Saturday, October 29, 2005

Just Who Do You Think You Are! (Part 3)

In our last episode, Marc was left without a company to market his famed Unix-based word processor, WPScribe. The company who was in charge of marketing it had blown the company's monetary resources on the excesses of the mid-80's.

Marc was a Unix hack at that time.... even though he wrote a word processor (and, also, a spreadsheet for Unix, WPSpread), he loved ready through line upon line of the Unix kernel.

A small but growing company based on Long Island came a callin' .. their name was Computer Associates. Fresh off their buyout of SuperCalc, they were trying to come up with a window and application management system for all of their future applications. You see, CA envisioned themselves at the time as a software development company, even though very few things (if any) were developed by them. Marc was interested in the notion of working on this project, but he would have to do it all on the IBM PC and MS-DOS! (By the way, the window manager project was cancelled on the day that Microsoft announced Windows...)

Marc took the challenge.... and in the process, ported the word processor over to DOS. However, there was no marketing organization set up to sell the beast. At the time, a movement called Shareware had just gotten underway, and had some momentum. So, Marc decided to release the word processor as a shareware product, selling it for $35 a copy and renaming it "New York Word" (to give it sort of an urban feel).

The word processor did very well in the shareware marketplace, selling several thousand copies. The initial price was $35, but Marc, who was now doing Windows consulting on Wall Street, tried to dissuade people from buying it by raising the price to $47. That only convinced people that the product was now $12 better than it was before.

The largest shareware distributor at the time was an organization called PC-SIG. They decided to embark on a big marketing campaign by highlighting several shareware program. The gist of the ads was to draw a characterture of the author of the program, write a little blurb, and show off the ad in magazines like PC Magazine and PC World. So, if you have old copies around, you can find a drawing of Marc with an elongated face and a lot more hair than he has now!

Now that Marc had a word processor, he needed a nice text editor to go along with it. So, New York Word was stripped down, several programmer-friendly features were added, and since Marc was into compilers, he put together a C-like macro language with which you could program the editor. The editor was called ME, short for Magma Editor. The unique thing about this editor was that it came with full source code, the first commercial text editor to be marketed that way. Advertisements in magazines like Dr. Dobbs Journal and Computer Languages followed, and the editor was launched to an unsuspecting public.

So now, Magma Systems was born. It consisted of Marc doing his Goldman Sachs gig during the day, and packing boxes full of editors and word processors at night. And, occasionally fielding the tech support call from Europe at 3AM in the morning... people who had no idea that the clocks were different when you crossed over the Atlantic.

The best is yet to come....

©2005 Marc Adler - All Rights Reserved

No comments: