WordSet: Stolen Without Compensation

A kind reader from a land formerly beyond the Iron Curtain recently supplied the OS/2 Museum with a curious word processor that calls itself WordSet. The files unfortunately lost their original timestamps quite some time ago, but it is apparent that this editor was released in the late 1980s, with copyright messages in different files referring to 1986 and 1988.

The editor runs on DOS, but there appears to have been a CP/M variant available as well, as evidenced by this manual (photo from an auction):

WordSet for CP/M manual

When the DOS version of WordSet (WS.COM) is started, the user is greeted by a screen that may look more than a little familiar:

WordSet main menu

It is not difficult to see that WordSet is really WordStar, superficially renamed and with user visible text translated to Czech.

Looking at the beginning of the overlay files provides further clues to the software’s origin:

Badly translated, but fixed!!!

The header of WSMSGS.OVR says (in Czech) “Stolen without compensation” and “Badly translated, but fixed!!!”. WSOVLY1.OVR clearly identifies who had done the stealing: JZD Agrokombinát Slušovice, an agricultural collective which—for reasons that make no sense to a contemporary reader—became one of the biggest providers of IT equipment and software in socialist Czechoslovakia in the 1980s.

WordStar 3.41?

But wait… what the heck is WordStar 3.41? Is that even real? Even after a lot of research, I’m not entirely sure. What I am certain of is that WordStar 3.40 (or 3.4) is very real, although not well known.

The reason for that is simple: WordStar 3.40 was never available in the United States. An English language version of WordStar 3.40 existed, but was only sold in the UK and Ireland. There were translated versions of WordStar 3.40 available in German, Spanish, Italian, Dutch, and other languages.

The difference between WordStar 3.40 and 3.3x is small but crucial: WordStar 3.40 can correctly handle 8-bit characters, something that older WS versions can not do because WordStar internally uses the high bit.

WordStar 3.40 uses escape sequences to fence off 8-bit characters. It has no special language or encoding support; its most important feature is that it simply does not destroy the high bit of all characters. WordStar 3.40 passes the 8-bit characters through from keyboard to screen and to file and thus works with more or less any codepage.

Thus WordStar 3.40 can do things WS 3.3 can’t:

8-bit characters in WordStar 3.x

The best (and perhaps only) good description of WordStar 3.40 can be found in the March 1986 issue of PC Magazine. It was reportedly created at MicroPro Ireland and released in September 1984.

There is a second-hand copy of Dutch WordStar 3.40-1.0 on archive.org. There is an archive of Spanish WordStar 3.40-4.0 files on vetusware. There is a German language addendum to WordStar 3.4 on archive.org; it claims a 1982 copyright, but if other information is to be believed, it must be newer. There is also an image of a German WordStar 3.40-1.0 floppy; it shows a 1984 copyright.

I could not find any evidence that WordStar 3.41 existed, only one single reference to WordStar 3.41 that may or may not be a typo. However, given how poorly documented WordStar 3.40 is, and how obscure version 3.41 would have been, it’s not at all impossible that WordStar 3.41 was released circa 1987. WordStar 3.31 did exist, so 3.41 might have as well.

Then again, it is also plausible that WordSet 3.41 was copied from WordStar 3.40. Finding a surviving copy of WordStar 3.41 would answer the question.

WordSet Translation

There is one oddity noticeable when examining the WordSet menus:

Czech text in WordSet

The Czech text in WordSet does not use diacritical marks and is strictly limited to ASCII characters. That was no doubt done deliberately, so that users could use different encodings for their text. Perhaps the Kamenický brothers encoding, perhaps codepage 852, perhaps something else. The program itself would always look the same, regardless of the encoding used.

It is also apparent that the translators fought with the problem that the translated Czech text was often longer than the original English, which led to many abbreviations that weren’t always easy to understand. It is quite likely that the translation was created by binary editing of existing files, and text could not be lengthened or shortened—even if there were space for it on the screen, and there often wasn’t.


It is highly probable that JZD Slušovice simply copied WordStar 3.4, translated it into Czech, renamed it to WordSet, and sold it to end users, almost certainly for a fairly high price. MicroPro International most likely had no practical chance to do anything about it—if MicroPro even knew about it in the first place, which is far from a given.

It’s very likely that WordStar was not the only program that JZD Slušovice copied in this manner. For example, it is known that their 8-bit operating system TNS-DOS was a modified copy of TurboDOS from Software 2000 Inc. There is a curious backstory about that.

A former programmer at Slušovice recalls that in late 1987, TurboDOS was only available to them in object code form, and she further says: Pokusili jsme se získat zdrojové texty od autorské firmy v Německu, ale ta už neexistovala. (We attempted to acquire the source code from a German company that wrote it, but it no longer existed.) That, she further recalls, complicated the developers’ life quite a bit because JZD Slušovice wanted to reduce TurboDOS memory consumption through the use of paging, and had to disassemble and re-assemble modified source code to achieve that.

“A German company” implies JZD Slušovice perhaps tried to acquire the TurboDOS source code from a German company called Software 2000… which could not have worked because it was a game development company. In reality, TurboDOS was written by a completely different company, Software 2000 Inc. in California. The Californian Software 2000 Inc. not only existed in the late 1980s, it still exists even now (June 2022).

If JZD Slušovice really tried to buy a TurboDOS license at all, they certainly didn’t try very hard. But the reality of the time was such that just like with WordStar aka WordSet, even if Software 2000 Inc. knew about TNS-DOS (and they may well not have), their chances of doing anything about it were slim.

Times were certainly different back then in Central and Eastern Europe. But maybe not too different from the situation in some countries today.

This entry was posted in Editors, I18N, PC history, WordStar. Bookmark the permalink.

29 Responses to WordSet: Stolen Without Compensation

  1. Jonathan Naylor says:

    I dealt with Software 2000 (definitely the same company, the address is the same) a lot in the late 1980s as they produced a ROM for a Z80 based Terminal Node Controller named NET/ROM. It was very popular for a number of years until replaced with a reverse engineered version named TheNet, which was free. Drawing US denomination cheques to pay Software 2000 wasn’t a pleasent experience.

  2. Michal Necasek says:

    To be fair, the US banking system is not something Software 2000 Inc. could have done anything about… but it’s definitely a pain. These days it’s much less bad with credit card payments, PayPal, and so on. But getting US checks outside of the US is not fun, especially when it’s something “exotic” like a cashier’s check.

  3. JQW says:

    A former workplace sold HM Minstrel 4 TurboDOS systems before my time, and still had a few customers to support whilst I was working with them. Hence I got to play with the system a few times, and do a little support. The S-100 bus of the Minstrel 4 contained several ‘slave’ cards, each hosting two terminals with one 8086 (or 8088, I forget) per user. One of my support tasks was to upgrade some of these slave boards to use NEC V20/V30 chips for a little performance boost.

  4. zeurkous says:

    OT: Ah, Slu`’sovice… these days better known as the manufacturing
    site for *many* brands of cheap, sticky pasta. (Doubtlessly an activity
    of the former JZD…) BTW, we’ve found that the Panzani stuff is going
    down the drain fast, too — better buy Adriana or Vitana Prima (or
    true Italian stuff, like from Barilla).

    Perhaps me should start a “Pasta/2 Museum” :^)

    More on topic: even in the 90s, after the revolutions, Central European
    manufacturers often copied “western” designs without apology. (Search
    for “Sonic ogorki”, for example.)

    Even more on topic: was there actually any prosecution for copyright
    infringement of such Czechoslovakia-“made” software?

    Also note that we can’t really rule out that a sum was paid for
    licensing of the binary product, and that the JZD just went a *little*
    further than what was agreed….

  5. Michal Necasek says:

    If there was any prosecution, it wasn’t high profile enough for me to have heard of it. But I suspect there wasn’t. Most likely it would have been a complete waste of time and money because by the time a court case was won, the offender was almost certainly long out of business.

    In the WordStar case, they certainly didn’t pay anything and deleted all references to MicroPro. In the TurboDOS case, who knows, but if they’d gotten anything from Software 2000 they would have known how to contact them.

  6. Richard Wells says:

    It could have been copied from an East German company. Robotron marketed their stolen WordStar as TextProgramm which shows up with versions 1.0, 1.3, and 3.0. The Czechs missed out on the whole set with Kalkulationsprogramm (SuperCalc) and REDABAS (dBase) let alone CP/A (cassette CP/M)*.

    The weird one from East Germany was CAOS, the Cassette Aided Operating System, with an English language name for software never used outside the DDR. Even WordPro, East Germany’s internally produced wordprocessor, had an English language startup screen.

    * Much as it seems to be inspired by Rube Goldberg, CP/A was patched to load off cassette on Ramdisks and have other patched CP/M software also loaded on a Ramdisk from cassette.

  7. Michal Necasek says:

    I think SuperCalc and dBASE were also sold by SWS, but finding anything is tough.

    After looking at TextProgramm 2.00 (1988) I can safely say it wasn’t used as a basis for WordSet. It’s obvious that TextProgramm was a copy of the German language version of WordStar 3.40, with all references to MicroPro software hidden and the program files renamed (TP.COM instead of WS.COM etc.). WordSet was almost certainly translated using an English language version of WordStar 3.4 as a basis and left some English in (function keys display), and SWS did not rename any of the files. Unfortunately I don’t have an English language version of WordStar 3.4 to compare.

    Rube Goldberg was definitely involved on both the German and the Czech side.

    ETA: Actually that PC Mag article shows just enough that I can safely say the function key display in English WordStar 3.40 and in WordSet was indeed identical. So WordSet was really an English language edition of WordStar 3.40 translated into Czech, whereas TextProgramm was a German language edition of WordStar 3.40, slightly mangled to hide references to WordStar/MicroPro.

  8. GL1zdA says:

    This is another thing eastern block countries have in common. In Poland, a single man, Roland Wacławek (https://pl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roland_Wacławek), translated without permission of the original copyright holders many applications: Windows, Word, PageMaker, dBase, Clipper and several others. Apparently, these were sold just as translations, you had to get an English copy yourself, which in the late 80s meant you would pirate it. He also added Polish manuals, which were not translations, but written from scratch by himself.

    His articles about how he did it were published in Polish computer press, like (you’ll probably have to use a translation service) https://aresluna.org/attached/terminology/articles/rekonstrukcja .

    Such things started to become quite controversial in Poland in 88/89 and were debated until copyright law was regulated in 1994. Some companies even made “upgrade licenses” for pirate copies. It wasn’t only about PC software, apparently there was quite a lot of pirate software running here on mainframes, which had to be upgraded.

    Distributing software at that time in Poland made some people millionaires. The man behind the Polish Adobe distributor had a Ferrari Enzo in the 2000s https://exclusivecarregistry.com/details/ferrari/enzo/9220

    Another topic, less controversial, was the “vocabulary” used for translations. There were lengthy debates in the early 90s how to translate things like “mouse click”. As far as I can remember, Microsoft changed some of their Polish translations in the early products (they document such dictionaries for consistency between products).

  9. Michal Necasek says:

    I can understand why people did that, but as a business strategy it was doomed to fail, and failed sooner than they probably expected. BTW I don’t remember any Czechified Windows 1.x/2.x (or really any Windows 1./2.x) in Czechoslovakia, I wonder if the hardware in Poland was a little further. I’m pretty sure in Czechoslovakia there were very few PCs capable of running Windows before 1990, especially PCs capable of running Windows faster than molasses in January. For Windows 3.0, there were I think several kits that added Czech support, circa 1991-1992.

    On the one hand it’s impressive what people like Roland Wacławek did (it was really a deep translation, technically quite difficult), at the same time it seems like it was such a waste of time, spending so much effort on translating software through reverse engineering when a year or two later it could be done officially and properly. Did any of the translated software survive, or is it all gone too?

    Were there lots of homegrown Polish text editors? In Czechoslovakia/Czech Republic there were several (five or six? an improbably high number), and in the end they were killed by Microsoft just like everyone else, but at least one of the companies (Software 602, now just 602) survived and seems to be doing okay even now.

    The vocabulary discussions I kind of remember… Microsoft does publish translated terminology guidelines (Apple does too) but yeah, in the late 1980s there was no such thing. In a way East Germany was special because they did not need to deal with any of that, they could just steal West German software.

  10. zeurkous says:

    It’s been a long time since me ran a .nl version of Windoze, but medoes
    believe that “toepassing” was changed to “applicatie” to better match
    the (IMO horrible) shorthand “app”. (Of course, the term “application”
    itself, when used to describe a program as opposed to a purpose, is
    silly, but there one goes…)

    Medoubts that was the only change. Me doesn’t recall explicit discussion
    about it, though — what came from M$ was (and, to an appallingly large
    degree: is) accepted. Virtually uncritically.

    Needless to say, me’s long ago realized that just as French is the
    language of the posts, a *lot* of bulk trades are conducted in Spanish,
    and Latin is the official language of several churches (including, to a
    degree, this little one called “science”): English is just the language
    of computing-as-we-know-it, and thus anyone doing serious work with such
    machines will have to master it (or invent radically new machines that
    can then get away w/ working in a different language, which the rest of
    us will then have to master).

    One might even argue that all that effort put into translations could
    better be put into luser education, in this case the teaching (and/or
    self-study) of technical English.

    (That’s not about i18n in general: of course a computer should be able
    to handle a plentitude of natural languages. But not as its primary
    interface. There’s been a discussion on comp.arch about this, over the
    last few days; zeroth they sort-of agreed that universal collation is a
    self-contracting premise, only to then start speculating on ways to make
    it happen, presumably as it’s expected by the less-technically-inclined

  11. GL1zdA says:

    I was born in the 80s, so I can’t really say, how people felt about running businesses in the late 80s. I can imagine, they didn’t expect the fall of the eastern block and that things will change so fast. Or maybe he did it just because it was fun.

    In the Wikipedia article, there’s an unsourced paragraph about a contract in 1988 from the Polish Ministry of Education to the company that Wacławek ran. It mentions a package for schools consisting of translated: Windows 1.0, PageMaker 1.0, Micrografx In*a*vision, dBase III, Clipper, Framework + Lettrix and a program for printing Hercules graphics output. To put this in context, in 1986 Mazovia 1016 was created, with an 8086 clone CPU and Hercules/CGA compatible graphics. It was hard enough to get the components, so banks would buy Mazovia clones made from Taiwanese components. I wouldn’t expect the target for these software programs to be higher. On the other hand, I can imagine “single-tasking” PageMaker or Micrografx, using Windows just as a “window toolkit”.

    I don’t think I’ve seen any copies of his software, but I didn’t search a lot for them.

    There were at least two major text editors: TAG and QR-Tekst (https://pl.wikipedia.org/wiki/TAG_(edytor_tekstu) , https://pl.wikipedia.org/wiki/QR-Tekst ) but none of them survived. QR-Tekst even had a Windows version, but after we got the Polish version of Windows 3.1 (I think there were problems with the EE version – probably fonts?) there was a big move to Word, though until the late 90s some authors of popular computer magazines where AmiPro/Word Pro and WordPerfect for Windows evangelists.

  12. Michal Necasek says:

    Software 602 even made it as far as 32-bit Windows and Linux, and around 2004 replaced their own stuff with adapted OpenOffice. Around 1995 MS Word was everywhere, but lots of older PCs still ran T602, which itself was WordStar-ish in capabilities but looked a little nicer. Ami Pro was definitely around, but I don’t think I ever saw WordPerfect. I know it existed though, and some professional writers preferred it.

    I know Windows 3.1 EE was a thing but don’t remember if there were serious problems with it. A lot depended on applications, and the Polish support may well have had different problems from Czech support. Soon enough there was a localized Windows 3.1 version which was probably more popular, but I vaguely remember that I used 3.1 EE because I could actually understand what it was telling me.

    It may be that in Czechoslovakia the PC clones came just a little bit later (1987-1988?) that there wasn’t really time for Windows to filter through. There were also numerous 8-bit systems, often running CP/M or similar, much cheaper than the 16-bit machines, and that probably significantly cut into the potential market for the PC clones.

  13. Michal Necasek says:

    I’m quite happy with my computer’s UI being in English and the ability to process text in several languages. I know why they do the translations, but yeah, if you have some knowledge of English there’s just no point.

  14. MiaM says:

    Richard Wells: Do you have any info on using CP/A with cassettes? I took a glance at some search results and I only saw things about using a ram disk but not about using cassettes. Perhaps that was a hobbyist thing within the KC/85 community and not something “official”?

    Michal Necasek: Don’t know how the translations were done, but at least for Windows applications it was afaik possible to edit the resources (don’t know if it was available then but at least a few years in to the 90’s we had the Borland Resource editor thingie).

    I think that among people that wasn’t really dissatisfied with how things were in the east bloc, the big change around 1990 probably came as a surprise. So anyone translating (pirate) copies of western software might nog had expected that the western companies would make translated versions themself just a few years later.

    Btw I think it’s a good thing that software is translated to various languages. Sure, people some countries like the Netherlands and the Scandinavian countries are rather good at English and people in some other countries are probably good at some other major language, but for Europe I think it’s good that we get translations to at least the major languages. (And still there are a few words here and there that even decent seconld language English speakers don’t know, perhaps due to it being a false friend. For example in Swedish “Aggregat” means a device that does some kind of processing, like for example a wood gassifier or a package containing a hydraulic pump with an electric motor and a tank and whatnot).

  15. Michal Necasek says:

    If Windows apps had fully localizable resources then yes, translation was relatively easy. I don’t know how often that happened 🙂 In any case most of the not-so-legally translated applications were for DOS, and it was probably very individual how the translation needed to be done.

    The big change surprised everyone in the Eastern Bloc, satisfied or not.

  16. zeurkous says:

    Look at it the other way: many learned reasonable English by using
    English-langauge software (and playing English-language games!).

    In fact, “open door” were me first English words. For bonus points,
    guess where that came from 😉

  17. Richard Wells says:

    @Miam: According to https://www.robotrontechnik.de/html/software/scp.htm the two tape based CP/M variations were called COS-PSA and CP/KC. I must have misread the pages before. Documentation listing the changes made for the various CP/M variants isn’t something I have found. CAOS seems to have been the main focus of the KC-85 community.

  18. GL1zdA says:

    @MiaM The thing is, most business applications wouldn’t be very useful in Eastern Europe, had you only translated resources. The first dealbreaker would be fonts for anything that uses graphics displays. The second would be functionalities that make use of sorting, converting text (like changing text to lower/upper text). Minor annoyances would be “hotkeys/accelerators”, which would often also had to be changed.

  19. Yuhong Bao says:

    This reminds me of Trojan.Kardfisher exploiting product activation code in Windows XP. I wonder if you can even process credit cards without computers.

  20. Chris M. says:

    With all this discussion of Czech, was there any software written in Slovak? 😛

  21. Richard Wells says:

    Chris M.: Yes. The Slovak Arts Council funded translations of some into English. https://scd.sk/clanky/playable-english-localizations-of-slovak-digital-games-from-the-late-80s-period/ I haven’t seen any Slovak exclusive business software.

  22. Michal Necasek says:

    I doubt there was anything Slovak exclusive. Czechoslovak and Czech business software as a rule supported Slovak. For example the popular T602 text editor only had Czech user interface, but offered Slovak keyboard layouts from the start, and the character encodings were the same anyway. When they later added spell-check dictionaries, there was one for Czech and one for Slovak.

  23. OBattler says:

    Here, in then Socialist Yugoslavia, on the other hand, from what I was told, regular WordStar was used, in English. Even the 7-bit limitation wasn’t a problem, because the YUSCII standard was entirely 7-bit.

  24. Michal Necasek says:

    That’s probably the difference. For Czech, Polish, Hungarian, but even German, regular American WordStar just didn’t work, not unless you were willing to stick to pure ASCII. YUSCII solved the problem with different tradeoffs.

  25. ender says:

    There was at least one version of WordStar that was translated to Slovenian – I remember my father had it on his 286 (though I don’t think anybody used it – we all used IBM DisplayWrite).

  26. Richard Wells says:

    East Germany did seem willing to accept 7-bit only ASCII as shown through the usage of BASICODE. Even WordPro didn’t support umlauts until several versions later and it seems possible to set up WordPro to stick with a 7-bit character set. I never spent much looking at translated copies of Western software. There was a brief flirtation with ISPP because the concept of cassette based Turbo Pascal was hilarious.

    Marcin Wichary has a collection of “We’re Computerizing” columns detailing Poland’s late 80’s introduction of computers. Enough complaints show up in those columns to suggest a preference for working software even if it fails to fully meet the character requirements of the language.

  27. Gawron says:

    Refto Polish text editors from the era (and translation efforts etc.) see my article in Annals (https://ieeexplore.ieee.org/document/8621031).

  28. Gawron says:

    Crap, made a typo in email address in previous comment 🙂 – this one is correct

  29. Michal Necasek says:

    Thanks for the pointer! Good article, and very informative for me. Even though the general situation in Czechoslovakia was very similar to Poland, the software was completely different (until Microsoft killed all the homegrown products everywhere).

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