The original audio for this interview was not released by request of the interviewee. It appeared in summary form only on Inverse ATASCII podcast.
Source: Inverse ATASCII - The Atari 8 Bit Productivity Podcast
Interviewer: Wade Ripkowski
Date: September 2014
Length: 1h 20m
Ken Leonhardi is the founder of LJK Enterprises, creator of such notable software as Letter Perfect, Data Perfect, and Spell Perfect for both the Apple II and Atari 8 bit computers.
(WR) Hello Ken and thanks for meeting with me.
(KL) You’re welcome.
(WR) Are you the owner/founder of LJK?
(KL) Yes, I am the founder. I brought in Ken Barry for marketing. I was 29 years old when I founded LJK. I was 30 when we incorporated.
(WR) What prompted LJK to enter the Atari software market?
(KL) We already had Letter Perfect for the Apple. We were asked by an Apple distributor that would soon be selling Atari’s, when released, to port it.
(KL) I received Atari 800 serial #4 and it didn’t work. They (Atari) replaced it with another. One I had a working unit the race to market was on. I found out we were competing against Ataris’ internal development of the Atari Word Processor.
(WR) Were you the author of Letter Perfect or was there anyone that assisted?
(KL) I wrote Letter Perfect and Data Perfect. LJK staff wrote Spell Perfect. I designed them all.
(WR) How long did it take to develop the software?
(KL) It only took a few weeks to create as it was pretty much already written for the Apple using the 6502. I used another of our products “Edit 6502” to create it. It was built on Apple and cross assembled, by hand, to the Atari.
(WR) Letter Perfect appears to be the 2nd word processor for the Atari. Atari released Atari Word processed in January 1981. There was another editor released in February 1981 after Atari Word Processor called Letter Writer by CE Software, but it was more or less just an editor. What was the release date for Letter Perfect?
(KL) Letter Perfect was actually the 1st word processor for the Atari 8 bits! Atari Word Processor was 2nd! We had a prototype on cartridge and demonstrated it at the 1980 CES show running on an Atari 400 with 4K memory.
(WR) My apologies, I’ll note the correction.
(WR) Is it accurate to say there were 6 releases, 1 through 6?
(WR) Version 6 has menus that you can use the first letter to select an item, and the included spell checker. Can you cite key differences for each version starting with 1?
(KL) Notably, version 1 may have used Atari DOS at first, but my recollection is foggy, specifically the version on cartridge. Version 6 Included Spell Perfect so you didn’t have to leave program (Letter Perfect). The other versions mainly had usability improvements and various feature additions. It was mainly sold in cartridge form at the end. Atari wanted a 16K cartridge even though Letter Perfect fit in 8K. I didn’t understand why Atari wanted that.
(WR) Letter Perfect used LJK DOS, or a DOS which the directory was not compatible with other DOS’s. This complicated backing up documents by having to perform the actions from within Letter Perfect, and made it difficult to open other text documents. What drove that decision? Anti-Piracy? Reduced DOS footprint to free memory?
(KL) LJK DOS was never a program. It was developed because Atari DOS did not have random access routines, which I knew right away would be problematic especially for database use. In retrospect we probably should have released our own DOS.
(WR) I’ve read about the LJK Disk Utility a little bit. Was that simply to aid with getting files to and from the LJK data disks or did it offer other functionality?
(KL) Yes, that was its primary intent.
(WR) I have seen, and forwarded you, a copy of a print ad from Compute magazine from February 1982 (Vol 4, No 2), which states a version “2.0 #2001” that supports Atari DOS and runs on Atari 400 with just 16K. Is that accurate?
(KL) No, that was a misunderstanding by the advertiser. The ad is wrong.
(WR) I’ve read in past magazine reviews that some versions of Letter Perfect supported expanded memory for the XL and XE’s. I’ve not been able to see that work. Was there something special that needed to be run first before booting the program disk? Which versions supported it?
(KL) Only the XL line supported it. We were out of the market or looking to exit the market by the time the XE line was released. In 1986 we sold the naming right for the Perfect series to WordPerfect Corporation.
(WR) Letter Perfect supported the Bit-3 and Austin Franklin 80 column cards. Was there ever a version released that supported the Atari XEP-80?
(KL) No. I went to Bit3 to drive the board development for Letter Perfect. I chose them mainly because they were in same home town.
(WR) The companion product Spell Perfect works pretty well. The integration with the last version was both a blessing and a curse. The last version has roughly an 8K reduction in available memory compared with the first, which prevents opening larger documents created with the former, but on the other hand it saves a ton of time changing programs to spell check. Was that decision driven by market changes or as general program or user experience enhancement?
(KL) Most developers were writing games. LJK was doing something positive. I complained during sessions of idea generation that we were a leading edge software company and I didn’t see a reason to keep a computer on my desk. I wanted that reason. So I kept pushing toward keeping it (Letter Perfect) and improving it. I wanted to make it more useful and enhance the user experience.
(WR) As far as spell checkers go, I’ve read that Spell Perfect contained about 30K words. This was back before days of the internet. I remember spell checkers touting higher word counts than competitors as selling points. Was there a source for word lists then? Was it hard to compile a list of words?
(KL) We compiled the word lists internally. Interestingly there was a file to delete as part of tutorial had some naughty words in it. We caught and stopped it, but some copies did leak into production.
(WR) What was the staff like at LJK?
(KL) Initially we were writing software at a high rate. We kept adding programmers. As we hired them, I tested them. Not one passed my test. But after a week working for LJK the advanced techniques we were using became childs play for them. We were really writing lean efficient code.
(WR) I haven’t worked with Data Perfect recently, or in the past for that matter, but I intend on featuring it in another podcast. I would like to ask some intelligent questions about it, but not sure if I can.
(WR) When was Data Perfect initially released?
(KL) It was approximately 6 months between Letter Perfect and Data Perfect if my memory serves correctly. “Letter Perfect DB” was the original name. We spent a very long just on name and eventually settled on Data Perfect.
(WR) How many different versions of it were released?
(KL) It was easy to add features to Letter Perfect, but not so much on Data Perfect. Data Perfect was about as robust as could be at initial release. I believe there were only 2 or 3 versions.
(WR) What are some of the key differences?
(KL) Version 2 added support for the Bit 3 80 column cards. The 83 release included a quick reference card. I still have one and I’ll scan and send it.
(WR) Did it support the expanded memory of the XL and XE computers?
(KL) I don’t think so. I believe it was 64k max. Data Perfect filled all memory at program load. We implemented memory swapping to disk which increased it’s (Data Perfect) efficiency. Most competitors were doing sorts in ~12 hours, we were doing it in 5 minutes (via all memory).
(WR) There is a reference to Simply Perfect on your current website, but I couldn’t find much information on it. Can you elaborate on what it was?
(KL) Simply Perfect combined Letter Perfect, Data Perfect and Spell Perfect. It was only available on the Apple.
(WR) You mentioned LJK sold the naming rights for Letter Perfect to WordPerfect in 1986. Is this when LJK left the Atari market or did you continue to market the other products? If so, when did you formally exit the Atari market?
(KL) We sold all 3 Perfects. This was our official exit. Negotiations initially broke down with WordPerfect. Because of this Letter Perfect would be dropped by Atari. The market was dying anyway and I was ready to get out. As a side note I got caught up in a lawsuit where WordPerfect Corporation sued Tax Perfect because they (WordPerfect) thought they owned the “Perfect” name.
(WR) At the time of exiting the market, to get an idea of market share, can you release the approximate number of copies sold for each of the products?
(KL) We had approximately 65% market penetration in the Atari 8 bit market.
(WR) After WordPerfect acquired the Letter Perfect name, in 1990 they released a scaled down cheaper version of WordPerfect using the Letter Perfect name. Do you think they did the Letter Perfect name justice?
(KL) I’ve never seen it.
(WR) Overall, how was the experience of making and marketing products for the Atari home computers?
(KL) It was a great experience overall. Our products were top notch. We got great reviews and good praise. We even won a CLEO award for one of our advertisements in 1983-ish. It was for the Spell Perfect product with a play on the spelling of Perfect being “Purrfect”.
(WR) If you could travel back in time to 1981, what would you tell a young you about the next 5 years in the Atari market?
(KL) There was a lot of venture capitol being thrown around. I didn’t want to give up control so I never took any. In hind sight I might take some toward the end of 8 bit market. But overall, I like the route we took and I’m very happy with way things went. I, we, wanted to make a difference, and I feel that we did.
(WR) Back then did LJK also work outside the computer software software market?
(KL) We created a lower case char generator for the Apple. We also created a 4 burner eprom duplicator. So we dabbled in hardware development.
(WR) How did you transition from making personal computer software to the lines of business your in now? Did the Order Entry offering grow from any of the personal computer software?
(KL) I had been retired for a few years. I did a few updates to products. I still use “Edit 6502” on the PC today. Then I started writing optical software by request.
(WR) I think Letter Perfect really stepped the game up as far as word processors go on the Atari. It changed the standard for all those that followed. I imagine that makes you feel pretty good to have created such a great piece of software so early in the game.
(KL) Yes, I am really happy with what we made.
(WR) Do you participate at all in the Atari 8 bit community, such as AtariAge forums or other vintage computing communities?
(KL) No, I wasn’t aware that people are still actively involved with the line.
(WR) Is there anything you would like to relay to the current Atari 8 bit community regarding the software you created or the platform itself?
(KL) Nothing in particular.
(WR) Do you have any interesting stories from LJK surrounding that time frame?
(KL) Early on I flew out to Atari with two techs, Chris Crawford maybe and ? We were to meet with Keith Schafer from Atari. He was unavailable or otherwise out. This meeting was to demonstrate the ready to release Letter Perfect and discuss distribution. Aside from Keith being unavailable we also had problems with the disk drives.
(KL) Atari had something happen during negotiations for VisiCalc distribution which altered how they (Atari) would handle 3rd party publishing. This may be why Keith was unavailable. Without Atari we went back and found our own publisher, and released with nationwide publishing anyway. Ultimately it never hurt us other than the wasted time at Atari.
(KL) When we met Atari at that first CES, Atari had been waiting on us to arrive. When we did we arrived with a bomb shell. We had the prototype of Letter Perfect on cartridge, and as mentioned demonstrated it on the 400 with 4K ram. It was basically ready when the Atari computers launched.
(KL) We also developed a program called “Easy Game Originator” which was a graphical OS for both the Atari and Apple 8 bits. It was never released.
(WR) I would have loved to have seen it.
(WR) That about covers my questions. Thank you for your time. It’s been very much appreciated.