WordPerfect for Windows: rewriting a classic
Report on the development process
January 1, 1992
No software package introduced in the past five years has been more eagerly awaited than WordPerfect for Windows. More than seven million WordPerfect users, most of whom have put off the Windows question so far, finally have to face it head-on. Ship day-November 8-was the moment of truth. But for months beforehand, the people at WordPerfect Corporation discussed, debated, and feverishly debugged the program itself. The effects of the decisions they made will ripple across all sorts of communities: the development, support, and marketing groups at WordPerfect; beta testers, third-party trainers, and corporate buyers; the computer press; and, of course, the phenomenally loyal family of WordPerfect users.
PC Computing's editor, Ed Bott, watched WordPerfect for Windows develop all summer long. He sat in on meetings where key decisions were made, spoke with programmers, tech-support personnel, beta testers, secretaries, and just plain folks, and learned how to get around in Orem, Utah. This is his report.
"A little too optimistic."
Comdex/Spring, Atlanta The noise level at WordPerfect's booth is a few decibels higher than usual this year. I can spot the booth from half a mile away. It's a raucous scene, filled with dozens of fresh-scrubbed young faces and enough energy to keep a good-sized city lit for a week. Even by Comdex standards, the WordPerfect stage show is pure corn, but that doesn't keep the crowds away. As soon as the doors open, they rush to grab a WordPerfect hat and a seat for the show. When the players come on stage, it's sheer bedlam.
This will be the first large-scale public demonstration of WordPerfect for Windows, scheduled to ship within six weeks, and the fans are ready to be dazzled. They start cheering as soon as the program logo hits the screen and don't stop for the next half hour. The biggest outburst comes when the audience sees the fabled Button Bar for the first time. No function keys! No pull-down menus! Just click a button! Heads turn three aisles away at the roar.
No doubt about it-WordPerfect for Windows is a hit, and there are big smiles on the faces of every WordPerfect staffer in the booth. Backstage, though, the celebration is a bit subdued. The WordPerfect brass has just announced another delay in the product's ship date.
The latest target date had been the second quarter of 1991. In a two-page press release, Executive Vice President Pete Peterson now admits that "this prediction is turning out to be a little too optimistic." The new schedule? We are making good progress toward release. If an goes well, the product should be out in August. Unexpected problems could push the release date into September; however, given the fact that we are this far along in the release cycle, we would not expect the release date to slip into October."
At the same time, the corporate communications staff at WordPerfeet's headquarters in Orem, Utah, sends a letter to its beta testers and key corporate sites. A copy of the Comdex press release is included. "This is our honest and straightforward attempt to explain why the product has been delayed," the letter says.
The timing is particularly galling for WordPerfect executives. In just two days, Microsoft will celebrate the first anniversary of Windows 3.0. There are reports that once-loyal WordPerfect customers, despairing that the Windows version will ever ship, are beginning to defect to Microsoft's Word for Windows or Lotus's Ami Pro.
Some history: Within days of Microsoft's unveiling of Windows 3.0 on May 22, 1990, WordPerfect had announced that ft would release a Windows version of its flagship product by the end of the year. Chuck Middleton, director of WordPerfect for Windows development, remembers it well. "May 22 is the date that's etched in my mind. Pete [Peterson], Alan Brown [vice president and the original designer of the DOS version], Eric Meyers, and I met and decided to switch gears."
The original plan had been to develop an OS/2 Presentation Manager version first, with a Windows version to follow four to six months later. Now WordPerfect would ship the Windows version first, pushing development of the PM version out of the way. As Meyers, now user-interface architect for WordPerfect, recalls, We could see the writing on the wall."
"It was a good decision," Middleton insists. We hadn't wasted time, although going back from PM to Windows wasn't the way you're supposed to do it."
Later in 1990, the projected release date for the Windows product slipped to the first quarter of 1991. As Christmas approached, Middleton's team was confident that it could hit the new ship date. After Comdex/ Fall, Development turned up the heat, even doing away with Christmas vacation for the programming staff. (In some cases, WordPerfect flew Programmers home to visit their families for Christmas Day; the next day, it was back to work.)
In January, the team decided to go back to the drawing board on two key program modules, macros and graphics. Rewriting the code would add months to the schedule, and word was out: The ship date would slip again, to the end of the second quarter. (One observer cracked, "Sure, they can get it out in June-as long as there are 48 days in the month.")
As the weeks passed, the team made progress, and for the first time definite milestones were achieved. April 26, Code Complete-all features were coded, although significant bugs remained. May 17, Alpha-three days before Comdex/ Spring, internal testing began. Privately, the push was on to go into beta testing by June 25, the first day of the PC Expo me show in New York City.
With all the experience we have," Middleton concedes, it's surprising how far off we've been. The existing code base includes a lot of assembly-language code. It makes the program fast, but it's not easy to bring into a GUI environment. There are a whole lot of bugs that just don't appear until you test heavily."
JUNE 5, 1991
"Well, this is embarrassing."
WordPerfect Spring Conference, Orem, Utah. I've flown to Salt Lake City and driven the 40 miles south to Orem for the three-day WordPerfect Spring Conference, an opportunity for 200 or so corporate WordPerfect experts and independent trainers to get hands-on advice direct from the source. Many of the attendees are alumni of last year's conference; virtually all are WordPerfect partisans. It's a friendly crowd.
Trey Kimball, a conference assistant, meets me at the front desk and walks me through registration. Like so many WordPerfect people, Kimball is young, clean-cut, and eager to help. Is he looking forward to WordPerfect for Windows? "Oh, heavens," he replies, "I can't wait!" That excitement about WordPerfect is widespread. Kimball attributes it partly to the prestigious job openings for Windows specialists in tech support. "There are a lot of people scrambling to learn Windows-master the little tips and tricks, and so on-so they can be the lucky ones."
The conference attendees are divided into a dozen or so sessions, following DOS or Windows "tracks." Each group has a homeroom, which is equipped with 18 networked Epson 386SX PCs, an overhead projector, and a large-screen display of the instructor's screen. Participants can elect to focus on WordPerfect 5.1 for DOS or the new WordPerfect for Windows. I'm assigned to Windows Track 6, based in Training Room 8.
Equipped with a WordPerfect rucksack, a binder full of course materials, and a badge, I head downstairs for the first session. The basement auditorium is about half full. Jeff Acerson, director of corporate communications, has some introductory words. "The board of directors doesn't want the product out in the shape it's in," he tells the crowd. That means no floppy disks allowed in the training rooms.
Devin Durrant, director of marketing for WordPerfect for Windows, steps through a lively demo of the software, drawing the expected oohs and ahs when the Button Bar appears onscreen. Unlike the Comdex audiences, though, this crowd is restless. They've got a hands-on session with the real thing ahead of them, and they'd just as soon get to it. When Durrant Taps up, the room clears in a hurry.
Before checking in with my group, I take a quick tour of the conference rooms. In each of the DOS sessions, there are six to eight open seats; the Windows sessions are standing room only. My straw poll gives WordPerfect for Windows a nearly 2-to-1 edge.
The first days agenda includes two sessions: an introduction to the Windows environment and an introduction to WordPerfect for Windows. About half of my group is already familiar with Windows, so while GUI novices learn how to create Program Manager icons, I huddle in the back of the room with Glenn Markham. Markham and his colleague Dick Lannin manage a group of PC users at Ford Motor Company in Michigan, and both are Windows boosters: "Any WordPerfect user who doesn't want to switch to Windows doesn't understand what's going on," Markham says.
Remarkably, there's no Microsoft-bashing from anyone at WordPerfect. The only dig-and a gentle one at that-aimed at the rivals from Redmond is a training gimmick: Each instructor keeps a sack fined with packages of M&Ms. Whenever a conferencegoer crashes Windows, he or she gets a bag of the candy. By mid-afternoon, most of the instructors have run through their day's supply.
Out in the hallway, I spend a few minutes with Terry Brown, WordPerfect's manager of instructional services. Brown isn't surprised at the excitement over Windows. Windows is addicting," he points out. And it's fun. You can make all the logical arguments you want, but what'll sell this product is how fun it is to use."
Brown is also the first to talk about the occasional doubts that go along with the project. We're worried about performance," he admits. "If you have to do a 100,000-document merge, you won't want to use Windows. And the macro language is barely adequate right now. A lot of our big users will be disappointed with it, and for them it may be a make-or-break issue."
That evening, WordPerfect sponsors a banquet for the conference attendees. The featured speaker is Vice President of Marketing Clive Winn. He has a lopsided grin, a cast on his right arm, and an unusual background-before joining WordPerfect, Winn was an FBI agent in Chicago. The talk is casual and upbeat with a smattering of anecdotes and a few inside stories about the people of WordPerfect. After 30 minutes or so, the talk turns to WordPerfect's legendary, customer service.
"Let's try a little survey," Winn says. "How many people think WordPerfect is a success because we have wonderful software?" Not a hand goes up-and the room explodes in laughter. WeU, this is embarrassing." More laughter. It's a setup, of course. When Winn asks how many buy WordPerfect because of its customer support every hand in the room shoots up. "That's what people tell us," says Winn. Your software really isn't that much better than anyone else's, but you support your product better than anyone else. We'd like to think we have great programs. We have great development people and we listen to our customers a lot. But we don't presume to tell you what keystrokes to use or what the interface should be."
Someone asks Winn when WordPerfect for Windows will be released. Winn refuses to be pinned down: We won't release it just to release it early. We feel pressure, but we also feel good."
JUNE 6,1991, 9 a.m.
"This summer's gonna be hell."
WordPerfect PC Development Kevin Adamson is big and beefy, with a week's growth of dark beard. He joined WordPerfect four and a half years ago, taking tech-support calls for Version 4.2. When I moved to PC testing," he says, "there were 7 of us." Today, he's manager of OS/2 and Windows testing. His group of 12 "top down" testers is working double time to stamp out the most troublesome bugs before the first beta release gets into the hands of outside beta testers. How's morale?" I ask Kevin.
He closes his eyes and thinks for a few seconds. "I see burnout," he says. You can keep people in crunch mode only so long. The worst thing is to set a date and not make it. We set June 3 to freeze for beta, and we didn't make it. When we finally hit Code Complete, that was a big morale booster. The product's taking shape, and you can see it."
"Is it going to get better?" I ask.
This summer's gonna be hell," he replies. We'll put in a lot of long hours. But these are people who care about the product. They want it to succeed. And that keeps the atmosphere healthy."
Vice President Alan Brown remembers the push before WordPerfect 5.0 was released: It's about the same level of pressure as with 5.0," he recalls. "But with 5.0, the crunch was intense for only four months or so. It's amazing-in a lot of places, if you asked people to do what we're asking, you'd have a fun-scale mutiny."
So, why hasn't the team cracked under the pressure? Who are these people, where did they come from, and what keeps them going.?
For starters, they're homegrown, and a surprising number started out taking calls on WordPerfect's famous toll-free support lines. Don LaVange, director of software testing, says, At other companies, the only people they entrust are people with credentials or who've been doing the same job somewhere else. WordPerfect leadership consists of people who really have no business doing what they do, but who showed talent for doing it. About 90 percent of my organization started in support. If someone didn't, I don't give them credibility."
Development director Chuck Middleton says the same is true of his team: "Customer support trains people well, and Brigham Young University in nearby Provol is another good breeding ground. Everyone is homegrown, including founders Alan Ashton and Bruce Bastian. We haven't hired any development managers from outside."
Ashton, who taught computer science at BYU before founding WordPerfect, was the company's top recruiter-even Bastian was a student of his. Says Alan Brown, "For a while, every developer was a student of Alan's at BYU."
The locale is also a powerful motivator. "People used to ask me, How are you going to get people to move here?... laughs Middleton. "Believe me, it's not a problem. If you want to work for someone else, most of the time you're talking about leaving the [Utah) valley. People want to live here."
There's an amazing continuity at WordPerfect, says Eric Meyer. In the development area at least, there's almost zero turnover. Out of 300 to 400 developers, only a dozen or so have left in the whole history of the company. There are always people who can answer your questions. The folks who wrote the code are still here."
JUNE 6, 1991, 1 p.m.
"Try to keep it a little bit secret."
WordPerfect Spring Conference, Orem. On day two of the conference, there are more classroom sessions, but the real excitement comes in the afternoon, when Pete Peterson joins the group for an informal Q. and A. session. Peterson has a wry sense of humor and seems perfectly willing to tackle any question.
Willard Eugene (Pete) Peterson, executive vice president, is one of three members of WordPerfect Corporation's board of directors. "I own a very small sliver of stock," he explains-0.2 percent, compared with Ashton and Bastian's 49.9 percent shares.
You guys are really the first to see this program," he tells the crowd. "Try to keep it a little bit secret. If you noticed at Comdex and all those other shows, people don't get to touch it. That way we can give a demo and tap dance around all the little problems." The line gets a healthy laugh; everyone who's touched it so far has encountered a handful of bugs.
A woman in the back is concerned about tech support. "How much of your DOS technical-support staff will be lost to Windows technical support?" she asks.
We're not really sure. We have expanded the support groups a little bit. And right now, we're taking our DOS people and running them through a series of Windows classes to get them up to speed. We'll see what happens. In the past, our group has been able to support 4.2, 5.0, and 5.1 without too much problem, but ifs hard to ten. We sell around 150,000 copies of WordPerfect a month now. Let's say Windows takes us up to 170,000 overall. What mix will it be between Windows and DOS? We just don't know. I think well be OK. Undoubtedly, if the Windows version is really big, you're going to have a hard time getting through to tech support for a few days or weeks."
Over the course of the next hour, Peterson answers questions about OS/2, pricing and licensing policies, other WordPerfect products, and the battle between Microsoft and IBM. (Best line: 9"o do you trust more? Do you trust IBM or do you trust Microsoft? I believe you should just trust WordPerfect.")
Toward the end of the session, the talk returns to Windows and DOS. In a conspiratorial tone, Peterson reveals his biggest secret": There are companies who are going after Windows in such a way that they might neglect their DOS product. "Fundamental to all our strategies," he says, is that over the next five years there will be DOS users and Windows users and probably PM users. And if we continue to provide products on all those platforms with Me formats that are compatible, then we will sell more software than a lot of our competitors who only offer a Windows or PM version."
JUNE 6,1991, 7:30 p.m.
"They're like Stepford people." Timpview High School Auditorium, Orem. Three buses deliver a hundred conferencegoers to the Timpview High School campus in the hills overlooking Orem. The event? A WordPerfect-sponsored concert by Marie Osmond, local girl made good and still a big draw on the county-fair circuit. It's too middle-American for some of the more cynical attendees, but I'm looking forward to it.
The auditorium is filled to the rafters with an extraordinarily young crowd. At 7:30 on the dot, Osmond and her country band launch into a tight set of old hits, country standards, and even a few Broadway show tunes. At age 30, Marie is an old pro, keeping the show moving at a brisk pace and even dragging a bemused Pete Peterson onstage to join her in singing one particularly syrupy ballad.
After the show, I linger backstage with a few WordPerfect executives and a handful of conference guests. One young woman standing on the sidelines looks curiously out of place. She sports an ultramodern, spiked hairdo-not the sort of look you expect from someone hanging around outside Marie Osmond's stage door. It turns out she's the manager of PC support for a government agency. I ask her what she thinks of the people she's met. "At first I thought they were all Stepford people," she says. "After a while, though, it dawned on me-they're really like this. They're just plain nice."
JUNE 25, 1991
"Our goal is to not ship the product."
PC Expo, New York. It's the first day of PC Expo, and WordPerfect has missed another deadline. Pete Peterson had hoped to announce the start of beta testing today. Instead, he's standing in a basement conference room before 50 reporters and analysts. On an overhead foil is a timeline listing the program's milestones; there are no dates attached to the goals. We're doing top down' tests right now," he reports. Two weeks from now, we go into Beta 1. My best guess is we'll ship in mid- to late September."
A British reporter asks the inevitable question about support. "Right now there are 750 people in support," Peterson replies. Everyone's going through training. I would hope so many people buy the product that we swamp the phone lines."
"But the trend is away from 800 support," says the reporter.
"We're happy with 800 support. We spend five cents per dollar of revenues on support. The average for other big software companies is two cents. We use support as a competitive advantage."
The man who's most conscious of the delay is sitting upstairs. Don LaVange, director of software testing, is a mountain of a man, and he's obviously grateful for the chance to rest his feet. I ask him to describe how his group is holding up under the pressure.
"The testing group has a wonderful adversarial relationship with the rest of the company," LaVange explains. "Our goal is to not ship the product. I lose every time, but that attitude helps us find problems and make good products. The rest of the time, we're supportive.
"Are we under pressure? Yeah, there's a lot of pressure. When we realized we were going to be late, it took time to convince people. We were disappointed-we're losing accounts, and that's a reality no one wants to accept. When people see how good it is, the competition will have trouble catching up.
"A lot of people want this to be like building a building-you factor in the labor and materials and get to work. Dates are just goals. Our estimates are not based on science; they're based on our best guess. Things are going good now. Two weeks ago I would have buried my head if you'd asked me how things looked."
JULY 7, 1991
"We learned a lesson with 5.0.
No Ifs, Ands, or Bugs. WordPerfect's upgrade strategy is unique among major software developers. After a major release, the company continues to ship interim updates-usually about every three months. For example, the initial version of WordPerfect 5.1 hit retail shelves in November 1989; since then, there have been at least six updates, each with the same 5.1 version number. When you call tech support, the operator may tell you that the bug you discovered was fixed in the 3-31-1990 release.
Of all the release dates in the company's history, though, one is burned into the collective memory: 5-5-1988. That was the first release of WordPerfect 5.0. The painfully bug-ridden program shipped its first maintenance release just two days later. If there's a sense of fear surrounding the testing program, it's because no one wants to repeat the mistakes of 5.0.
One department manager told me, "The first release of 5.0 was almost alpha code. There was a real potential of backlash. Fortunately, we have a very forgiving user base."
We released 5.0 probably two months prematurely," Customer Support Director Stan Mackay agrees. We've learned a lot since May of '88. If they don't ship a clean product, it doesn't matter what we do in the support group." Don LaVange reminds his testing group, "I believe in the old expression, Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.' We learned a lesson with 5.0. There's a lot of loyalty out there, as long as we remember that lesson."
"We don't expect beta testing to turn. up anything new." Beta Test Begins. WordPerfect's mailroom gets a workout. A terse press release announces the start of WordPerfect for Windows' beta-testing program; meanwhile, Federal Express picks up 196 boxes for overnight delivery to beta sites around the world. Each box holds a set of disks containing the 7-24-1991 version of the program, plus a runtime version of DataPerfect and a database full of known bugs; an enormous loose-leaf binder holding the beta documentation; an "Introduction to WordPerfect for Windows" videotape starring Don LaVange and representative Clay Coleman; and a sheaf of last-minute notes.
The total number of active beta sites in the United States is a mere 135, but the people managing the tests are confident they've got the program well covered. A sign on Don LaVange's desk reads The Bug Stops Here," a motto that qualifies him to explain WordPerfect's philosophy on testing: The level of testing depends partly on the level of complexity. For our beta sites, we look for people who exercise all different areas of the program. How many people do I need to exercise all the functionality of the program? It's also a management issue. With our small group, beta sites feel more a part of the process. Actually, even 135 beta testers may be too many. If 20 percent of them are active, that could be enough to make me happy-as long as they're the right 20 percent."
Testing manager Kevin Adamson agrees. We want people who'll really use the product, and who'll give us the kind of coverage we need. Beta testing is a development tool; if i'm not going to hear from someone, I'm not going to make him a beta site."
Outside testers file reports via a private CompuServe forum. Young, boundlessly energetic Clay Coleman is the coordinator responsible for making certain that testers don't get lost in the shuffle. We pay attention when lots of people report the same problem," Coleman says. Brad Blackham manages the CompuServe traffic-up to 300 messages a day. During these first few frantic weeks, he's logging 50 to 60 hours a week.
Every step of the development process is logged in the bug database. A macro transfers the CompuServe bug reports into DataPerfect format, and the tester gets a confirming message. One group verifies the existence of the bug. ("Every time we see a bug, we want to replicate it," says LaVange.) Next, a programmer looks for the part of the code where the problem is and assigns a priority to the bug. If a bug looks serious enough, it gets a special flag, and head developers and testers huddle. It's a complex process, but it seems to work.
Don LaVange likens the outside beta test group to consultants: "A lot of people believe this is the best software in the world. They're like consultants, making sure we don't mess up the product they love. I offer this disclaimer, though: I'm not sure beta testing does any good. I can't point to bugs that would have made it in if we didn't have a beta-testing program. Our test team is so good, we don't expect beta to turn up anything new."
AUGUST 9, 1991
"We've fixed more than a thousand bugs."
Another Beta Release. The day after the second beta update goes out the door, the full testing group gathers to review the state of WordPefect. It's a good-sized conference room, but the group is still large enough to spill out into the hallway-a dozen "top down" testers, plus the beta-test team and a handful of documentation specialists, 23 in all. The average age (not counting one infant in her mother's arms) is twenty-something. The atmosphere is loose and the pace fast, with plenty of wisecracking and genial ribbing.
Everyone in the room gets a minute or two in the spotlight for a quick status report and an occasional question.
The Tables group has been having problems getting its chunk of the program to work properly in draft mode. "Everybody hates the Edit Keyboard dialog box," another tester reports. There is a chorus of agreement.
Documentation's been working overtime. We're starting to go to press with the manual on Monday-we'll be sending 64 pages a day to the printer."
The beta coordinators have been logging reports of problems getting fonts to display properly onscreen. "Word does a better job of selecting screen fonts than we do at this point. Of course, they've had two years to practice." Another group is getting unrecoverable application errors left and right with the speller and thesaurus.
There's a long, spirited discussion of one particularly confusing dialog box. We got the Windows style guide, and we're trying to support the CUA standard," one tester says. "But people are going to see this inconsistency and call us for support." ("Let's give'em Microsoft's number," cracks another tester.)
The meeting ends on an upbeat note, with a report from Clay Coleman. We sent out the second beta yesterday," he reports. That release fixed more than a thousand bugs, so we should see a real change in the reports coming in from beta testers."
Over in Building J, Corporate Communications Director Jeff Acerson is fielding a steady stream of calls from writers and editors looking for beta copies. "Everyone wants it. We're getting 15 to 20 calls a day from authors, publishers, and corporations who feel they need it."
At Info Services, the log of calls to WordPerfect's toll-free number shows a similar steady increase in interest from customers. In the space of a month, the pace of calls has picked up from 400 to better than 900 a week.
In Chuck Middleton's office, one staffer notes that they've fixed 5,653 bugs so far.
AUGUST 15, 1991, 2 p.m.
"Microsoft hopes we sell the dickens out of it."
Coordination Meeting. It's Thursday afternoon, time for the weekly coordination meeting of the WordPerfect for Windows team. The mood in the conference room is ebullient, because the team has just made its self-imposed deadline for freezing a new beta version. It's the first of three confidential dates scrawled on a whiteboard in the office of WordPerfect for Windows Development Director Chuck Middleton; the next milestones are September 9 for Beta II and October 1 for shipping. At the front of the room, Middleton has a few words of congratulation. This is the first real sticking to the schedule' we've done," he reminds the group. "It gives me confidence that we can hit that October 1 date."
There are a couple of tables and 30 chairs in the room. Every seat is occupied. I take a quick look around the room and make a few mental notes: Not surprisingly, this assortment of senior managers looks more mature than the youngsters I've been seeing in the halls. There are more than a few gray hairs, including those on the head of founder and president Alan Ashton, who's s quietly in a comer near the door.
The nearly 200 outside beta testers have had a week to work with the latest version, Kevin Adamson says. We've had 1,370 reports from our beta testers-bugs, enhancement requests, and so on. We're starting to get favorable reports, too- We love this feature.' We'll post those ones [on the bulletin board in the kitchen]."
Earlier in the week, InfoWorld published an advance look at WordPerfect for Windows based on a copy of the software leaked from a beta site. Ifs an overwhelmingly positive story, and everyone agrees it was a big boost for morale. There's a bit of grousing from the beta-test team over the fact that someone violated the nondisclosure agreement, but it dies quickly.
With the ship date in sight, the internal testing team has kicked into high gear, reports Don LaVange.
We've got 40 people from the Support and Problem Resolution groups working overtime. They're building applications and looking for bugs. We've already found most of the ones they're reporting, which makes me feel good about the work we've done so far."
LaVange is just back from Redmond, Washington, where he and another WordPerfect staffer delivered a beta copy of the software to Microsoft's Windows developers.
We just watched as they installed the software," he says with a trace of amusement. "It was an interesting usability test. Their eyes were popping out. They told us they hope we sell the dickens out of it, because it'll sell more Windows."
If the successes of the past week have relieved some pressure, one final announcement piles it all back on again. Middleton reminds the group that the company plans to release versions of the software in 13 different languages a few weeks after the U.S. English version ships. With earlier versions of WordPerfect, the international division often had to wait six months or more for shipping copies. Ashton quietly but firmly spells out the goal: "I'm really behind getting our international versions out quickly. If we can pull this off, it'll be a real coup."
AUGUST 15, 1991, 4 p.m.
"We've got enough capacity."
Gearing Up in Tech Support. If you don't believe that WordPerfect's technical-support operation is a phenomenon, just look at the numbers. As of July 1991, 787 full-time employees in the division have handled an average of 16,539 calls per day on more than 300 toll-free lines. That's 42 percent more employees and 58 percent more calls than two years earlier. It adds up to a typical monthly phone bill of $411,000. Amazingly, the average waiting time is a mere 43.2 seconds.
In the WordPerfect support building, it's the calm before the storm. Late in the afternoon, the pace of calls has dropped off, and as I walk through the maze of cubicles I see plenty of operators waiting for the phone to ling. Even at full alert, though, I'm told the environment is deceptively quiet, thanks to superb soundproofing. Homemade pennants poke up from the center of each cluster of workstations, identifying the support group that lives there-Features, Dot Matrix Printing, Install, and so on.
Overhead at every turn is a pair of TV monitors displaying bar graphs of the number of callers waiting for each department and the average queue time. When a caller has been waiting for more than two minutes, one of the bars turns bright red, signifying a need for intervention. If you call WordPerfect and end up on hold, you'll hear from a hold jockey," WordPerfect's flashy tech-support innovation. Downstairs, in a glass-enclosed broadcasting booth, I meet Barbara Lee, the afternoon hold jockey, who's spinning tunes for waiting callers. She's got a radio-perfect voice, a stack of CDs-all jazzy instrumentals, no vocal-and a bank of touchscreens that route the incoming calls. When one of the bars turns red, she reaches to her right, touches the onscreen block that represents the waiting caller, and drags it to another queue, where it can be handled immediately. It's an impressive display of behind-the-scenes technology.
If Director of Customer Support Stan Mackay is worried about being buried by Windows callers, it doesn't show. With his impeccably tailored suit and razor-cut hair, the thirtyish Mackay looks more like a sales manager than the point man for this enormous outreach operation. Although ship day is still at least six weeks away, his team's in full-scale training.
We start training on the software as soon as it hits beta," Mackay tells me. We've got Windows specialists who are responsible for training the rest of the team."
I ask if he plans to set up dedicated lines to handle Windows calls. "No, we won't have special Windows support fines. We want to spread the calls among our nearly 800 people. We figure most people who call will have had experience with our DOS product, and they'll be caring about WordPerfect features. When we get a call with a tough Windows question, we'd hand them off to a Windows specialist."
The best guess in tech support is that the can volume will spike up by some 5,000 calls a day as soon as the Windows version hits the street. We've got enough capacity to handle the load," Mackay says with confidence.
AUGUST 31, 1991
Please don't rush."
WordPerfect's CompuServe Forum. Toward the end of August, Alan Ashton traveled to Sacramento to demonstrate WordPerfect for Windows before a user group. During the course of the meeting, observers say, he told attendees that the product's macro facility would be less than fully functional at ship time. (The prediction is wrong; by the time the product ships, its macro language is fully implemented.) He also reportedly committed publicly to a ship date of October 1; it's the first time anyone at WordPerfect has attached a specific date to the Windows version. A Sacramento-based beta tester posts a summary of the discussion on WordPerfect's private WPBETA CompuServe forum and sets off an online firestorm.
"I think this is a very solid product, but it is not ready to come out of the oven yet," one beta tester complains. "Please don't rush with buggy code," another forum participant agrees. We saw that with Ashton-Tate. RIP." A third correspondent asks the key question: "I guess this just means that the 1 Oct. ship date is being pushed ahead, come hell or high water?"
In a lengthy message addressed to "All" and headed "Doing the Right Thing," Don LaVange spells out the state of the software. His conclusion: Alan's announcement was a Corporate goal. We have missed many goals. I wish we could ship October 1. We want to ship a clean product more than we want to ship on any particular date ... All I can say is that we will do our best work here. The product will be better tested than anything we have ever tested."
The detailed response changes the tone of the discussion from sullen to animated. "Don, it's good to hear from you on this subject," reads one reply. "It clarified a lot of issues and reduced the confusion by an order of magnitude or two. I don't think any of the testers has the slightest doubt that you guys are killing yourselves trying to get the last bugs out. At the same time, every one of us wants to see the best program possible, and (I suspect) identifies pretty personally with WordPerfect. We may not be employees, but we have your best interests at heart."
As usual, LaVange gets the last word: "I realize that the one-way street that happens here can be frustrating. I wiU try to keep a better profile out here. (If you have seen my video you know that that is an interesting concept!)"
SEPTEMBER 9, 1991, 10.30 a.m.
"Lotus sales are dropping."
Marketing Meeting. If there's an inner sanctum at WordPerfect, this is it. I'm sitting in a plush conference room on the third floor of Building A, just around the corner from the private suite that houses the corporate offices. All told, 12 people-the key members of the corporate communications and marketing departments-are gathered around a dark hardwood table beneath an intricate skylight. Pete Peterson is leading the discussion, which focuses on two issues: planning for the WordPerfect press conference at Comdex/Fall and explaining the sweeping changes in the product's licensing and pricing policies.
One item's not on the agenda, but it leads off the discussion anyway. Last week Lotus Development Corporation shipped its long-awaited Windows version of 1-2-3. Within days, PC Week had prepared a front-page story ripping the product for bugs, slow performance, and sloppy design. In one week, Lotus stock has dropped by 20 percent. Ifs a timely lesson for WordPerfect.
"Will we ship at Comdex?" Peterson wonders out loud. He sips on a caffeine-free soda, then continues. There are rumors flying through the investment banking community that Lotus sales are dropping. Big accounts are leaving 1-2-3 in droves and moving to Excel. We can't afford that. When it gets down to it, we may need another two weeks [after Comdex] to get all the bugs out."
The licensing issue is complex but enormously important. WordPerfect has revised its long-standing policy in order to allow PC users to legally copy software for use on a home machine or laptop, as long as the program is being used on only one machine at a time; under the old rules, users had to pay full price for each copy, even if there was no chance that they could be used simultaneously. The new policy also includes dramatic discounts- to 60 percent-for large accounts.
Planning the Comdex event is a simple affair. Pete Peterson and Corporate Communications Director Jeff Acerson tick off a list of products, announced and unannounced, deciding which ones make the press kit and which ones stay on the shelf till next year.
One more piece of news: As of last week, the product's name is officially WordPerfect 5.1 for Windows.
SEPTEMBER 9, 1991, 2 p.m.
"We'll hit the Comdex time."
Building A. After the meeting, I wander around the corner and spend some time with Alan Ashton. Dr. Ashton's academic background is evident in his manner; even in a one-on-one session, I feel I ought to raise my hand before asking a question.
We talk briefly about the reasons for WordPerfect's phenomenal success as a product. I remind him of Clive Winn's great product/great support poll at the spring conference. He smiles and shakes his head. "If the software weren't good, we'd suffer. The quality of our software gave us the big edge over WordStar originally. Back in '84 and 85 we were involved in lots of head-to-head evaluations, and we kept winning. We added features, and got better and better, and companies liked the attitude they found here."
Is there a risk of alienating the loyal DOS customers who made the company what it is today? "Compatibility across platforms is the big issue," Ashton says. "Our plan is to do the best we can with the platforms people have. We don't want to force users to spend more money for newer machines or upgrades."
I ask Ashton what he remembers about the short-lived 5-5-1988 release of WordPerfect 5.0. "Our programmers were nearly at the point of exhaustion," he recalls. We had to change the format underneath but stay consistent with the previous version. It took a lot of energy."
That sounds a lot like what the developers are trying to accomplish with WordPerfect for Windows, I suggest. We've actually cut down on hours," he tells me. We want our employees to be proud of their work, and you start to make mistakes when you go past your limits. When you're running a marathon, you can't sprint for very long. Steady, good, hard, honest work will win in the end."
So, is Ashton pleased with the product's progress so far? "I feel great about the product. I sense a great deal of responsibility that it be as bug-free as we can get it. We've never had this kind of testing effort before, with more than 100 people assigned to testing. We'll hit the Comdex time. We've got to do it-if for no other reason than our programmers' sake!"
Two doors down, Pete Peterson has tennis on his mind. When I bring up Lotus and its apparent misstep with the Windows version of 1-2-3, he nods. "To watch what's happened with them is wonderful for us," he says. You push and push and push, but then you pull back. We have to look at this objectively. We don't want to make a big mistake.
With revision 1.0 of anything, you're using the customer for a beta site. We recognize that. It's a ferocious competition, and the stakes are so big. We've got advance orders for 300,000 copies-that's 40 to 50 million dollars in one month. We'll sell more in ten days than Microsoft Word for Windows has in a year. If ifs good, we'll have a big success. On the other hand, if we get bad reviews, we could get every copy we ship back, and we're an also-ran."
Peterson remembers the WordPerfect 5.0 lesson, too. %Wy did we have a buggy release of 5.0? Everybody was so dead tired, we just had to get it out the door. We're not as bad off now."
I can't leave Pete's office without asking about his house. Most top executives live in luxurious surroundings, but Peterson's is special. For one thing, it's enormous, with two huge, golden, all-glass structures covering a pool and an indoor tennis court. For another, it's right next door to WordPerfect's headquarters.
Obviously this is not the first time he's been asked about the house. "It's convenient," he says. "I have identical work setups in my home and my office, and ifs nice to be able to walk to work. But if I had to do it all over again I wouldn't build in such a visible spot. If I want to take the afternoon off, the support people em look out their window and see me by the pool."
"Where is it?"
Beta II. Three weeks and half a dozen false starts after the September 9 deadline, the Beta II master disks go to SoftCopy, WordPerfect's massive disk-duplicating and packaging service two miles west of headquarters. The first ran goes out Monday night to the increasingly vocal corps of outside testers, who have been posting impatient Where is it?" messages via CompuServe for 21 days straight. In fact, the software had been frozen the previous Friday, but the duplicating took longer than expected, finishing 15 minutes after the Federal Express deadline. The delay turns out to be a blessing in disguise, as weekend testing uncovers a nasty bug associated with the Button Bar. It's fixed by Monday morning.
After the initial shipment goes out, SoftCopy turns its attention to the much-larger Software Subscription Service order. These 2,500 copies go to large accounts, publishers, and WordPerfect loyalists who pay an annual fee in exchange for automatic shipments of interim releases and advance copies of new versions. It's an important milestone: For all intents and purposes, the wraps are off. Nondisclosure agreements expire, and this is the version that wiu be reviewed in PC Week and InfoWorld. For the developers, it's an unmistakable signal that they've rounded the far turn and entered the homestretch.
"They kept slamming us upside the hood.'
WorPerfect Corporation, Building C. At Thursday morning's Coordination Meeting, the atmosphere practically crackles with energy. Emotions are running high over last-minute decisions affecting the Install program: Installing utility files for every screen resolution will MI up megabytes of hard disk space, but users might be confused if they're offered a choice. Chuck Middleton and Don LaVange carry on the debate at full volume across a crowded conference room, with only an occasional interjection from one of the other attendees. Although the dialogue is loud, there are no tempers or harsh words; it's a perfectly normal display of WordPerfect-style decision-making in action.
After the meeting, Don LaVange confesses that the outside beta testing program has been far more valuable than he had dreamed it would be. "I still don't recall any bugs they found that we didn't also find. But I believe the beta sites have made a significant difference in how we implemented features. For example, a lot of our beta sites were frustrated with us because the File Open box didn't give us the ability to delete, copy, and move files. We kept reiterating that this is the way Windows dialog boxes are, but the more we tracked things, the more we realized that this is the way our users expect it to be. So we changed it. A lot of features are only there because the beta sites kept slamming us upside the head."
"Our people are confident." The Sands Hotel Las Vegas. Alan Ashton, at the podium for WordPerfect's Comdex/Fall press conference, is not completely at ease.
We wanted desperately to hand you a finished version of WordPerfect for Windows here," he admits. "But we couldn't. We've reached a great milestone, though-we froze the code last Friday, and our people are confident that we will ship it on November 11."
Noticeably absent from the room are the developers and beta test leaders, who remain in Orem, working 20 hours a day, six days a week. The latest beta copy went out on October 15; the response from outside testers is positive, but there is still a handful of bugs.
Amazingly, Pete Peterson tells the reporters and analysts in the conference room, WordPerfect's overall sales are up eight to ten percent for the year to date. We knew we'd be late with the Windows version, we expected to lose a little market Am, and we expected lower profits. We were right that we were late, but we were wrong about everything else. Advance orders for WordPerfect for Windows are around 300,000 copies, which means weT ship two or three times as many copies as every other Windows word processor combined. The demand is pretty incredible-we'll be ready to ship 600,000 copies in the first month." All told, by the end of 1991, he says, WordPerfect's business should be up about 25 percent from last year.
NOVEMBER 8, 1991
"Just say that it's good."
SoftCopy, Orem Utah. The last two betas come in quick succession: October 27 and November 4. Dave LeFevre, who's managed communications with outside testers for the last six weeks, hints in a CompuServe message that the latest version may be shipping copy. He's almost right. There's one final glich in the software: The font-translation process doesn't work properly when users switch between Windows and WordPerfect printer drivers. A team of programmers works around the clock to fix the bug. On November 7, the development team agrees that WordPerfect 5.1 for Windows is ready to ship.
By the morning of November 8, three days ahead of schedule, SoftCopy's disk duplicating machinery is spinning furiously at a pace of 30,000 packages a day. For the developers, testers, and corporate staff, the long hours and the pressure are past. Now it's a matter of waiting for the response from customers. I ask Pete Peterson how he'll know if WordPerfect for Windows has succeeded. "I just want people to say that it's good," he tells me. You don't have to tell us it's perfect-just say that you like it."
THE GOOD PEOPLE of Utah might bristle at the suggestion that they're square, but in strictly geographic terms the state is defined by straight lines. If not for the small chunk of Myoming that sticks into the northeastern corner, Utah would be a perfect rectangle. And when the city fathers first laid out the roads in Provo and nearby Orem, they carried the grid concept to extremes with a system that uses numbers in place of street names.
To reach WordPerfect's headquarters in Orem, for example, take I-15 south from Salt Lake City (in a nearly straight line) and head into the Utah Valley for about an hour. Exit at 800 North and head east for a couple of miles, turning left on 800 East. You'll pass streets with names like 950 North, 1040 North, and 1120 North before you reach Technology Way, the private road that links WordPerfect's 14 buildings
To the west, toward the valley floor, sits Utah Lake, an enormous body of water, 20 miles from end to end but only 2 feet deep at most points. A few miles east of Wordperfect headquarters, the breathtaking Wasatch mountain range looms over the valley, rising to well over 9,000 feet above sea level. Follow the road past Mount Timpanogos and you'll reach Robert Redford's Sundance resort.
The local geography both defines and describes Utah, its people, and ultimately WordPerfect Corporation today. You'll find hard-working, God-fearing citizens with a passion for the outdoors-skiing, hunting, and fishing are popular sports. They're politically conservative, by and large; the ultraconservative John Birch Society rails against George Bush's "new world order" on a billboard on the road out of Provo.
With only 1,800,000 people scattered across the 11th-largest state in the union, Utah has plenty of wide-open space, fresh air, and a sense of isolation. That was no doubt the attraction for Brigham Young and his followers when they fled from religious persecution and settled the state in the 1840s. Even today, more than two-thirds of Utah's people belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saint-or Mormons, to outsiders.
LDS teachings make for an employer's dream workforce. The church preaches industriousness and thrift-members earmark a tenth of their income to support church activities and building construction, and they work on farms and other projects to benefit the poor. LDS families are expected to plan for the future by keeping a year's worth of canned food and water on hand at all times. The church emphasizes the importance of marriage and the family; as a result, Utah has by far the highest birth rate and the lowest average age in the nation.
Families are big-literally-at WordPerfect. The one constant in every office is the family picture on the desk or the wall. Tech-support staffers who couldn't be more than 23 already have two kids. I polled one group of senior managers and calculated that they had, on average, four children each. Founders Alan Ashton and Bruce Bastian and Executive Vice President Pete Peterson have eleven, four, and six children, respectively.
The company's concern for home and family shows up on the business side, too. During late 1990, for example, with developers working 16-hour days and 7-day weeks to meet a January deadline, Ashton and Bastian met face-to-face with the programmers' spouses to explain the importance of the project and plead for support. And even though the Provo/Orem area was already rated tops in the United States in terms of affordable housing, for some WordPerfect people building a new home was even easier. The company bought an apple orchard just west of its offices, subdivided the land, and sold the lots to employees at below-market prices.
A little-known LDS tradition may have a lot to do with WordPerfect's success. When they reach adulthood, young Mormon men and women devote up to two years of their lives as missionaries. "They learn a lot,'3 one staffer suggests. When you spend two year in a foreign country approaching strangers to talk about a subject most people would rather not discuss-religion-you learn bow to deal with people, how to gracefully handle rejection, even how to speak a foreign language. It's a powerful secret weapon for a company that does 40 percent of its business overseas."
COPYRIGHT 1992 Ziff-Davis Publishing Company