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cap'n crunch in cyberspace

 

Rumors were that Barny Stone was feverishly working on his own version of a word processor but was writing it in basic. Then, one day, Barny came over and played with EasyWriter for the first time. Because I wrote EasyWriter in FORTH, I didn't need or use DOS, so I developed my OWN file format for EasyWriter. So, when I booted up EasyWriter, it booted up very fast, and loaded in less than 3 seconds.

With Andy Hertzfield's help, I changed the disk interleaving so that disk reads and writes were twice as fast. When Barny played with it, he was floored by the awesome speed it scrolled, and how fast the disk accesses were. Then, he told me that I was much further than he was, and he gave up on his development effort after he saw EasyWriter.

At that time, in the CPM world, the Electric Pencil was the word processor of the day. I took the care to contact Dave Schrayer, author of Electric Pencil and asked if I could use the same "dot" commands for printer formatting. This way, electric Pencil users would already know the commands if they decided to go to EasyWriter. Or go with Electric Pencil if they had to work in CPM.

By this time, I had worked on EasyWriter for only two months, and had enough of it working to show it off at the 4th West Coast Computer faire. I had just met Matthew McIntosh at the Apple PI meeting where he bought a copy of Forth Ver 1.6 from me. I had just completed Forth Ver 1.6 and was ready to sell them at the computer stores. But I lacked a word processor to write the documentation, thus was the real reason I wrote "TexWriter" which eventually became EasyWriter.

During the development phases of EasyWriter, I used it to write the documentation for Forth Ver 1.6, thus giving me a really good test bed for EasyWriter. Matthew was organizer of the Apple PI's booth at the 4th Computer faire, and arranged a machine to demo EasyWriter. It also turned out that the Apple PI booth was right next door to the Forth Interest Group. So it was a match made in heaven. People would ask the Forth people about what applications are written in FORTH, and would point to EasyWriter next door.

While people were viewing EasyWriter's blazingly fast performance, they would ask "What language is it written in?" I would point next door and say FORTH and Assembly language. Huge crowds gathered at the Apple PI booth as word spread about the first word processor for the Apple II. During one of the demo's Woz came bopping by and said "Get over to the Apple booth right away, something's going to happen". Just as I arrived, Chris Espanosa (one of Apple's Star programmers), was holding a pie behind his back, and was walking up to Dave Gordon. And with a quick flip of the wrist, and with great finesse, SPLAT!! and Dave's face was wearing an Apple (of course) pie. Dave was working for Programma International at that time and was very active in the L. A. user group scene.

Rumors had it that Dave had copied the new Apple II monitor ROM onto a floppy and was showing it off. How he managed to get it was sheer speculation, but Chris Espanosa was rather pissed. Meanwhile, at the Apple PI booth, it was a frenzy, as publishers, press people, and software gurus were scrutinizing EasyWriter, swamping me and Matthew with hundreds of questions. People were begging for copies, so while I was answering both technical and operational questions, Matt was feverishly making copies. We decided to sell copies for $69.69 and couldn't copy the disks fast enough to meet the demand.

Also, there were some flyers floating around the Faire about this new system called the Zaltair and it's amazing programming language called BAZIK. It was hyped to be a new revolutionary language, ' but later rumors confirmed that Woz had pulled a super prank on the industry by distributing high quality flyers on some fictitious operating system and language.

Anyway, after the Fair was over, the very next day, I was getting calls from just about every software publisher in the business. Me and Matt were really getting to be good friends and I offered him a vice president position in Cap'n Software (My new company). Matt immediately went to work, advising me on how to deal with the publishers beating down our doors.

We had about 6 publishers who would have immediately signed a contract with us, but some of these were book publishers (Hayden), and offered us ridiculously low royalty percentages, but after heated arguments with Matt, we collectively agreed to go with Information Unlimited Software, a company in Indiana. They had this program called WHATSIT(Wow, How'ed all that stuff get in there), a cutsey little database program for home use.

All this time, I was in jail, but allowed to attend the West Coast Computer Faire, but wasn't allowed to engage in any contractual obligations, but when the Faire was on, I had only 1 month to go, then I would be free as a bird and have NO MORE PROBATION!! Yay!! In the meantime, Matthew was in constant contract negotiations with IUS, trying to make sure we get the best possible deal. I also planned to incorperate "Cap'n Software" as soon as I got out of the pokey.

This last month in jail, I stepped up my work energy by about 25 percent. Now working until 4 am, only to get up again at 7 am to be "kicked out of jail" and head over to Receiving studios for another coding and debugging session. Those long nights without the computer really got my smarts in top gear, as I really focused in getting the code perfect and bug free. Not having a computer some of the time, got me to thinking more about writing good code, and less time debugging. During this time, I wrote a really cool FORTH debugger that allowed single stepping through FORTH code (Totally unheard of in those days).

I also write a De-compiler that would take the compiled FORTH code and re-generate source code. This was invaluable in tracing down some gnarly compiler problems in FORTH. You see, I was not only writing a word processor, but I was also developing the language on the fly as well. Modifying the compiler, interpreter, and I even write a DOS (In forth) to manage the easyWriter text files, because EasyWriter didn't need DOS. So I implemented one, using a FAT (File allocation table) and all that other Gnarly Disk Operating system low level code. I found out that FORTH allowed me total flexibility. If the language didn't have a feature, I implemented it. Simple as that.

The day finally came when I was to be released from jail, and Matt had already rented a fully furnished apartment in West Berkeley for me, and met me at the jail when I was released. That evening, we met at the IHOP on University Ave to sign the contract YAY!! and the incorporation papers YAY! Now we can call ourselves Cap'n Software Inc. We rented office space on Telegraph avenue a block from the UC Berkeley campus and called it our "Corporate Headquarters".

Soon we got our first royalty check of $3500, and I gave Matt $1000 of it and put him on a salary. Michelle, Matt's roommate and holistic friend was hired on as our Secretary, and handled all of our bookkeeping. WOW!! I get out of jail and in 24 hours, am president of my very own software company. SUPER COOL!!

Matt's contribution to Cap'n Software was invaluable. Always a keen eye for the smallest details and constantly watching Bill Maker (IUS President) to make sure he keeps his end of the contract. Bill Baker, IUS President, flies back to Indiana with contract in hand, and makes preparation to move IUS to California.

IUS Eventually moves into a house on Vincente Street in North Berkeley. Bill then hires Larry Weiss or "EagleBeek". I had met EagleBeek at receiving studios who was the one that convinced me to sell EasyWriter, and worked closely with me in testing EasyWriter and know it very well. EagleBeek was ruthless in hammering on EasyWriter. He beat the heck out of it, trying to get it to crash and misbehave. EagleBeek just loved to come up to me and say "Watch this" and then cause EasyWriter to completly lose its mind.

Sales of EasyWriter shot through the roof literally. IUS had a staff of about 5 people copying diskettes as fast as they can. Distributors were constantly trying to keep EasyWriter in stock. Immediately, an effort was being undertaken to implement an 80 column version of EasyWriter with a WYSIWYG display of the text, instead of that old funky 40 column (upper case only) crap.

Us old timers know that the early Apple II character set was UPPER CASE only. So, how did I solve that problem? Easy! I converted all characters from Upper case to Lower case in the text file. Ok, so now, how did I do upper case? Simple. Whenever I wanted to capitalize the first letter in a word, I hit the "Esc" key then type in the word. Only the first character would be uppercase. "Esc" twice switched to all upper case (Caps lock).

Upper case characters would show up on the Apple 40 col screen in "inverse video". When printed, would be lower case. VIDEX, M&R, and one other 80 column manufacturer came out with cards that have a video output where you connect to a video screen. The Apple II could now handle upper and lower case characters and also 80 columns of text.

The 80 column conversion of EasyWriter took a long time, because we wanted to make it so EasyWriter would work with ANY card. Each card handled the interface differently, so EasyWriter had to know all three. The new EasyWriter was called EasyWriter Professional, and we debut at the Minneapolis Word Processor show, summer of 1980, where we went up against WANG, DEC, and IBM Mainframes. By that time, we had TRUE proportional spacing on the Diablo and Qume daisywheel printers. People at the show practically laughed at our little dinky Apple II word processing system until they saw the super high quality prints it made.

Orders were coming in so fast that IUS (Information Unlimited Software) had to hire additional people to handle the copying and shipping. Just after we released EasyWriter Professional for the Apple II computer in 1980, sales literally took off, and at that time, SoftTalk magazine had the TOP 20 Software products, and EasyWriter was #2, just below VisiCalc. Just about that time, Electric Pencil was THE word processor to use with CPM systems.

We had just completed the drivers for the VIDEX card, so we now could work with the Videx, and the M&R 80 Column card. At that time, Apple computer didn't have an 80 column card available. I can remember going to Minniapolis to a word processor show, where we were up against Wang and the Big Boys.

At around July in 1981, just after I get back from Hawaii, I get called in for a meeting at IUS (Information Unlimited Software), the company that was marketing EasyWriter. I can remember these dudes in pin striped suits who handed me a non-disclosure agreement. At that time, IBM was secretly looking for outside contracters. So we didn't even know what company these dudes were from. IUS President Bill then set up the deal to port EasyWriter to a new IBM "Personal" computer. We DID know that it used an 8086 like processor, but none of us ever worked on one before.

Once I knew the CPU, I got a FORTH language up and running for this CPU, thanx to the Forth Interest Group, who was publishing public domain FORTH systems for all CPU's. We went out to purchase a TEI S-100 bus 8086 system, running on Seattle Computer Products DOS (Which eventually became MS-DOS). I went out and hired the best 8086 Assembly Language coder that money could buy, and hired him to help me implement FORTH on this TEI system, while waiting for the IBM computer to arrive.

It took us 2 weeks, working together to Get the Forth Kernal working. Eventually, the IBM computer arrived in our "Secret" lab. Within 30 minutes, I had Forth up and running on the IBM-PC, partly because we just ported the ".HEX" text file over (Just for fun). But surprisingly, when we ran FORTH, it just came up and ran, once we converted it to the .COM file. IBM'ers were totally blown away that a language could be operational so quickly. The next day, IBM's best software engineers were quizzing us on how we did it so fast.

A few days later, we got the EasyWriter editor up and running on the PC, but did most of the source code editing on the Apple II, using a Corvus Constillation (First Distributed Networking system). We had 5 Apple II's and 3 IBM-PC's connected to this "Network". Remember, this was 1980. I actually had to "Butcher" one of their parallel COM cards so that the bus was bi-directional so it would plug directly into the Multiplex. Boy!! those boys in BIG BLUE weren't so happy about THAT! :-)

 

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