Text Editors – The Beginning

These days, we take text editing or word processing for granted as most people have access to various text editing or word processing programs on their computer or mobile device. Writing, copying, pasting, cutting and all sorts of other text editing are now quick and easy, a matter of pressing couple of keys on a keyboard or clicking a mouse a few times. In the beginning though, text editing or word processing was a time consuming, sometimes complex task.

Printing PressOriginally, text editing or word processing was simply writing out a text by hand – creating a manuscript so to say. Editing a hand written text was tedious and required rewriting the text or passages of that text, again and again until the final copy was drafted and ready for presenting or binding, in the instance of manuscript books. In due time, people developed a technology to print text using a printing press. Using a printing press allowed for a given text or picture to be printed multiple times. For this process to work though someone still had to edit the text which was then fed into the press for printing. Editing or creating text and have it printed by a press was still tricky, time consuming exercise which required skill and patience. The painstaking process of printing a newspaper for instance took lot of preparation in the early days as text written by writers (article or other) had to be rewritten or transferred onto a printing matrix. So the evolution of text editing as a process is closely related to development in printing technology.

In the eighteenth century, text editing leaped forward with the invention of the typewriter. Essentially, a typewriter is a miniaturised printing press and does the same job but on a much smaller scale. A typewriter though is only able to create one or two text copies simultaneously using carbon paper (indigo paper). In order to do so, carbon paper sheet is placed between two blank sheets of paper, and as each key stroke of the typewriter hits and prints letters and symbols on the top sheet of paper, the carbon paper transfers the same key strokes to the bottom sheet of blank paper. The carbon copy though is usually of lower printing quality than the original printed text. TypewriterTypewriters however, became the most popular text editor in the world and remained so for many years. Initially, typewriters were non-electric machines which did their job using clever and intricate setups of coils, springs, pulleys, belts etc. Their compact size made them a truly amazing invention for their day – although not overly light (especially early models) typewriters were in fact portable, and usually fit in a special suitcase-like box.

Typewriters though were delicate machines and required proper handling and the right maintenance. The most frequently exhausted consumable was the typewriter’s ink ribbon. Ink ribbons wore and ran out of ink after certain amount of time and had to be replaced with new ones. Over time, typewriter hammers also wore out. Hammers are the metal pieces which have the letter or symbol at one end, and strike the paper upon pressing a key. The letter or symbol wore out and eventually became unreadable as it left an ink blob rather than a clearly struck letter on the white sheet of paper. Other moving parts of the typewriter also needed changing after long term or improper use. Nevertheless, typewriters are amongst the cleverest and most useful machines ever created by man, and considered to be one of those inventions of historic proportions, that will remain a symbol for eternity.