back to article Godmother of word processing Evelyn Berezin dies at 93

The remarkable Evelyn Berezin, founder of Redactron, a company that successfully sold word processing systems in the early 1970s, has died aged 93. Berezin, who had a physics degree from New York University, entered the computer industry early, having already built up experience on the UNIVAC, the first commercial computer …

  1. anthonyhegedus Silver badge

    Templates? I wonder if it kept trying to get you to rename 'normal.dot' every time it booted.

    1. big_D Silver badge

      Wow, there is a blast from the past. I haven't seen that error message since about 2002!

      1. anthonyhegedus Silver badge

        Saw it the other day, on an office365 installation. I thought I'd seen the last of it too.... But microsoft is the gift that keeps on giving :-)

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "Wow, there is a blast from the past. I haven't seen that error message since about 2002!"

        We're still getting it now, usually when closing a document.

        Word 2007.

        Anon, because it's bloody embarrassing.

        1. soulrideruk Bronze badge

          What's embarrassing, the word 2007 error, or the fact you are admitting to using word 2007 a few days before the start of 2019?

    2. Adam 1 Silver badge

      little known fact

      This word processor had the ribbon a long time before Microsoft.

      Ah, my coat, thanks.

    3. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      The beauty of MS Word is that it took all the best features of other word processors, then made them all just that little bit worse. It's a tradition the development team have maintained to this day.

  2. Natalie Gritpants Jr

    That's a bloody awful font. Hope the printer had a better one.

    1. Alister Silver badge
      Joke

      Only if you changed all the levers...

  3. Stevie Silver badge

    Bah!

    For those that care, "Hauppage" is pronounced "HOP og" hereaboutswardly.

    Like many names on Long Island it has its roots in the Native Amerind culture.

    Translated into English, I believe it means "Place of interminable clatter".

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Bah!

      "For those that care, "Hauppage" is pronounced "HOP og" hereaboutswardly."

      IIRC the TV card maker pronounces it Haw-Poe-Ghee, but then I'm neither local nor in the US :-)

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Bah!

        For most natives of Nassau and Suffolk counties, it's "hopogg" said as quickly as possible (or sometimes "hawpowg" -- although the dominant Long Island dialect seems to favor shorter, more clipped, vocalizations), the vowels are short. That other pronunciation sounds like the way a New England prep school graduate, or a Madison Avenue account exec who lives in Westchester, would say it.

  4. Mike Richards Silver badge

    Worth popping over to the BBC

    For the full copy of Berezin's advert for the Redactron. Even today its eye-catching since it is talking to the secretary not necessarily their boss; it must have been incredible when it came out:

    https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-46539934

    1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: Worth popping over to the BBC

      There's a link in the article to a Google Books copy of the ad from New York magazine.

      It is indeed a terrific advertisement.

  5. Simon Harris Silver badge

    Redactron

    It sounds not so much like a conventional word processor as some governmental document processor where you feed in documents at one end, it analyses them for anything in the least bit sensitive and produces a version with vast swathes of it blacked out at the other.

    Typical usage: "Fire up the Redactron, Hammond, we can't let the public see these budget cuts."

    1. Adam 1 Silver badge

      Re: Redactron

      And like many government efforts, it achieves the redactions by gluing a black square over the top of specific words, names or phrases.

    2. tfb Silver badge

      Re: Redactron

      You are getting understandably confused: the device you are talking about is the 'redactotron'. This is a common mistake, along with 'memex' / 'memorex'.

  6. holmegm

    Drum

    Here's a link to the Drum piece, for those interested:

    https://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2018/12/the-first-true-word-processor-was-invented-by-ibm/

  7. J. Cook Bronze badge
    Boffin

    "Berezin didn't invent the concept of word processing; or the term 'word processing'; or the first actual word processing machine. IBM did all those things. She did, however, invent the first standalone word-processing machine driven by electronic components. It was an important evolution that lowered the cost of word processing and made it more reliable," Drum wrote.

    Ok, then, the first practical and accessible to the masses word processor.

    Still, innovation is innovation, and I'll lift a glass up to her tonight. Hail!

    1. holmegm

      Drum:

      "This…does not compute. The Data Secretary was functionally identical to the IBM MT/ST, introduced in 1964. Like the Data Secretary, it was not a modern word processor that allows you to type an entire document and then print it out. You typed one line at a time on an IBM Selectric typewriter—fixing typos along the way—and then saved each line on a device that used quarter-inch magnetic tape. When you were done, you put a blank piece of paper in the typewriter and told it to spit out all the lines you had typed. "

      {...}

      "Evelyn Berezin’s Data Secretary was the first computerized word processor only if you use the word “computerized” very narrowly: the MT/ST was originally electromechanical and only later used circuit boards in its main processing unit. The Data Secretary used ICs from the beginning.

      I understand that the Times obit section is trying to be more conscious these days of women who didn’t get credit for their accomplishments back in the day. In this case, however, they’ve overreached."

      1. holmegm

        Ah yes, the inevitable downvotes for pointing inconvenient stuff out.

        I just find it amusing.

        El Reg on Engelbart: "We debunk you! You didn't do *anything* of note, you weren't showing the first of anything, fie upon you, XY carrier!"

        El Reg on Berezin: "Awesome, first word processor evah! Er, for some values of "word processor" ..."

    2. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Ok, then, the first practical and accessible to the masses word processor.

      Right. She took an electromechanical device (the IBM MT/ST) and reimplemented the concept with ICs (still a nascent technology, with the first commercial examples of really useful ICs only appearing a year or so before), resulting in a version that was better in every way.

      Then she marketed it correctly, to the people who really needed it.

      Hell, it took IBM another nine years to come out with the first DisplayWriter. While Dunn's points are correct and important (nothing is gained by obscuring history) - and while we might also talk about alternative technologies, particularly markup languages such as RUNOFF - Berezin deserves plenty of credit for innovating and bringing word processing to a much wider user base.

      More on the early history of word processing can be found in this 1986 paper by Brian Kunde, including the etymology of "word processing".

    3. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      "Ok, then, the first practical and accessible to the masses word processor.

      Still, innovation is innovation, and I'll lift a glass up to her tonight. Hail!"

      So, like Apple then. Take an existing concept and improve the user interface. Unlike Apple, her business model was to make it better and cheaper, not better and massively more expensive.

      No matter, as you say, still a great innovator and worthy of respect.

  8. martinusher Silver badge

    Love at first sight

    All you youngsters have no idea what life was like in the days before word processors. You had to write out documentation by hand, give it to someone to type, check it, revise it and so on. It was a tedious process, a major undertaking for someone with crap handwriting that didn't type that well.

    Then I met a word processor. It was definitely Love At First Sight. It was a typewriter that tolerated crap typists (although the early standalone machines were sufficiently few and far between that they had their own dedicated operators). Eventually the software became standalone and it was a powerful incentive to buy a personal computer. (The first system I owned was an Osborne 1, it ran CP./M, used Wordstar as the word processing program and I had a Brother daisy wheel printer for output. It was really expensive but for the time worth every penny.)

    This lady had the smarts to recognize a product niche -- she didn't just "do computers" but understood office workflow and how it could be improved by automation. She's definitely one for the history books.

    1. Voyna i Mor Silver badge

      Re: Love at first sight

      "It was a tedious process, a major undertaking for someone with crap handwriting"

      A major issue was that engineering got the crap typists because things like reports and technical manuals are not as important as management memos about over-use of paperclips.

      I acquired an early (tape to tape) microprocessor development system - once the light went on and we realised that plain text includes documents as well as source code, secretarial assistance became history.

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: Love at first sight

        By mid-1977ish, techies were producing their own documentation (at least in the Berkeley world), thanks to Bill Joy's tweaking of ed to eventually produce ex's visual mode ... By the time 1BSD was released, vi was being used by almost everyone, for almost everything. It was a massive, dirty bit of code whose time was right, and we ran with it.

        Of course techies writing their own documentation brought about it's own problems, which are still with us today ... but that's a rant for another day.

        1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

          Re: Love at first sight

          thanks to Bill Joy's tweaking of ed to eventually produce ex's visual mode

          That, and the fact that Ken Thompson had ported DEC RUNOFF to PDP-7 assembly, and then PDP-11 assembly, creating roff and begetting the entire UNIX *roff family. ex and vi were certainly critical, but we wouldn't have man pages and troff'd print docs without roff (and RUNOFF before it).

          RUNOFF of course also inspired IBM SCRIPT and Goldfarb, Mosher, and Lorie at IBM CSC to create GML, which begat SGML, which begat HTML and XML.

          1. jake Silver badge

            Re: Love at first sight

            "Thompson had ported DEC RUNOFF to PDP-7"

            I don't think roff ever ran on the PDP7 ... They didn't have enough space until they got the PDP11.

        2. tfb Silver badge

          Re: Love at first sight

          Of course, Unix essentially exists because people needed a system to create documentation.

          1. jake Silver badge

            Re: Love at first sight

            "Unix essentially exists because people needed a system to create documentation."

            Nope. Unix exists because people wanted a collaborative working environment. Initially written for a tiny "unused" PDP7, they needed room to spread out ... They justified the purchase of a PDP11 for the project by selling AT&T's patent office on the idea of using it (and an as-yet nonexistent port of roff) to prepare patent documents. Moneybags bit, and the rest is history.

            1. tfb Silver badge
              Big Brother

              Re: Love at first sight

              Exactly so. If they had not persuaded the patent people they could provide a system for writing documentation (ie, patents) then they wouldn't have got a reasonably competent machine on which they could rewrite the system (twice: first in assembly then in C, which also would not exist but for the PDP-11). PDP-7 Unix is an interesting thing if you've used it, but it's barely recognisable as Unix.

              So yes, Unix essentially exists because some people wanted a documentation-production system and were willing to fund a machine for it. Without that, who knows, perhaps it would have survived, but that's counterfactual history.

        3. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: Love at first sight

          It was a massive, dirty bit of code whose time was right, and we ran with it."

          My emphasis. That is the real crux of the matter. As per the article, Wang came out with theirs at about the same time. Another example is the iPod. There were other small, portable MP3 players before the iPod, but with some twewaking, the right marketing, and "the right time", Apple made a killing. There are many examples throughout history, eg use of water and steam power in ancient Greece but since slaves were cheap, who needs complicated powered machinery?

      2. Tom 7 Silver badge

        Re: Love at first sight

        Don't knock secretarial assistance, My dad was head of dept at a uni and while his knowledge of his subject was par excellence his secretary's knowledge of all other things was the only thing that kept him from going around terminating other people and generally making a fool of himself. I've also seen secretaries in other places defuse the testosterone induced stupidity of many managers.

        1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

          Re: Love at first sight

          Don't knock secretarial assistance

          Well, yes. This is one of the fascinating things about the growth of word processing, and about the evolution of document handling in business in general. (I've mentioned Yates's masterful study Control through Communication before; it illustrates similar shifts in the nineteenth century, in the evolution of filing and document preparation.)

          Of course the members of the secretarial pool and dedicated secretaries for executives held considerable expertise and business knowledge, and often served as a layer of refinement that business communication generally lacks today.1 While automation did, as Berezin's advertisement so effectively put it, relieve secretarial staff of numbing repetitive work, it also largely eliminated secretarial staff. I remember even in the 1980s people worrying about managers and executives producing their own correspondence without decent editing (and not just copy-editing) and feedback.

          1You can view this as an example of Hegel's Master-Slave Dialectic, if you're so inclined. Go on, give it a try. I'll wait.

    2. Primus Secundus Tertius Silver badge

      Re: Love at first sight

      My first approach to word processing was using the EDT program from Digital Equipment Corp, first on 16-bit PDP-11 computers running RSX11M, and then on 32-bit VAX machines. EDT was able to re-flow a paragraph of text, and do cut and paste, so a document could be tweaked until it was right. I would then print it on a lineprinter, and copy-type the text on a regular typewriter. With the VAX machine came laser printers, and then a diktat from an old-fashioned boss that we were to use typists for documents, not laser printers.

      After that I bought an Amstrad Word Processor, a cheap device which sold so well IBM actually noticed. The Amstrad was designed to work very neatly with just the keyboard; I never felt the need for a mouse. Meanwhile at work I was still expected to use Digital Standard Runoff. I knew one small company that tried to get its secretary to use DSR, with predictably negative results.

  9. Stoneshop Silver badge

    Friden

    "The cabling was the thickness of my forearm. There was no screen. The data was recorded onto two compact cassette tapes; one held the addresses, the other the letter. The Redactron merged the two. We could send out two to three hundred letters a day, compared to our competitors' 25. "

    We haven't timed our Flexowriter, but as a rough estimate its speed is more like 300 letters a day than 25. It works roughly the same as the Redactron, but it's close to a decade older and driven by paper tape, reading the main letter from one tape and the names,addresses etc. from a second. You could even hook up one of their electromechanical calculators, interfaced through a big box of relays, and print out invoices and such. And while the Redactron apparently had some line-editing capabilities, with paper tape based devices you can simply copy them up to the point where the correction needs to be made, add the modified text, then continue copying after skipping the incorrect part of the original. Plus, with a bit of practice you can actually read the tape to see what's on it and whether it's correct. Try that with a compact cassette.

    It's likely to be similarly noisy.

  10. Antron Argaiv Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    CHM oral history

    The interviewer was Gardner Hendrie. He was my grand-boss (boss's boss) at my first job out of college.

    He was also the engineer who designed the first 16 bit minicomputer for Honeywell.

    1. Roger Greenwood

      Re: CHM oral history

      I read that oral history - absolutely fascinating story. Still shocks me where a pay rise was larger "because she was blond". Given recent history it really shouldn't shock me, but it does. Despite all the challenges she faced she comes across as a really kind person and a proper engineer who most of us would have loved to know.

      More of these stories, please, preferably while they are still with us.

  11. Anonymous South African Coward Silver badge

    And, best of all, no silly-poot-dang macro or word viruses.

  12. Chairman of the Bored Silver badge

    Another pint over here, please

    In addition to a well-deserved pint for an innovator who saw a need and filled it...

    ...I'd like to raise a glass to the investors and managers who were willing to run with her concept for the years it took to become commercially viable.

    These days the attention span seems to be the same as a fruit fly. On meth.

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