Text Editors – Part III (The DOS Years)

As part of an initiative to make our studies more productive, one of our programming teachers in college, managed to get a deal with a local computer shop for us to buy IBM XT clones at a discount.

(Remember this one of the lone computer sitting in the corner that I predicted would take off.)

The more people that went in on it, the cheaper it would be. My total cost was $1605.00 CDN

It it included a CGA card (Colour Graphics Adapter) and an amber monitor. It was an 8088 based system, with a 20meg 5 1/4″ drive. Later I bought another 20meg drive, and a 286 Card.

I can still remember the names of my favourite software:

DOSamatic, which I eventually repace with ARCmaster (you can still find this one online) it was like Midnight Commander or Norton Commander on steroids.

Turbo Basic

Turbo C

Turbo Pascal

All those Borland products can be found online also.

I became a big fan of Desqview, when I finally moved to a 386 system.

The first editor I became really proficient with was one called Qedit. (the exe was Q.exe)

It had Wordstar keystrokes

Let’s digress a little (kind of a rabbit hole)

Back in 1987 the three big software company’s were arguably IBM (For the Lotus 123 spreadsheet), Ashton-Tate (For dBase III+ a database), and Wordperfect Corporation for Wordperfect)

Wordperfect 4.2 was one of the most popular word processing programs during that time. Of course there was version 5 which was fairly popular, and 6 which started to get graphical, but 4.2 was THE program for word processing.

But there was another word processing program called WordStarIt was published by MicroPro International for CP/M (the pre-curser for DOS for the most part) but later ported to DOS.

The interface was… meh, but it’s legacy was it’s keyboard command combos.

To give you an idea of it’s popularity, you may have heard of a little TV series called A Game of Thrones.

The series of books is actually called A Song of  Ice and Fire written by George R.R Martin, and the first book is called A Game of Thrones. Nitpicking, I know.

Anyway he used the DOS version of WordStar 4.0. According to the wiki page he still uses it.

Canadian SF author Robert J. Sawyer uses v7.

The legacy for WordStar though, is that numerous text editors for DOS used WordStar key combinations. You can look them up but ^KS (Ctrl-K S) to save a file. Etc.

I randomly went through a few editors, until someone one one of the BBS’s I frequented (that’s a rabbit hole I could go on for dozen’s of posts, I’ll spare you that) recommended Qedit, which had the Wordstar key combos.

At one point I worked as an Assistant Research Programmer and then Teaching Assistant at the Royal Military College in Canada.

A panicked student came by, and she had a 3.5″ disk with  a “final paper” or something with that kind of importance on disk that she could no longer read on a lab computer.

I used Norton Utilities 5.0 which had a disk reading program that still hasn’t been duplicated today (as far as I know).

This utility let you read the raw blocks on a disk, basically ignoring the File Allocation Table. I was able to pull off anything written to the disk, binary, text, everything.

After that I used Qedit, loaded up the files, and removed all the binary and, and knowing the Wordperfect file format, extracted all her footnotes for her documents.

I handed her another disk with all the straight text. Gratitude doesn’t even describe her emotion.

But word got around that I could save dead disks, and any text that was on it. While I was doing that a colleague worked on writing a C program do extract the text from the files I’d saved.

So I have a soft spot for Qedit. It eventually became TSE (The Semware Editor). Qedit was a shareware program, but I don’t think a lot of people registered it. I found the “trial” version did everything I needed.

I had no problem registering programs, I’ve still have valid licenses for a lot of DOS programs.

I don’t know what it was about Qedit I didn’t like. Maybe it was nothing and I was just curious about what else was out there when it came to text editing.

I wasn’t interested in a word processor. Their forte was a wide selection of printer drivers.

I wanted something that you could edit code with efficiently. Vim for DOS was released around 1991. I think the Amiga version actually came first.

I was used to Qedit, so I looked for wordstar key compatible editors.

Not to toot my own horn but I was very good with editing using Qedit. I held two positions at Royal Military College in Kingston, Ontario, Canada. One as a “Assistant Research Programmer”, where I  helped RMC (as it is known) with their programming homework. and another as “Teacher’s Assistant” where I did pretty much the same thing, but also took on additional duties.

A student came to our room which  had the official name of “Research Center” with a disk of her (I don’t know RMC’s official name for it) thesis. Wordperfect (5.2) could no longer read her files.

My colleague, took the task of  writing a C program (this was before the days when C++ became popular) to pull off the information from the disk.

I used Norton Utilities 5.0 (DOS disk program) to pull off the raw data from the disk, I  loaded that  information into Qedit, and not only pulled out all of her Wordperfect text, but the footnotes for those documents.

When she came back later that afternoon, I told her I was sure I got all of her document,  AND the footnotes. I thought she was going to cry.

Even my colleague who was knee  deep in C code commented on her “gratefulness”.

I never saw her at the college again, but I’m guessing that word got around. The  head of the computing dept. With the apprpriate PHd, asked me to see if there were any Fortran programs on  a disk he could no longer read.

There wasn’t, but the word was out.

In my mind, a new and/or different DOS text editor, has to be able to do that kind of thing for me.

BTW, the closest thing to the Norton Utilities 5.0 Disk Editor is probably Steve Gibson’s “SpinRite”

I think with the larger and larger hard drives, utilities like that became less useful because of the sheer amount of time it would take to process each sector.

Next blog in this series is about my 3 favourite text editors.

One thought on “Text Editors – Part III (The DOS Years)

  1. Julie Einarson

    I really love that you’re writing again, even if reading this was like reading another language (ha! It actually is!). Also love that you’ve been helping people for years. That fits!

    Liked by 1 person

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