“People used to ask me why my books sold well. I told them, 'Because we live in bad times.'”
Michael Moorcock

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

On Hardware and Software and Shifting Writing Environments
Tue 2010-05-18 14:31:25 (in context)
  • 54,673 words (if poetry, lines) long

I'm an hour into today's work on the Melissa's Ghost retype, which took a surprising amount of tech savvy to enable. The why of that may be summarized thusly:

Running Word Perfect 5.1 (for DOS) on Windows 7.

I got a new laptop recently. It's another Dell Inspiron 15. It differs from my previous Dell Inspiron 15 in that it meets certain required criteria such as having a CD/DVD-ROM that functions and a chassis that isn't coming apart at the corners and video drivers (I think it's the video drivers) that do not cause the computer to crash when I switch from AC power to battery power. Also enough processor speed and memory that simple multitasking doesn't bring the whole system to a crawl.

These are important concerns. And then there's this other key difference: the new laptop is running Windows 7. My previous ran XP. The world of 64-bit operating system is entirely new to me as of May 2010. And it became a scary, scary place when I copied over WP 5.1 from the old laptop to the new and discovered that it would not run.

I should have been prepared. I should have read this article. I hadn't. It's on my to-do list.

At this point, it's not unreasonable to ask, as some have, why I persist in using WP 5.1 in the year 2010. Well. The answer is somewhere between "Because it is a superior piece of word processing software" and "Rawr you kids back in my day rawr get off my lawn." It goes something like this:

It's 1992. I'm a sophomore in high school. I'm taking as an elective course a semester-long writing workshop in the fancy-dancy computer lab. The computer lab is full of Macs. The computer my parents just bought is a PC running Windows 3.1. To work on the same document at home on Microsoft Works and at school on MS Word for Mac requires a very clunky conversion process. I complain, I am overheard, I am soon the proud owner of a quietly pirated copy of Word Perfect 5.1. MS Word for Mac can convert from and to WP 5.1 for DOS. Life is good.

Almost 20 years later, just about everything I've ever seriously written is in WP 5.1 format. Open Office will read that natively, sure, but I don't want to use Open Office as my writing studio. I'm 20-years familiar with WP 5.1. I've got it's weird commands mostly memorized. I am accustomed to a mouse-free, keyboard-only environment. The blocky, monospace on-screen font fades into the background for me. And the mental shift I get from writing in a DOS-based environment helps stave off the distraction of knowing that the entire Internet is waiting for me to drop in and waste the day away.

Put simply: I'm used to WP 5.1, I'm comfortable there, and it's as close to the bare essence of words on a page as I can get while still using a word processor at all. That's the experience I want, and I don't care if Windows 7 is going to be all snobby about 20-year-old software.

So I spent a bunch of time on Google, discovered DOSBox, then figured out how to reconfigure its keyboard commands so it would quit stomping on Word Perfect's keyboard commands, and then belatedly discovered the above-mentioned website with its clear and sophisticated instructions on how to do what I did only much better and more easily and felt very, very silly. But that doesn't matter! I get to do this!

So that on the left is yWriter, the novel-editing software I spent most of November 2009 inside. On the right is DOSBox running WP 5.1, in which I'm typing up the new draft. And running along the top left is FocusBooster, a timer application.

And that's my current writing environment. Ta-da!