Tuesday, June 16, 2009

30th anniversary of the spreadsheet

My IT support person/husband has pointed out to me that it is the pearl anniversary of the spreadsheet. This IT PRO article reminds us of the history of this application.

The spreadsheet was the killer app of its day. With good reason, as far as I'm concerned!

As IT PRO puts it, the big deal about VisiCalc, co-created by Dan Bricklin and Bob Frankston in 1979, was that it

was the first useful programme for ‘grown-ups’. And absolutely crucially, it didn’t require the user to know anything about computers or programming. This was a very, very big deal at the time – as computers were largely the domain of essentially hardcore geeks who created their own programs and had in depth knowledge of computer languages enabling them to do that.
(Image is linked with one on Dan Bricklin's website)

It was this fact that kicked off the migration of the computer that I covered (if you can call it that) in this bit of silliness. Suddenly, the computer became a thing 'normal' people could use.

For 17 years, my job was largely that of a classroom-based IT trainer. VisiCalc was a little before my time, having been launched while I was still in high school, hell-bent on a life on the stage. But I was certainly around during the heyday of its major successor, Lotus 1-2-3, and I was on hand to watch that get deposed by Excel. Now Google docs offers a spreadsheet, too.

I have to say that, for anyone who wants to make serious use of a spreadsheet, my money is still on Excel. Google docs spreadsheets have limited functionality. On the other hand, Excel isn't great for collaboration, so it's a bit of a trade-off. For now. No doubt one or other side will close the gap. But even the latest version of Excel and Google docs are still recognisably based on the original VisiCalc idea.

If you'd like to have a look at VisiCalc for yourself, or (and I recommend this) if you're a teacher/parent who wants to show a bit of history to your kids, you can download it from Bricklin's website... as long as you have a PC which runs Windows or DOS. You can remind yourself of the commands by means of this (5 panel) reference card.

Have fun!

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