Sprint (word processor)

Sprint (word processor)

Sprint was a powerful and programmable text-based word processor for DOS, first published by Borland in 1987.



Sprint originally appeared as the "FinalWord" application, developed by Jason Linhart, Craig Finseth, Scott Layson Burson, and Brian Hess at Mark of the Unicorn - a company (headquartered in Cambridge, MA) which is now better known for its music software products. As FinalWord, the package met with some success: for example, the manuals of the Lotus software package were written on it, as was Marvin Minsky's book The Society of Mind.

FinalWord was renamed Sprint when it was acquired by Borland, which added a new user interface, new manuals, and features to the application. The editor speed was considered blazing at the time, running with no delays on machines as slow as 8 megahertz.

This was the time of European development for Borland: Sidekick and Turbo Pascal had been founded in Denmark; and the management of the European subsidiary comprised former Micropro France managers (Micropro was at the time the world leader in Word processing software with the famous WordStar line-up. They had success with the launch of WordStar 2000 - the first word processor package with a spelling dictionary in French.)

This is why the development and marketing of the product was conducted in France. Sprint is one of the very few major products from an American software publisher that had a French version shipped before the American version.

Sprint v1.0 shipped in France with notable initial success, capturing a 30 percent market share and getting the jump on competing word processors. Micropro was weakening with old Wordstar products and still-new WordStar 2000; WordPerfect was having problems with the translation and the user interface; and MS-Word was a decent but less polished or powerful product, and was also DOS and text-based.

The lack of beta-test combined with pressure to ship for back-to-school time resulted in a Sprint 1.0 which had a number of minor glitches and bugs that had to be corrected with version 1.01 and a whole new set of diskettes for every single registered user.

Version 1.0 (equivalent of French 1.01) shipped a few months later in the US and rest of world, with a mixed reception from customers. Traditional Borland fans who bought Sprint were happy with the editor, but wondered why the package included a sophisticated formatter, while business users who wanted a word processor just to write their memos and letters wondered what to do with the heavy manual and powerful features of the formatter language. In any event, word processing was shifting to WYSIWYG.

Version 1.5 did ship with a number of new features and real stability in France, but never made it elsewhere, although a number of localized versions had been built for various European countries. At this time, Borland Scandinavia had gone bankrupt, while Borland France had to be saved by massive financial help from the US. The developers who once worked in Europe had to move to the Scotts Valley CA premises. Version 1.5 was a reasonable success in France for some years, but MS-Word and Windows gained momentum and obscured all the other products.

In North America, Sprint never really gained traction in the marketplace, as it was overshadowed by WordPerfect and then Microsoft Word. It built up a small, but loyal and often enthusiastic, following among professional writers, researchers, academics, and programmers who appreciated its power, speed, and ability to handle large documents. Borland did not believe that there was enough of a market to warrant updating the product, and it eventually stopped supporting it.


Crash-proof: Sprint has incremental back-up, with the swap file updated every 3 seconds, enabling full recovery from crashes. At trade shows, demos were made with one person pulling out the power cord, and the typist resuming work as soon as the machine restarted. Swap files could also be saved separately and transferred between machines.

Spell-as-you-type: With this feature, Sprint could beep at you in real time when detecting a typo. (MS-Word needed almost ten years to have the red snakes under the suspect words.)

Multilingual editing: Sprint included dictionary switching, support for hyphenation, and spelling and thesaurus dictionaries that have yet to be matched by the competitors.

Separate formatter and programmable editor: These have been very useful features for corporate environments aiming at standardizing documents or building "boilerplate" contracts. In France, for example, sophisticated applications were built for Banques Populaires (loan contracts) or Conseil d'Etat, while some local government agencies created specific applications for tenders and contracts.

Powerful programming language: Programming in Sprint is done with the internal language of the word processor - a language which is very much like C. Programmers have the ability to "get under the hood" and to add modifications and extensions to an extent not possible with other word processors. Once written, Sprint programs are compiled into the interface, and run at full speed.

Interface switching: Modifications and extensions to Sprint can be saved into separate interfaces which can be easily and quickly switched. This is very useful for people working in different languages, as the keys can be mapped to the accents and characters of each language, depending on the interface.

File handling: Users can work in up to 24 files at once.

Handling large documents: Sprint has the ability to publish very large documents (hundreds of pages) with strict formatting consistency and automatic table of contents, index generation, tables of figures, and tables of authorities. These features made Sprint a leader in the production of technical documents - and Borland itself did all its manuals on Sprint, for years.

PostScript capabilities: Sprint could print in-line EPS images with dimensioning, and also had the ability to add in-line PostScript procedures. This made the product rather popular in the printing industry. For example, making a 200 page novel fit into 192 pages was simply a matter of changing the point size from 11 to 10.56. Sprint could size by 0.04 increment and scale the line spacing and kerning accordingly. (The 192 pages size is important in the printing industry, where the number of pages often has to be dividable by 32. A 200-pages book would have to be printed using 224 pages, the extra 24 pages being empty.)

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