Thursday 7 December 2017

Visicalc and the origin of spreadsheets

Spreadsheet programs are one of the major types of application on personal computers today, millions of people use the likes of Excel and Numbers daily. The first spreadsheet for a personal computer however was Visicalc which was written by Daniel Bricklin and Bob Frankston in the late 1970s. The program, released for the Apple II initially and other computers like the IBM PC later on, was an immediate success and is said to have kick started the idea of personal computers as things you could do work on instead of playing games or experimenting/developing.

Visicalc's time in the Sun was fairly short, after a few years it was eclipsed by Lotus 1-2-3 and in turn that was eclipsed by Excel but its place in computing history is safe.

An executable version of Visicalc for DOS (including DOSbox on the Mac) can be downloaded and works fine. Whats fascinating is how Visicalc defined so much of basic spreadsheet usage right at the start. Formulae like @SUM and @COUNT which i still use nowadays in Excel and Numbers were defined by Visicalc. Without fonts and formatting getting in the way its also rather quick to set up a spreadsheet in it too...