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Game of Thrones Author George R R Martin Writes with WordStar on DOS 522

Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes: "Ryan Reed reports that when most Game of Thrones fans imagine George R.R. Martin writing his epic fantasy novels, they probably picture the author working on a futuristic desktop (or possibly carving his words onto massive stones like the Ten Commandments). But the truth is that Martin works on an outdated DOS machine using '80s word processor WordStar 4.0, as he revealed during an interview on Conan. 'I actually like it,' says Martin. 'It does everything I want a word processing program to do, and it doesn't do anything else. I don't want any help. I hate some of these modern systems where you type a lower case letter and it becomes a capital letter. I don't want a capital. If I wanted a capital, I would have typed a capital. I know how to work the shift key.' 'I actually have two computers,' Martin continued. 'I have a computer I browse the Internet with and I get my email on, and I do my taxes on. And then I have my writing computer, which is a DOS machine, not connected to the Internet.'"
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Game of Thrones Author George R R Martin Writes with WordStar on DOS

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  • by excelsior_gr ( 969383 ) on Wednesday May 14, 2014 @04:51PM (#47003205)

    In one of his books, he also gives credit to the guy that keeps that outdated system running.

  • by steveha ( 103154 ) on Wednesday May 14, 2014 @04:56PM (#47003289) Homepage

    If it's working for him, then this makes sense.

    What a non-story!

    P.S. I assume that no words or names in his fantasy world have any accents or any characters not in the basic ASCII set. DOS WordStar is notably lacking in support for extended characters of any sort. (In fact DOS WordStar uses the high bits of characters for its own purposes, so it cannot ever work with anything beyond 7-bit ASCII.) []

  • by perpenso ( 1613749 ) on Wednesday May 14, 2014 @06:09PM (#47004083)

    This is because, as a developer, you're a user who understands and knows what you want. Microsoft is writing software for the kind of people who'd type google into the google search bar to get to google.

    You know, typing a domain name into search is not a terrible thing to do. It is a valid strategy to avoid domain name typos that may land you on a malware site.

  • by MacTO ( 1161105 ) on Wednesday May 14, 2014 @07:05PM (#47004597)

    I would be hesitant about classifying him as a 'grumpy old man.' As the interview pointed out, he does use more modern software for non-writing tasks. He simply chooses to use an older computer for his writing because it does what he needs and it doesn't interfere with his work.

    The thing with new computers, as with any other technology, is that they have benefits and drawbacks. Writers commonly cite distractions as a problem. These include everything from the urge to edit or format their writing to early, to temptations like the Internet. (Heck, some readers prefer printed books and dedicated ereaders to avoid distractions.) In other cases, writers don't want to mess with their workflow once they have figured out something that works. None of this involves being a grumpy old man, anti-technology, or whatever else you choose to label it as.

    The other thing is that we're talking about production machines here. Many people avoid upgrading production machines because there is a lot of overhead to deal with. For example, turning off all of those features is something that you may have to perform with each software upgrade and it is almost certainly something that you have to perform with each hardware upgrade. If you are in the middle of a project, or picking up on an old project, data must be transferred between machines (in the case of hardware upgrades) and there may be issues with the portability of your files between different versions of the software (in the case of software upgrades). While the latter probably isn't an issue for a novelist upgrading between versions of their word processor, it is certainly true for an author who is switching word processors (which Martin would have had to do at some point if he wanted to stay current) and it is true for people who create more complex documents.

    Now if Martin was griping about his publisher being unable to handle WordStar documents while expressing a fear of modern computers, you may have a point. The thing is, he isn't. Something tells me that the people who are translating his writing into a book aren't complaining about this quirk either -- if for no other reason than Martin's success.

  • by StefanJ ( 88986 ) on Wednesday May 14, 2014 @07:27PM (#47004761) Homepage Journal

    I was working for a computer mail order place (Logicsoft) when WS 4.0 came out. The salespeople all got promotional lucite paperweights; I might still have one!

    I used WS 3 and WS 4 to crank out role playing game manuscripts. For most of this time I only had a floppy-only PC-DOS system. This required juggling floppy disks when running spell check. It was great upgrading to a hard disk drive, but I maintained one-or-two-floppy running copies of WordStar that I could bring with me. Kind of like putting applications on a thumb drive.

    I used WordStar X.X on an Osborne PC. The "OzBox," which lived in the campus SF library where I spent a lot of my time, had a program that could copy files to single-sided DOS floppies.

    I was what you might call a Journeyman user of WS. I used "dot commands" and spell check and maybe even Mail Merge. There was still a lot more I didn't need and didn't bother learning.

    I remember buying WordStar 5.0, but regretted it. It couldn't be whittled down to a few floppies.

    I still had copies of WordStar (and various versions of DOS) until, um, late last decade, when I got rid of all my floppy disks. If Memory Serves, a fairly complete WordStar 4.0 install took up two 720K floppies. As part of the great reduction I converted all of my old RPG manuscripts to ASCII, so I didn't need a working WS copy.

    I sometimes regret the loss of the "keyboard diamond" method of navigation. I could probably set up Word to use it, but it isn't worth the trouble.

  • by Zibodiz ( 2160038 ) on Wednesday May 14, 2014 @07:32PM (#47004789)
    Forward it to their grandchildren? Try forwarding it to themselves. I have a lady I support who has literally about 40,000 emails -- all of which are incredibly important -- and when she finds one she wants to keep (as opposed to the ones that sit unread in her inbox), she forwards it to herself so that it's her name in the 'from' field, so it's easier to tell which ones she's seen before and liked.
    When she finds a picture on the internet that she wants to keep, she downloads it to her hard drive, attaches it to an email, then sends it to herself. I kid you not. I've tried to explain how things should be done, but learned the hard way that it's not worth it. Instead we've just switched her to Thunderbird, since Outlook Express couldn't handle that many emails. Thunderbird is holding up under the strain quite nicely. Boy was it hard to get her used to it, though. Probably spent 20+ hours one the phone helping her find the 'forward' button and her address book.
  • by raymorris ( 2726007 ) on Wednesday May 14, 2014 @07:54PM (#47004955) Journal

    > It's not easy to match MS-Word's layout engine bug-for-bug in another product.

    I saw proof of that a few weeks ago. My mother's new computer, with version of Word, couldn't open her existing Word files. I had to open them in LibreOffice and save them using the newest version of the newest Word format using LibreOffice. Then Word could open them.

    So yes, in my experience LibreOffice is more compatible with Word than Word is.

  • by mjwx ( 966435 ) on Wednesday May 14, 2014 @09:07PM (#47005395)

    I hope he has 50 kaypros or whatever stored in nitrogen somewhere... that can't go on forever.

    I don't see why not. DOS runs fine on modern machines. At some point he may have to switch to emulation, but IA32 emulators should be around for a very very long time.

    I think you could keep a DOS computer running for the rest of G R.R. Martin's natural life... I think I could keep one running for the rest of my natural life and I'm in my 30's. Hardware was a lot less complex and a bit more over-engineered than it is today. Computers weren't low cost commodity items back then.

    However, I dont think emulation is the right way to replace a dos computer, virtualisation is better. You can install DOS in a VMWare VM easily, whilst emulation like DOSBOX is very good, its still has some issues, a VM will get around most, if not all issues you have with dosbox.

    But I'd bet the reason G R.R. Martin has 2 computers with one elusively for writing is more about a habit than an OS. I think he wants his writing computer to be free of distractions and separate from his general use/entertainment computer.

  • by Zibodiz ( 2160038 ) on Thursday May 15, 2014 @12:35AM (#47006327)
    Aboslutely. The other thing that should be taken from this is that things need to change less. Change for improvement is one thing, but change for the sake of change is simply not worth the hassle. When XP support ended, this customer was panicked, and felt that she couldn't stay on XP any longer (thanks, CNN), but she is so averse to change that I knew Windows 7 would not be a good change. I set her up with Lubuntu, customized everything to look as close to XP as possible, and still had tons of greif to deal with. In the end, though, it was a very smooth transition; everything she did in XP was possible in Lubuntu, icons were in the same places, programs worked the same. She fussed -- a lot -- about the fact that some of the fonts weren't identical (which would have been worse in Wn 7), and that the desktop icons were slightly larger than in XP, but otherwise things went well.
    I definitely appreciate how projects like Lubuntu have given us the ability to 'hold back time', as it were, for folks who simply cannot handle change. And as a bonus, I successfully converted someone to Linux. Man, I prefer supporting Linux boxes over Windows. So much easier to fix.

"This is lemma 1.1. We start a new chapter so the numbers all go back to one." -- Prof. Seager, C&O 351