate understanding of how a computer works would not a bad thing.