To the writing systems (or word processors), arrived on the market a few years before the personal computer and the electronic typewriter, it is the merit of having a major breakthrough in office automation. No longer a typewriter that directly and immediately connects the typing (keyboard) to the printing mechanism (hammers, pellet, Daisy…), but a central unit that registers the text typed on the keyboard, manages a video, a memory unit and A printer, use a software to reprocess text. All things that today with the PC appear discounted, but that until the years ‘ 70 discounted were not.
The first writing system, still partial and semi-automatic, comes out in 1964: It is the MT/ST, launched by IBM. It is a typewriter Selectric connected to a magnetic tape cartridge on which you can memorize the texts. The management of the text is limited, missing a video or a display, the reception of the market is not very bright, but it is still the first step towards the electronic management of the writing.
A typewriter with memory
In 1972, Olivetti decided to develop a product similar to that of IBM. A machine to write Editor 4 is connected to a magnetic memory, using the central unit of the desktop Processor Program 101. This is how the S14 Editor is born; It is the first Olivetti writing system.
The functions available are limited, but the importance of innovation is already perceived. The system looks like a traditional typewriter, which is connected to a central unit with bipolar integrated circuits and MOS circuits, a memory unit and an operating console with 8 buttons for the basic commands.
The memory uses a magnetic tape cartridge unit developed in Olivetti; It has a capacity for those high times (250,000 characters), it is inexpensive and lends itself well to act as a repository of texts that can be corrected or recalled and then printed. The S14 Editor facilitates the customization of letters and circulars; It simplifies and speeds up typing work, especially in the presence of repeated texts or standard phrases that can be “refished” from memory.
New systems for a new market
[Writing system TES 501] In 1974 the S24 Editor is introduced, which offers some improvements, but which is actually based on the same technology as the S14.
On the international market the demand for word processor is on the rise and the Olivetti orients itself to create a specialized system that is not a mere derivation of typewriters. This starts a project that uses a specialized 10-bit central unit, developed internally; The use of a floppy disk as a memory unit; The use of a display for the immediate control of the typing; A writing mechanism based for the first time on the use of an interchangeable “daisy print”, for fast and quality prints.
In 1976 the project allows the launch of the TES 501, an elegant and innovative system, welcomed by the market.
Success calls for further developments and in the 1978 the Olivetti presents the TES 401. The system is based on the Intel 8080 microprocessor and as a memory drive has an internally designed floppy disk, with a capacity of 16KB, sufficient for a short text. The new product recalls the interest of a broader market segment, has performance and size a little lower than the previous model, but thanks to the low price reaches high sales volumes.
The turning point of the electronic writing machine
[Electronic typewriter ET 101] Meanwhile, on the international market, increasingly advanced products are established. Already in the 1976 the American Wang presented the WPS, a writing system that has a video page (not only display) and that in the text processing offers those performances that with the personal computer will become habitual.
In the United States (and not only) Wang’s products are going to steal, so that some industry analysts are unbalanced to predict that Wang in the ‘ 90 will become the main antagonist of IBM. It is one of the many predictions denied by the evolution of technology and markets, which instead reward personal computers general purpose at the expense of Wang and specialized writing systems.
The Olivetti does not respond immediately to the Wang offer, but favours a project that in July 1978 allows to present the ET 101, the first electronic typewriter on a worldwide scale. The announcement has the power to awaken a market traditionally well manned by the Ivrea company, but from time saturated and stagnating.
Only in the 1979 the Olivetti offer is enriched with a writing system equipped with video page and large memory on floppy disk: It is the TES 621, followed in 1980 by the cheapest TES 601. Both models are in line with the Wang offer, but on the market they have a limited success, also because the Olivetti is dedicating the greatest efforts to ride the competitive advantage gained with the ET 101.
Early 80, the golden moment of the writing systems
More interesting results are obtained starting from 1981 with a new series of products, the ETS 1000, produced by an American company in which the Olivetti acquired a 30% stake. These systems are based on the Intel 8080, have a proprietary Unix-derived operating system, software written in advanced C language; They can be connected to an electronic typewriter or to a keyboard and printer. In Practice They are specialized PCs for word processing. Olivetti sells them in Europe, adapting to the different needs of the various markets and them to their printers or typewriters.
Acquired full competence and visibility on the Syntrex product, the Olivetti begins to design its development: The new ETS 2000 series, based on Intel 80186, is presented in 1983. These products, carried out under the Systems division, are mainly used for the automation projects of the Office of a certain extent; For example, the ETS 2040 Multikeyboard writing system, which is capable of managing up to 8 jobs, is used for automating secretarial offices of a certain size.
At the same time, also in 1983, the Office Products Division develops a solution oriented to a wider market segment; The ETV 300 proposes to the traditional customers of Olivetti typewriters an easy migration to the systems of writing. The system is based on a central unit with microprocessor Zilog Z80, a video page, one or two floppy disks integrated in an electronic typewriter; Therefore, it is not necessary (even if possible) to connect the system to an external printer. Will follow in 1985 the cheapest ETV 250 and 240.
The victory of the personal computer
The massive input of the electronics in the field of writing leads to a strong expansion of the range of products and solutions: machines for writing with memory, line display, connection capacity with other systems; Real word processors; Solutions. All products competing with each other and competing in delivering more and more advanced functions and performance.
But at the same time begins the great spread of the personal computer. A little at a time the scenario changes: With the availability of new text editing programs, the PC begins to be used also for electronic text management. The tendency is unstoppable and for the specialized writing systems begins a slow, as inexorable decline, that in the years ‘ 90 will push them on market positions completely marginal.