The Killer Demo: 1979

I was reminiscing about the good old days with a friend and I told him of my first “killer demo” back around 1979, he insisted I blog it, so here it is.

I used to work at a little computer store called Computers Plus in Dubuque, Iowa, selling Apple and Vector Graphic CP/M computers. My specialty was word processing with Wordstar and the complex form letter system MailMerge. But in those days, even basic word processing was brand new and a hard sell, people just didn’t understand how powerful it was. The target market was usually professional secretaries who could bang out a perfect business letter in one pass on a Selectric typewriter, even fancy word processors could barely outperform a skilled typist. But I was determined to beat them at their own game, I would demonstrate just how fast a business letter could be produced.

We had a fancy Vector Graphic MZ demo system with a powerful Z-80 CPU chip running at 4Mhz, a massive 48k of RAM, and two floppy disk drives. It was hooked up to a high speed daisy wheel printer, it could print about 50 characters per second. And the key element, me at the keyboard typing like a demon. I’ve been clocked at over 100 words per minute, and the Vector Graphic had a really good keyboard, so I could really crank out the text quickly.

I had Wordstar set up with a few macros so I could hit one key and it would create a perfectly formatted business letter, with the address, date, salutation, and “Sincerely, Charles Eicher” at the end, all I had to do was type the content. Usually I typed in something simple like “I present this letter for your consideration” and hit the Print command, and the daisy wheel printer would blaze into activity, hammering the letters out with a noise like a machine gun.

I would set up a sheet of paper in the printer, load Wordstar, then have the customer time me with a stopwatch, from the command to go until the time the finished letter popped out of the printer. Ready, set, GO, bang out the sample text, hit print, wham it’s done. I could consistently do this within 15 seconds, including the time it took to type the text. Sometimes the customer couldn’t believe what they’d seen, so I had to repeat the demonstration.

As I described this demo to my friend, I wondered how long it would take on modern equipment. I recall that well into the 1980s and the HP LaserJet era, a fast daisy wheel printer could beat a LaserJet on some documents, particularly screenplays with double-spaced text and lots of white space. But for full pages of text, the LaserJet would win the race.

So I just recreated my killer demo on my own system. I used Microsoft Word 2004 on my PowerMac Quad G5 2.5Ghz computer with 4.5Gb of RAM, a 1Tb RAID 0, the printer is an antiquated HP LaserJet 5MP. I figured the bottleneck would be the printer, it’s at least 10 years old, but it has a fancy EtherJet module and lots of extra RAM, it should be comparable in speed to an average home-office laser printer. But it is a PostScript printer, which adds lots of processing overhead, so I used a standard Courier font that is resident in the printer, I won’t have to transmit custom fonts to the printer. I type as fast as ever, and the sample sentence is so short, so this will be a test of the hardware, not my typing skills.

I set the stop watch and banged out the letter in mere seconds, hit print, and waited for the page to eject. And waited. Total time: 40 seconds. Isn’t progress wonderful?

One thought on “The Killer Demo: 1979”

  1. We seniors have been telling the juniors for years “latest are NOT ALWAYS BEST’
    You have to decide if the new gear is goning to benefit you, if not then DO NOT buy it for the sake of having the latest and greatest.
    If manufacturers refuse to continue to upgrade trying to force you into a purchase let them know where to go in no uncertain terms and refuse to do any future business with works, they need the sales of gear and accessories, or go under.
    We are the power we are the majority we need to show them they cannot succeed by telling us what we can and cannot have. REMEMBER IT TAKES NUMBERS SO FLEX YOUR MUSCLES AND BE INCONVENIENCED FOR A WHILE, BUT BE A WINNER FOR LIFE.

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