Visicalc'79. (Reminiscence - software, stores and magazines) Daniel S. Bricklin; Bob Frankston.
Software Arts introduced VisiCalc to the world at the National Computer Conference in New York in 1979 when Creative Computing was only five years old and personal computing was not even that old. Many, if not most, of those who have joined the industry since then view VisiCalc as a given, as the sine qua non of personal computing. For many it was reason enough to buy a computer.
In the intervening years, VisiCalc has spawned a myriad of spreadsheets, enhanced spreadsheets, and integrated packages that almost qualify as an industry unto themselves. People who buy computers today assume that spreadsheet capability and "what if" analysis are part of the deal. Some are even willing to pay more for their spreadsheets than they do for their computers.
VisiCalc is, indeed, one of the all-time great success stories of the decade. But where did it come from? Whose idea was it? What inspired its creation? Dan Bricklin and Bob Frankston, cofounders of Software Arts, take a look back and tell us how it was. Dan Bricklin
Not long ago I realized that there was an ironic coincidence having to do with the development of VisiCalc. Bob Frankston and I were working on VisiCalc while I was still in business school. (I spent afternoons working on VisiCalc in Bob's attic while carrying a full course load.) When we had an early prototype version that worked--it didn't perform division or print the results, and the replicate function didn't work yet--I decided to use the program to prepare a case that I had to write up for my Consumer Marketing class at Harvard.
At that time, my fellow students were using hand calculators to "run the numbers" for the analysis of cases. I wasn't telling many people about VisiCalc; I wasn't even sure the professor would look favorably on my use of a computer to do the numerical analysis. Now, of course, Harvard Business School students are required to buy personal computers so they can use spreadsheets in their analyses.
The first case analysis I did using VisiCalc was very well received by the professor. In fact, I was easily able to project results five years ahead instead of the usual two years. That case study proved to me for the first time that VisiCalc was, indeed, very good in at least one of the areas for which it was designed: solving business problems. A few years later, I was struck by the irony of the situation when I recalled that the very case I used for the "maiden voyage" of VisiCalc concerned Pepsi and the Pepsi Challenge campaign. (In my paper I recommended that Pepsi go ahead with that advertising campaign.) Of course, John Sculley was the head of Pepsi then, and I find it ironic that he now heads Apple Computer, a company whose early success was tied closely to the success of VisiCalc. Bob Frankston
The rapid changes that VisiCalc brought about in personal computing are demonstrated in the status of personal computers at the National Computer Conference. In 1979, the National Computer Conference did not officially include personal computers; there was an adjunct Personal Computer Festival at which I spoke. Somehow my paper was never published in the official proceedings of the conference. I guess at the time it was considered less important than some of the other papers such as "Visual Inspection of Metal Surfaces" which appeared in the published proceedings.
I made my presentation to a group of about 30 people, most of whom were friends and relatives. At the session, I had the program disk and a reference card with me. Dan and I wrote the reference card, took the screen photo that appeared on it, and chose the type for the typesetting. Dan's father, who is a printer, did the printing. That was the state of the industry in 1979 as observed at the NCC.
By 1982 the industry had changed so much that personal computers were a major part of the NCC, and I was in charge of the personal computing part of the conference. Now, of course, personal computers dominate the exhibition floor at the NCC, and I predict that in few years the big computers will be relegated to a "Big Computer Festival" tacked on to the main National Computer Conference.