WordPerfect 7 for UNIX, running perfectly happily in a Linux terminal in 2022

Tavis Ormandy Ports WordPerfect for UNIX to Linux

Just a few months after running Lotus 1-2-3 for UNIX on modern Linux, Tavis Ormandy – a hacker and member of Google’s Project Zero team – brought up the same trick with WordPerfect 7 in classic text mode.

Perfectly complementing its port of Lotus 1-2-3 to Linux, Ormandy has now released a Linux version of the classic 1990s WordPerfect word processor – more specifically, WordPerfect version 7 for Unix.

He even packed it into a .DEB package for easy installation on Ubuntu and Debian distros – and since it has few external dependencies, and since it’s a safe bet we won’t see any updates to this program from 1997, you can probably install it on other distributions using the alien ordered.

This is the original text mode version, and it runs in a terminal window, or even on the Linux console. If you are one of the many admirers of WordPerfect in its early days, you should enjoy it. If not, prepare for a surprise – but we also have what could be good news.

Unlike, say, Lotus 1-2-3, WordPerfect was not Originally a DOS application. It was first written on and for a Data General minicomputer, then ported to many operating systems including DEC OpenVMS, OS/2, NeXTstep, the Atari ST and Commodore Amiga, as well as the Apple II, IIGS and classic MacOS. Along with all of this were releases for various proprietary Unixes, including SCO Xenix. This is what Ormandy has resurrected for Linux.

This means that it is a character-based application, designed to run on a terminal, i.e. a real hardware terminal, such as a Wyse 60, or on the console in text from an SCO Xenix server. (The X window system was an expensive optional extra for Xenix, and most users never bought it. Your reporter installed quite a few Xenix boxes in the 1980s, and not one had graphics, network or C compiler… which is a big part of why Linux has been such a hit.)

The story of the rise and fall of WordPerfect is also told by its former leader, WE “Pete” Peterson, in the book. Almost perfect – also now out of print, but which can be read for free on the author’s website.

WordPerfect 7 for UNIX, working perfectly in a Linux terminal in 2022

WordPerfect 7 for UNIX, working perfectly in a Linux terminal in 2022

Until WordPerfect 5, the program had a very idiosyncratic user interface that made heavy use of function keys. Each key had a separate meaning on its own, or with Shift, Alt or Ctrl, and with combinations offset and Other and CTRL. It was complicated, and even experienced users often referred to a keyboard model [PDF] – a piece of cardboard you placed on your keyboard, which surrounds the function keys and displays reminders of what they all did.

This model acted as a kind of informal copy protection: if you didn’t have it, the application was almost unusable. Desperate users even photocopied the thing, hand-cut and taped the result together and pasted it.

This is what you will get if you install the Revenant 1990 app from Ormandy. WordPerfect 7 for Unix is ​​an odd combination of some of the features of classic WordPerfect (i.e. before PC version 5), such as using F1 to mean “repeat character” and F3 for help , and some of the features of version 5, such as drop-down menus, although oddly accessible via Esc+= rather than Alt Where F10 or any standard DOS keystroke.

On the other hand, we can pretty much see a use for it. As we wrote recently, a lightweight Linux distro, such as the Raspberry Pi Desktop OS, or for a bit less geriatric kit, ChromeOS Flex, could put a worn-out laptop to good use. WordPerfect for Unix is ​​a powerful and capable word processor that doesn’t need a graphical desktop. In fact, it’s almost certainly the richest text-mode Linux word processor that has ever existed or will ever exist.

You can install a plain-text Linux distribution such as Ubuntu Server or Debian 32-bit on an old laptop and use it as the ultimate distraction-free word processor. Not needing a graphics desktop at all, it will happily run in a quarter or half GB of memory, maybe even less. With a little effort, you can even connect to Wi-Fi, so you can email the file to yourself when using a bigger computer. LibreOffice happily opens and converts files to WordPerfect format.

As Ormandy notes, strictly the version he relaunched is an evaluation copy, but it appears to be fully functional and unrestricted. The Reg has asked Corel for any comment on its legality, and we’ll update this story if we receive a response.

Realistically, however, it’s probably easier to use DOS WordPerfect in DOSemu or similar. It’s a more mature version of the program and rather easier to use, and the WPDOS site will help you get it working. But there is also another alternative.

WordPerfect Corp did not stop working after WordPerfect 7. There is also WordPerfect 8 for Linux. Unlike the previous version, this is a native graphical Linux application. It’s a 1990s Linux GUI, which means it’s a bit chunky and ugly, but it works. The program saw two versions, WordPerfect 8.0 and 8.1, and was also released in a download edition which was free to download, use, and share, and was distributed with various Linux distributions including Corel LinuxOS, SUSE Linux, and Caldera OpenLinux .

The fully graphical WordPerfect 8 for Linux can also be brought to life on a modern distribution.

The fully graphical WordPerfect 8 for Linux can also be brought to life on a modern distribution

A full version of WordPerfect 8.0 has been released along with a book titled Wordperfect for Linux Bible – long out of print, but can still be found second-hand. Corel’s long-dead LinuxOS distribution also contained a full copy of the program, and this can be found on the Internet Archive, among other places.

This old 20th century software won’t install easily on a 21st century Linux distribution, but help is at hand: the XWP8Users site is a great resource, and you can download scripts that will install one or the other version on most modern Linux distributions. This article was written in WordPerfect 8.1 for Linux (yes, the author has a full copy of Corel LinuxOS) running fine on Ubuntu 22.04.

It’s a bit clunky, but it’s much easier to use than the console version. It has the look and feel of Motif, and it doesn’t include modern niceties like anti-aliased fonts or scrolling mice, but it works. Sure, The register cannot tolerate software piracy, so we urge you to stick to the official freeware download edition, even though the full version is easy to find.

Boot note

When WordPerfect withdrew from the Mac market, it made the final macOS version of WordPerfect, 3.5E, freeware. If you still have a machine that can run classic macOS, it’s easily downloadable and comes with instructions too. (Thanks to the efforts of the MacOS9Lives community, MacOS 9 now works on several late-model G4 machines.) It also works perfectly on Mac OS X 10.0 to 10.4, and works perfectly in SheepShaver or QEMU on modern macOS, or for whatever Windows or Linux. ®

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