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Rear Window

A Parting Shot

Generic image illustrating the article
From our album of computer history, the Electric Pencil. Photo courtesy of Paul Freiberger.





It was called Electric Pencil, and it was the first successful word processing program for personal computers. Retired camera operator Michael Shrayer had never even heard of word processing in 1976 when he created Electric Pencil. He just wanted a better way to produce the manuals for his software utilities than a typewriter. It seemed to him that he ought to be able to use his computer to write them. This was by no means an obvious decision. The computer in question was an Altair 8800, the first successful personal computer, and his model was tricked out with a few kilobytes of RAM and the necessary peripherals to let him type and save and print code. In other words, the state of the art in personal computing circa 1976. Shrayer was soon writing versions for almost every new computer created by every kitchen-table entrepreneur. As shown in the picture, The Pencil was still going strong in 1981, seen here running on a Radio Shack computer. That’s Shrayer himself in the snazzy 1981 shirt.