[ Retro Scan ] Lanier Model 103 Word Processor

January 30th, 2017 by Benj Edwards

AES Montreal Lanier Model 103 NoProblem No Problem Records Manager flyer scan - 1970sLarge and in charge

Well over a decade ago, I picked up a Lanier Model 103 No Problem word processor system (ca. 1978) and a matching daisy wheel printer for free from a local hamfest. I was lucky enough to get disks for it too, so I could boot it up and play around with it some.

This No Problem system was a dedicated-purpose computer running an 8080 CPU and custom word processing or database software. It was aimed at small businesses and publications such as newspapers, and it cost accordingly — somewhere between $10,000 and $15,000 depending on the configuration. You can see what it looked like in the scan above — this scan comes from some literature that I received with the system.

My Model 103 came equipped with two single-sided, hard-sectored full-height 5.25″ floppy drives, a green screen CRT, and a full-sized keyboard build into a huge fiberglass shell with a heavy cast-aluminum base. It must have weighed at least 60 pounds. It took up an entire shelf in my garage, and there it sat unused for half a decade.

I meant to write about it on VC&G, but never got around to it. I even spoke to a Lanier veteran about it via email. But it got put on the back burner, and eventually my garage ran out of space for my collection, so something had to go. I picked the Lanier Model 103, took it apart for educational purposes (likely saved some parts), then recycled the rest.

I still kinda regret getting rid of it, but man it took up a lot of space and something had to go. I did save the disks, though, if anyone needs them.

[ From Lanier NoProblem Records Manager Flyer, ca. 1978 ]

Discussion Topic: Did you ever use a dedicated word processor machine? Tell us about it.

15 Responses to “[ Retro Scan ] Lanier Model 103 Word Processor”

  1. Geoff V. Says:

    What a beast! Thanks for sharing.

  2. Trilkhai Says:

    I used a Brother PowerNote, which looked like a laptop, in the mid ’90s for a short while. IIRC it had a 5ish-inch tall 80-column green LCD display, no backlight, a 3½” floppy drive, saved to an obscure proprietary file format, and could only convert to/from plain text. It’s sitting out in the garage somewhere.

    My mother bought it because we fell for the cleverly-worded store display, which implied that I could easily just save to/from the floppy whenever I wanted to switch between the Brother and desktop. Converting whatever file I was working on twice (incoming & outgoing on the Brother *and* computer) was enough of a pain in the butt that I rarely used it. (Mom hates to return things, and I was too shy/inexperienced as a teen to do it for her.)

  3. V Says:

    They were still being sold when I worked at OfficeMax in 1998-1999. Rather I should say, they still had them on display, I don’t think I remember anyone buying one. People did come in for ink ribbons for them, though, so I know some people still used them.

  4. Emmet Says:

    I worked with a Lanier No Problem while serving as a company clerk in the Army stationed in Wiesbaden Germany. My memory tells me it was 1981. In a company of between 180 and 200 soldiers we had 4 of us working as personnel clerks. I was a tank crewman but got a job in the office because I could type. I was working as a clerk for maybe 9 months when we got the Lanier. They sent one of the official clerks to a class to show him how to use it and he showed the rest of us.

    Everyone loved it because you didn’t need to retype. You could save documents, edit, make corrections etc. I convinced them to send me to a one day class on the Data Base Management program. It was incredible! You had to write little programs to sort or extract the data in the database that you built but it saved so much work.

    The Database could only be 160 characters across, including spaces, and I think about 250 lines long. We included Name, Rank, Serial Number, and all important dates. Date arrived in unit, date of rank, Date of Rotation out of unit, Date of End of Service, etc. and other relevant dates were included in the data base and all Years needed to be abbreviated to two digits to save space. There was knowledge or concern about Y2K.

    I had one of my fellow clerks enter the data which was quite a tedious project. I was quite disappointed when the first sort program of numbers I tested was all out of sequence. It took a cigarette break to figure out that Seaumus O’toole entered the data using the small L key for a one and the capital O key for the zero which was a common practice so you didn’t have to reach as far for the keys. Seaumus wasn’t happy when I explained that he had to go through the entire database and make sure every zero was a zero and every one was a one, every o was an o and every L was an L;

    The machine required that you load the database management disk, reboot, run the program you wanted, reinstall the word processing disk and reboot again so you could get the results. The whole process took 5 or more minutes and I thought it was the best thing in the world. It saved so much time over updating so many different files; one data base could be updated and various rosters and lists created from it.

    It saved so much work that as clerks left the unit we didn’t replace them. In 18 months I looked around and there was no one to talk to, I was working alone.

  5. Dusty Says:

    So I actually had several jobs as a word processing operator (commonly called “word processor”) in the early 80s, and I used this model of Lanier at work. There was also something called a Lanier “shared system” where workstations that look like this were connected in a network and one of them had access to an 8″ floppy drive instead of the pictured 5-1/2″ floppy disks. Everybody was able to save their documents to the 8″ floppy disks. And yes, we used daisy wheel printers. This system replaced the Selectric III typewriters that we were using to fill out insurance forms and the Mag Card typewriters with memory that we were using for form letters. The employer was Regence when it was known as Blue Shield way back in the day. In the 80s word processors were very popular, and they gradually died out as personal computers with Microsoft Word (and for a while before Windows became commonplace, WordPerfect 5.1) became commonplace in the workplace. Nowadays, everybody does their own typing at work, and so the “typing pools” that became “word processing departments” in the 80s are being more and more rare. There aren’t many word processing jobs available anymore. I finally went to paralegal school and got a job as a paralegal in a law office because jobs in the word processing industry became so hard to find and keep. Companies kept laying off the word processors because nobody used them anymore.

  6. Steve Says:

    I used to service those beasts, NO PROBLEM, SHARED SYSTEM, Qume & Richo dasiywheel printers, TYPEMASTER. The precursor to the NO PROBLEM was the LTE-1(I think), I can’t remember if it had a model name but that tank was the first software bootable computer(originally booted from EEPROMS, then they installed a disk controller and 8″ floppy drives(same as Shared System but Shared System also had a 20/21″ open platter hard disk, my manager had one on his wall with a LARGE groove in it from a bad head crash). The Shared System was also the first networked computer system! Lainer was very innovative in those days. I kept A TYPEMASTER at my house for a week or so a couple of months after I went to work for Lanier and while there, I created my own little printer test that later(after TECH Support called me to ask for it) Lanier adopted as its official Lanier Printer Test.
    They didn’t even give me an Attaboy, guy @ tech support probably claimed it was his design.

  7. Joe M Says:

    Hi, this may be a long shot, but I’m considering picking up a Lanier Model 103 with no disks- wondering if you still have the disks that came with this beast?

    And one more question about texture and appearance. Is the fiberglass case painted, and does it have a texture such that it would be very difficult or impossible to clean off some deep stains without ruining the paint? I have a lot more experience with the sturdy beige plastic from almost all PC makers between 1985-1997, which was pretty easy to clean with baking soda or alcohol, and wasn’t painted so you could scrub hard.

  8. Benj Edwards Says:


    I think I do still have the disks for this somewhere. I’ll have to look around and try to dig them out.

    As for the paint/texture/finish, I think you could clean it off well with soap and water and maybe a light application of a magic eraser (sparingly, so as not to rub off the paint).

  9. Axel Harten Says:

    Hello, do you still have the floppy disks for the 103? Or does someone else have it now? The disk images have been desperately wanted for years. In the last 18 years I have only met people who are also looking for the floppy disks. I am a member of this association:
    We can also copy hard-sectored floppy disks in a current project. That doesn’t always work, but it is very promising.
    If a Kryoflux images or something similar exist, we could port that into our system

  10. Diet Says:

    I worked on the “No Problem” which was far from No Problem…started with Edison Voicewriter, bought out by Lanier and worked on all the Lanier products, both dictation and typing… including the Shared System with the 32 MB removable hard disk packs.

  11. Sharen L. Says:

    So neat to find people who remembered early days of word processing. I love the old tech history stuff. BTW, “Halt and Catch Fire” is a great series to watch about early PC days.
    I was working for at a friend’s small medical supplies refurb biz part time ca ’81-’85, handling correspondence and invoices. They had gotten hold of a used Lanier around ’82 and I was learning how to use it. I found it fascinating that you could correct so easily. I was a very fast typist and made fairly quick work of my tasks using this new technology. It was ground-breaking for someone like me who remembered having to correct errors on multiple carbon papers in the mid-’60s. Such changes!

  12. John Dooley Says:

    Had one of these back in the 80s. Not just a word processor, it would do rudimentary data manipulation with statistics, math, sorting, etc.

    But in just a few years, desktop PCs surpassed it.

  13. Wibr Says:

    If anyone remembers the old days, we have a slight mystery trying to identify what was in the 1981 film Scanners. It looks very similar to a Lanier 103, but obviously it’s a larger smoother case, the badge is unfamiliar, and the keyboard has many more keys. Any ideas?


  14. Roger Reece Says:

    I worked for Lanier from 1977 until it was sold to Syntrex in 1989. I started selling the No Problem, which was actually built in Montreal by AES Data Ltd. Lanier had exclusive sales rights in the U.S. I was a sales rep, a sales manager, a district manager, the director of software development and the director of product development during my time at Lanier. By the way, Wilbr, the movie Scanners was a Canadian movie, hence the appearance of the AES103 in the movie. The No Problem Typing System had its debut in 1977 and I was the first dedicated sales rep to sell it for Lanier in the Silicon Valley (San Jose office). Those early years were like the wild west, as we replaced selectric typewriters and compeded with the ridiculous IBM Mag Card system. New proprietary display-based word processors were popping up like popcorn. The No Problem was powered by an 8-bit Intel 8080 CPU with 32K of RAM and two 5″ floppy drives and sold for $13,990. When newcomers such as Exon Office Systems, NBI and Syntrex popped up with the highly advanced Zilog Z80 8-bit microprocessor and 64k of RAM, the WP Wars escalated. All Lanier sales people were issued a fold-up cart. I would pull my No Problem and cart out of my car and wheel it from floor to floor in office buildings doing cold calls. The goal was to leave it on a 60-day trial for $600. The No Problem went through several iterations and became the No Problem Shared System with up to 16 stations, competing with Wang. But alas, the world changed. AES was slow to keep up so we at Lanier got the bright idea of designing our own Word Processor running on TCP/IP. In this process I moved to Lanier HQ in Atlanta and went from sales to development, and then marketing. But alas, too little, too late. After all, Word Processing is just an app. We were selling hardware with bundled software with a 5X markup over cost. That business model disappeard and so did Lanier.

  15. Nick Damer Says:

    I was a lawyer with a small practice in the 1980’s and bought two of these systems for my secretaries. We all were trained by Lanier on these systems. They made it possible for my small firm to keep up with the biggest law firms. As noted above, you could write and execute programs also, so I wrote a billing program that worked to save so much time. Altogether, these systems paid for themselves many times over and lasted several years until PC’s, laser printers and programs like WordPerfect made the Lanier systems functionally outdated. Meanwhile, we only used IBM Selectrics (with auto-correct) for fill-in forms with carbons, etc.; for everything else, the Lanier worked wonders and were one of the best investments in office equipment that I ever was lucky enough to make.

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