Home Features CPT, the Cassette-Powered Tinosaur

CPT, the Cassette-Powered Tinosaur

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by Paul W. Evans

CPT 8500 The piece on the TRS-80 (April 19) prompted me to recall the now-extinct dinosaur, the CPT word processor. In the early eighties the CPT Corporation (it originally stood for "Cassette Powered Typewriting") held an impressive share of the dedicated word-processor market with its trademark portrait screen and amazingly complicated operation. I ran a public relations company at the time and was asked by CPT to promote their very expensive machines. Even then, personal computers were taking over and the idea of a dedicated word processor was becoming history.

The all-female staff of the CPT London headquarters were fanatics. They believed implicitly in the future of their system and any mention of PCs or "personal" word processors was accompanied by brays of utter scorn. I swear they had a regular happy-clappy collective experience every morning, including singing the CPT company anthem. I entered the fray as an experienced user of WordStar, then the leading PC-based word-processor, so I had a clear benchmark. The massive and massively expensive new CPT on my desk left a lot to be desired as I soon found out.

It did have some attractive features, mainly the paper-white on-end portrait screen that faithfully mimicked a sheet of paper. At the time, most PC displays had blurry white-on-black or green-on-back displays and were usually square and no bigger than 12 inches. The CPT screen was magnificent in comparison, and the on-screen copy was as near WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) as could be in pre-Windows or Apple Lisa days. But there the good experience ended.

The massive 8-in floppy disks stored very little, as I remember, and the method of constructing documents relied on a strange, already archaic one-page-per-file system. It was just about acceptable for a single-page letter, but any multi-page documents required endless fiddling, especially if large amounts of text were inserted or deleted. I did hear that experienced users found it all very easy and Government departments and many large companies relied exclusively on CPT. I suspect, though, that the enthusiasts had come straight from typewriter to CPT and had not experienced the relative freedom of a good PC-based word processor. 

I never once managed to produce a reasonable report on the CPT and soon lost whatever enthusiasm I had gained on first acquaintance. I realised that WordStar, primitive as it was, was years ahead of the CPT in all but on-screen display.

Nevertheless, the ladies of CPT saw no writing on the wall and continued promoting their square-earth philosophy for more than another decade.

My relationship with CPT ended fairly abruptly and I cannot now remember whether I was given the boot or the other way round. I suppose my lack of enthusiasm must have been obvious.  It was a great relief to have the CPT equipment collected and to continue with my tried-and-trusted WordStar. 

5 COMMENTS

    • I liked your article. It brought back some memories.

      In 1981 I was relocated to Minnetonka, Minnesota, USA. At approximately the same time a company was building a large factory at the property adjacent to ours. It was CPT.

      A number of secretaries were using the CPT equipment.
      PC’s were just becoming the "new thing", along with newer software.

      My first PC was a Pivot portable, I think 1984 but not sure.

      Within a few years CPT shut down operations completely.

      Jerry

  1. There was indeed a steep learning curve necessary to become acquainted with a CPT Wordprocessor. Mainly because it had no menu or help function. There was however also one specific feature where it was far ahead of all Windows based wordprocessors: ShortCut (nowadays known as macro's). This was a very powerful tool that let you repeat an almost unlimited amount of keystrokes. After you had closed the ShortCut entry mode you could display what you had typed and all keystrokes would be listed on the screen. Then you could label certain parts, add counters and jumps and you had a program. After saving it to disk, you could later on load the ShortCut program from disk, load your data, touch 'Prog' and all new data was formatted in a second like you had programmed it to. This enabled CPT Sales Offices to use vertical marketing where specific ShortCut programs where written for specific markets (i.e. notaryships and advocacy in the Netherlands). ShortCut was also used by customers to automate certain often used tasks. This is probably one of the reasons that a lot of CPT customers where very late with the switch to Windows based WordProcessors. I even remember customers that used one CPT WP 9000 on one desk and WordPerfect on another for years…

    Another important Utility was the Interactive Display Emulator (IDE), where the upper half of the vertical A4 screen could be used as an IBM 3270 terminal and data could be transferred to the WP screen for merging with letters or documentation.

    BTW: In the late day's of CPT, they had build a mimic of the WP program that could run on Windows (with ShortCut!). However because the main competitor WordPerfect (anyway in the Netherlands) had already given away there software on schools and because they where too late with the conversion they lost.

    (The author was active from 1979 until 1992 as Software Engineer on CPT products)

  2. I operated one of these things and trained others. I agree they were so complicated operators almost needed a computing degree. Two consoles and a daisy wheel printer cost my employer $50,000. In May 1986 I bought a MacPlus and a LaserWriter Plus, which cost me $26,000 (and I had to pay Grab Snatch Take, aka GST, whereas my employer didn’t) and which I found amazingly each to teach myself to use (mainly Pagemaker and Microsoft Word 1). I couldn’t believe that anyone would prefer a CPT word processor to my MacPlus and LaserWriter! I was told by a photographic typesetter that my desktop publishing system would never replace the Compugraphic, but I later had the satisfaction of seeing these things advertised free "for spare parts".

    • Laraine, you are quite right. I handled PR for the CPT company in London many years ago and they were definitely full of themselves: The best system in the world, cannot be improved! We were then using CPT-based micro-computers with Wordstar, an early word processing system. For a fraction of the price it could run rings round CPT’s page-based monstrosity. They even loaned us a machine to handle their work but everyone hated it and, on the quiet, we would produce their press releases in Wordstar. They never rumbled us.

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