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Microsoft Word… for UNIX? Yes. It’s real.

And it all dates back to… Microsoft Xenix.

But, did you know that the giant from Redmond also made Microsoft Word for UNIX too? They did.

Here is what Microsoft Word 5.1 running on SCO UNIX looked like:

Microsoft Word 5.1 on UNIX

If it looks familiar to any of you who used the DOS version of MS Word… that’s because it all has the same origins.

The very, very first version of Word was actually called “Multi-Tool Word” and was released in 1983 for the Microsoft Xenix operating system (an early 1980’s version of UNIX from Microsoft).

Microsoft Word 3.0 for Xenix

That’s right. MS Word started on a UNIX system. Not DOS. Not Windows. Not even Mac. No-sir-ee-bob. UNIX (Xenix, specifically).

The name was changed to simply “Microsoft Word” and released, very shortly thereafter for a bunch of platforms (including MS-DOS). Note how similar Word looked on the different platforms. (Xenix above, DOS below.)

Microsoft Word 1.15 for MS-DOS

Because Xenix was a UNIX platform, this made it simple for Microsoft to “port” Word to other UNIX systems — including AT&T UNIX and SCO UNIX.

Early versions of Microsoft Word (and “Multi-Tool Word”) actually shared much the same code between platforms — it was developed in C and ran in a P-code interpreter. That P-code machine could be ported to a wide variety of platforms fairly easily.

Interesting tidbit:

At one point, Microsoft was planning to continue to develop and release Word for UNIX. You can find this referenced in a few text files here and there from the company:

Commands with Microsoft Word for UNIX and Microsoft Word for Windows are similar but not identical. Commands with future versions of Microsoft Word for UNIX will follow the lead of the PC Word and Word for Windows products, and will become more window oriented.

However Microsoft would never release a version of Microsoft Word for UNIX after version 5.1.1b. No “graphical” version of Word for UNIX was ever released.

Another fun thing to think about: Having a text mode version of Microsoft Word for UNIX means that many organizations were able to allow users to SSH / Telnet into a UNIX server… to run Word from a terminal.

Which is pretty nifty.

Alex Lim is a certified IT Technical Support Architect with over 15 years of experience in designing, implementing, and troubleshooting complex IT systems and networks. He has worked for leading IT companies, such as Microsoft, IBM, and Cisco, providing technical support and solutions to clients across various industries and sectors. Alex has a bachelor’s degree in computer science from the National University of Singapore and a master’s degree in information security from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is also the author of several best-selling books on IT technical support, such as The IT Technical Support Handbook and Troubleshooting IT Systems and Networks. Alex lives in Bandar, Johore, Malaysia with his wife and two chilrdren. You can reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Website | Twitter | Facebook

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