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VisiCalc Turns 25, Creators Interviewed

CowboyNeal posted more than 10 years ago | from the column-z-row-2 dept.

Software 149

Xaroth writes "It's hard to believe that it's already been 25 years since the release of one of the world's first 'killer apps.' 1979 saw the creation of VisiCalc, the first microcomputer-based spreadsheet and the single application that launched widespread computer use among businesses. To remember this event, PC World has published portions of interviews with the three co-creators of the modern spreadsheet: Dan Bricklin, Bob Frankston, and Dan Fylstra. Alternately, check out the Software History website for more information on this and other historical bits."

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Balls'n'cock... (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9330710)

n'cock'n'balls

John Kerry, CONTROLLED BY THE JEWS (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9330838)

You got it! [altermedia.info]

Yeee! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9330712)

Aha! First Post!

Test it out! (5, Informative)

JThundley (631154) | more than 10 years ago | (#9330716)

Run it yourself! [bricklin.com]

I bet there's a Linux one floating around out there, I guess I'll try to WINE this one.

Re:Test it out! (1)

Anonvmous Coward (589068) | more than 10 years ago | (#9330728)

"I guess I'll try to WINE this one."

You're gonna try to not an emulator it?

Re:Test it out! (-1)

daveashcroft (321122) | more than 10 years ago | (#9330777)

In soviet russia, your antiquated spreadsheet calculates YOU!

apologies in advance

Re:Test it out! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9332528)

Seriously? During my first year I mentioned "antiquitized" in one of my papers. I declared the word as a fabrication in the footnotes. Is English ever antagonistic in regard to your English?

Dosemu works (5, Informative)

cheezycrust (138235) | more than 10 years ago | (#9330811)

It seems to work under Dosemu and Freedos (Dos emulation for Linux). WINE is overkill, since it doesn't use any Windows stuff.

Re:Dosemu works (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9330952)

Dosemu blows. Use Dosbox instead.

Wine ? But its a dos program (2, Insightful)

nurb432 (527695) | more than 10 years ago | (#9330841)

Why would you expect it to work when its a DOS program? I thought WINE only re-implemented win32 calls..

Even if it did, there are plenty of dos emulation tools out there... that are FULLY functional.

( not slamming the WINE people, they just arent finished yet.. )

Re:Wine ? But its a dos program (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9331503)

it's is a contraction for it is. its is a possessive form of it

Software History website basically a placeholder (4, Informative)

Blakey Rat (99501) | more than 10 years ago | (#9330719)

Don't bother with that Software History website linked to in the article. There's very little content, and it seems to be mostly a placeholder and a place for people to give them donations.

As far as I can tell, it has absolutely zero content about Visicalc, and I have no idea why it was linked to in the first place.

heh (1)

Slashdotess (605550) | more than 10 years ago | (#9330720)

i think the real tech breakthrough is lotus 123

now if i could only get it to work with xp

Would they... (2, Funny)

Jailbrekr (73837) | more than 10 years ago | (#9330722)

Would they have ever written it, knowing that, in the end, a paper clip would be used to teach people how to use a spreadsheet.....

Re:Would they... (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9330733)

Um, ye$.

The question is, would they have patented it?

Download, anyone? (1, Redundant)

MarkJensen (708621) | more than 10 years ago | (#9330727)

Many Slashdot readers may know this, but there will be a good number who don't... It's not mentioned in the linked articles, but you can go to http://www.bricklin.com/history/vcexecutable.htm and download Visicalc.

They needed databases, too... (3, Interesting)

wizbit (122290) | more than 10 years ago | (#9330734)

Don't forget DB Master [dbmaster.com] for the Apple II [gno.org] . Sold several million copies - a modernized version of it is still used in public works offices around the world, even 20 years later.

The original author still does DB work for this company [stoneedge.com] .

Re:They needed databases, too... (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9330784)

Since there were only slightly more than two million Apple II's ever made, it's pretty unlikely then "several million copies" of any software title were ever sold for it. Don't just make stuff up.

Re:They needed databases, too... (4, Informative)

wizbit (122290) | more than 10 years ago | (#9331041)

Total sales, including the PC port, were about 2.5 million. This was a pretty common tale, too, many programs (including visicalc) had some history on the apple 2 series before being ported for the PC.

Re:They needed databases, too... (2, Insightful)

AndroidCat (229562) | more than 10 years ago | (#9331646)

If that's the number of genuine Apple IIs, then multiply it by a large factor for all the clones. (And where did you get that two million figure from?)

Small fact... (5, Interesting)

networkGhettoWhore (564183) | more than 10 years ago | (#9330737)

I dont think the article mentioned this, but VisiCalc was also the first (known) enterprise app to be ported from the Apple OS to a *Nix based system.

Other Small Fact... (4, Interesting)

ackthpt (218170) | more than 10 years ago | (#9330875)

I dont think the article mentioned this, but VisiCalc was also the first (known) enterprise app to be ported from the Apple OS to a *Nix based system.

Some time ago there was the question raised concerning ownership and transfer of patents, etc. of the spreadsheet, which everyone and his kid brother eventually made their own version of. IIRC the creators didn't feel they actually sold all rights or something to that effect (sound similar to the SCO/Linux debacle?) Anyone know what has been determined in that regard? Seems if it was still unresolved it would make SCO/Linux look like a tempest in a teapot by comparison.

Re:Other Small Fact... (2, Informative)

JuggleGeek (665620) | more than 10 years ago | (#9330974)

Some time ago there was the question raised concerning ownership and transfer of patents, etc. of the spreadsheet

Visicalc came out in 1979. At that time, software patents were rarely granted. (Our legal system has corrupted patents since that time.) Dan Bricklin has some information about Visicalc and panents on his website.

http://www.bricklin.com/patenting.htm [bricklin.com]

jEdit beats the pants off it (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9330741)

Well, not necessarily Visicalc specifically (Sheesh, it's an ancient program!), but spreadsheets in general.

jEdit, through its pluggable Java architecture allows the addition of user-created plug ins. One of these is the double bookkeeping plug in.

Every accountant to whom I introduced this to (it's free as in gratis and libre) has told me how much more productive they are using this set up than using plain old spreadsheets.

Basically, the goal of computing is to mimic and make easier real-life processes. The spreadsheet has no real-life corollary, whereas Java and specifically the Object Oriented paradigm model the real world to a T.

So if we want to congratulate Visicalc for anything, let's give them a big thanks for setting computers down a dead end road for 25 years.

Re:jEdit beats the pants off it (3, Funny)

King of the Trolls (740328) | more than 10 years ago | (#9330764)

and it only takes 2Gb RAM to run it in sluggish mode.

Re:jEdit beats the pants off it (4, Insightful)

RidiculousPie (774439) | more than 10 years ago | (#9330798)

What's the difference between what you describe and the idea of Lotus Improv [fact-index.com] ?
Improv was a truly innovative system, which I think represents a logical method of fast data handling.
Also, could jEdit have been developed if VisiCalc and Improv had not come before it?

Lotus Improv (2, Interesting)

jenglish (11188) | more than 10 years ago | (#9331594)

Lotus Improv certainly sounds like something truly nifty (Google for it, there are a handful of articles about it on the web besides the one cited above). Which reminds me of Lotus Agenda, another reportedly supercool application that you can only read about today.

I wonder how many other revolutionary applications Lotus developed and later buried?

AmiPro (1)

IncohereD (513627) | more than 10 years ago | (#9332072)

AmiPro was consistently the best reviewed word processor, then Lotus bought it, destroyed the code base, and started over with WordPro. Which bit large.

AFAIK they didn't develop it, but they definitely buried it.

Re:jEdit beats the pants off it (5, Insightful)

JoeShmoe950 (605274) | more than 10 years ago | (#9330800)

Not to be a flaimbait or anything, but I think that your completely wrong about Visicalc. Computers aren't designed to mimic things from the real world. Many good programs don't. The spreadsheet is productive, very. In fact, it doesn't mimic paper+calc+pencil for doing banking, it superceeds it.

Re:jEdit beats the pants off it (5, Insightful)

nelsonal (549144) | more than 10 years ago | (#9330907)

I agree with you, but we're both probably spreadsheet experts. Have you ever seen a user with only basic training, and a limited understanding of math? They know certain things are possible (because they saw us do them) but to them the spreadsheet is not intuitive. To us they are. Once you grasp relative v absolute references (and cell naming) you are usually on your way to being unstoppable.
One thing that would be nice would be a sheet that had a different display for user input data and calc'd data (I have my own shorthand but wouldn't it be nice if the sheet just formatted them automatically?
My employer spend millions of dollars redesigning their database input and report forms so they would be the same as the old mainframe systems. Dumb to us, but most users were rendered helpless by something different, even if it was more efficient. Something that looks like what a user is comfortable with is sometimes more useful than a powerful, flexible, but different tool.

Re:jEdit beats the pants off it (4, Insightful)

benzapp (464105) | more than 10 years ago | (#9331271)

Not only that, but the original designer of VisiCalc describes this very issue in the article, and how the uniqueness of the spreadsheet made it very difficult to describe to the public at large. Only through immersion in the technology can you really understand and appreciate it.

so, you forgot to preface your post with RTFA.

Re:jEdit beats the pants off it (5, Interesting)

OscarGunther (96736) | more than 10 years ago | (#9331341)

The spreadsheet is productive, very. In fact, it doesn't mimic paper+calc+pencil for doing banking, it superceeds it.

And yet VisiCalc was designed to mimic a real-world operation. IIRC, industrial planners used to have large blackboards divided into grids and each square in the grid could hold a number or an equation. When a number was changed in one square, all the dependent squares had to be recalculated. Of course, the concern was that something had been missed. I believe Bricklin heard one of his professors describe this process and chose it as his model for what eventually became VisiCalc.

I think I read this in Cringely's Accidental Empires.

Neglecting key points there... (3, Insightful)

Impeesa (763920) | more than 10 years ago | (#9330888)

The spreadsheet only has no real-life corollary because Visicalc made doing it by hand completely and utterly obsolete. Writing a letter isn't really sped up a whole lot by using a computer (as compared to writing it by hand, or on a typewriter). Spreadsheets are a whole different story. They were done by hand at one point, but changing some numbers and carrying forward all the calculations used to be a full time job for some people. Now it's 10 seconds with Excel. Think on that for a bit. :)

Re:jEdit beats the pants off it (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9331263)

Well, the spreadsheet must mimic something in the real world, because it contains information about the real world. I've just read Godel, Escher, Bach, so you can see this coming. There's an isomorphism between certain information in the real world and the data in a spreadsheet.

Re:jEdit beats the pants off it (3, Insightful)

saddino (183491) | more than 10 years ago | (#9331817)

The spreadsheet has no real-life corollary

Technically, it was real-life [thefreedictionary.com] that gave Bricklin his idea in the first place. To quote:

Bricklin has spoken of watching his university professor create a table of calculation results on a blackboard. When the professor found an error, he had to tediously erase and rewrite a number of sequential entries in the table, triggering Bricklin to think that he could replicate the process on a computer....

OOP is not a panacea (1)

IncohereD (513627) | more than 10 years ago | (#9332091)

Basically, the goal of computing is to mimic and make easier real-life processes. The spreadsheet has no real-life corollary, whereas Java and specifically the Object Oriented paradigm model the real world to a T.

Not to flame...but you sound like a very, very recent OOP convert.

The goal of computing is NOT necessarily to mimic and make easier real-life processes. Look at Tetris. Does that have any real-life equivalent, blinkenlights notwithstanding?

And OOP is really bad (or at least awkward and inefficient) for modelling certain classes of problem.

Do we care? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9330745)

Play with your cock 'n'balls

Happy Anniversary -- Remember the Visicalc song! (4, Funny)

Hobart (32767) | more than 10 years ago | (#9330763)

Visicalc
Mail-from: : SU-NET host SU-LOTS-A rcvd at 3-Jan-83 0246-PST
Date: : 3 Jan 1983 0246-PST
From: : K.Kanef at SU-LOTS-A (Bob Kanefsky)
Subject: : Visicalc
To: : Songs at SU-LOTS-A
Parody-of: : Physical (Olivia Newton John)

Visicalc
Parody written by Bob Kanefsky
Idea suggested by Judy Anderson

Been working out the figures day and night,
Making good column'ation.
I gotta add them up just right --
And know what they mean.

I pencil in the fields I \guess/ you want,
Adding and subtracting duly,
Movin' my eraser up and down and
Horizontally.

Let's get Visicalc,
Visicalc.
I wanna get Visicalc.
Lemme get your budget done,
Your budget done.
Lemme get your budget done,

(chorus)

I been patient, I been good.
Tryin' to make a hand-drawn table.
My interest in your figures wanes --
You know what I mean.

I'm sure you'll understand my point of view;
We know each other fiscally:
You gotta know you're gettin' up
My semi-annual fee.

(chorus)

(chorus)

Let's get annual,
Annual.
I wanna get annual.
Let's get into annual.
Lemme get your budget done,
Your budget done.
Lemme get your budget done,

(I know there was another version of this in an old Atari magazine that said something about "lemme see your diode's rock", but Google hasn't seen it. ;)

Re:Happy Anniversary -- Remember the Visicalc song (1)

merlyn (9918) | more than 10 years ago | (#9330833)

Heh... that must've been a common rewrite... I too did a "let's get visicalc", and even got it published in a computer magazine after being pushed onto Usenet somewhere. There's a reference to it in dejagoogle [google.com] though.

Ah ... (2, Funny)

Sonic McTails (700139) | more than 10 years ago | (#9330771)

Hmm, a program from 1975 is still better then Execl 2004

Re:Ah ... (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9330837)

You haven't got the slightest idea what you are talking about.

Visicalc may have been a breakthrough for its time, but also keep in mind that computers back then were about as powerful as our solar calculators are today.

Visicalc simply can't compare, feature for feature, speed to speed, and accuracy to accuracy.

Featurewise, even the lowly Gnumeric offers more functionality than Visicalc ever did. Excel provides so much more functionality as well as user-expandability through macros and VBA than Visicalc authors could ever have imagined.

Speedwise, today's spreadsheets have the benefit of years of development, so things like the calculation engine have been fine tuned to the point of executing commands almost instantaneously. Even difficult problems like the travelling salesman or Towers of Hanoi have been solved and added to the calculation engine. This kind of feature adding essentially reduces the calculation time of these problems to a O(1) table lookup. Because you are probably a sysadmin with a degree from DeVry and don't understand that notation, I'll explain it simply: O(1) means "really fast".

As for accuracy, keep in mind that computers back when Visicalc were written were not the 32 or 64 bit machines we have today. People were lucky if they had 16 bits and quite content with 8 bit CPUs. If we consider that a signed 16 bit integer can only handle values between -16k through 16k, it becomes obvious that Visicalc simply couldn't handle the types of calculations that we are performing today (32 bits allows us values of +-2 trillion).

Visicalc is to Excel what an ant is to a Bugatti.

Re:Ah ... (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9330853)

Featurewise, even the lowly Gnumeric offers more functionality than Visicalc ever did

Jesus Christ! Visicalc sucks!

Re:Ah ... (4, Informative)

Wavicle (181176) | more than 10 years ago | (#9330983)

You haven't got the slightest idea what you are talking about.

Good thing you posted as anonymous coward so that the world will not know just how clueless you really are.

Even difficult problems like the travelling salesman or Towers of Hanoi have been solved and added to the calculation engine. This kind of feature adding essentially reduces the calculation time of these problems to a O(1) table lookup.

WHAT? Start making sense. Towers of Hanoi is a 2^n problem, but it doesn't actually "solve" anything. A look-up table would make absolutely no sense. Do you need a look up table to figure out what a stack of rings looks like on peg 2 as opposed to peg 1? You could make a LUT for "move X", but the problem grows so fast, you can quickly see that just 40 discs would create a LUT that would fill most raid arrays.

The traveling salesman is NP-complete. Transforming it to a problem in P has never been done. The notion of a LUT for this problem is silly. You can only precompute the LUT for one instance of the problem. If you can convert all possible such problems to an O(1) lookup table though, you will have solved the P=NP problem and can claim the US$1million prize.

Because you are probably a sysadmin with a degree from DeVry and don't understand that notation, I'll explain it simply: O(1) means "really fast".

You've never taken computing theory yourself, have you? The next paragraph you write emphasizes that either you didn't, or you slept through the class:

If we consider that a signed 16 bit integer can only handle values between -16k through 16k,

2^15 ~= 32K

it becomes obvious that Visicalc simply couldn't handle the types of calculations that we are performing today

Even back in 1979, computers had the same computational power as a turing machine. They could perform the same calculations as computers today, their only limiting factor is available memory and available time.

(32 bits allows us values of +-2 trillion).

2^31 ~= 2 billion (or if you're one of those UK types, 2 thousand million)

Mod Parent +1 Slapdown (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9331189)

NT

Re:Ah ... (2, Interesting)

bhmit1 (2270) | more than 10 years ago | (#9331081)

Because you are probably a sysadmin with a degree from DeVry and don't understand that notation, I'll explain it simply: O(1) means "really fast".

<CS101>
If we are being educational, lets do it right. O(1) does not mean really fast. A calculation that takes 6 years could still be O(1). O(1) simply means the calculation is constant, regardless of what is input. O(n) basically means the more data (n) you give it, the longer it takes. And you can take it from there (double it, square it, take a log, whatever floats your boat). One thing to keep in mind is that the more complex you get to speed things up and get closer to an O(1), the more likely you are to take longer for the simple calculations than a basic O(n) formula. Or to put it another way, all of us that want to do a quick sum of columns of a small table would prefer not to wait 10 minutes while the kitchen sink and travelling salesman algorithms load.
</CS101>

Re:Ah ... (1)

TheSunborn (68004) | more than 10 years ago | (#9331710)

Math 101

O(1) does not mean that the calculations are constant, or that they take constant time. It means that there exists an upper limit(in time) as to how long the operation will take no matter the input size.

Re:Ah ... (2, Interesting)

nelsonal (549144) | more than 10 years ago | (#9331738)

Heard an interesting story about the Lotus development of macros. They were a debugging tool that was in a close to final release for testing before someone realized these might be a useful feature in the final product.

Re:Ah ... (1)

TheSunborn (68004) | more than 10 years ago | (#9331773)

>Even difficult problems like the travelling >salesman or Towers of Hanoi

Since when have towers of hanoi been a diffucult problem? It's such a simple problem that it can be implemented for an Apple II in basic.

And for the travelling salesman problem: Well it is easy to solve in the way that we know how to solve it. Try all combinations and select the shortest. The problem with this "solution" is that for any large dataset(Say 10000 cities) no amount of computer power* can solve this problem before Earth hit the sun.

If you know a faster way to solve travelling salesman I think you should describe it, publish it and earn that million dollers.

*(No amount of computer power means that there is not enough matter in the known universe to build a computer that can solve the problem fast enough)

ps: Sorry about feeting the trolls but I got nothing better to do.

Some Special on TV (4, Interesting)

aliens (90441) | more than 10 years ago | (#9330791)

I remember watching something about the early days of PC's and there was an interview with one of Visicalc's creators and he discussed the first time he showed it to an accountant.

The accountant supposedly started visibly shaking and proclaimed "Do you realize just how much time this will save me??"

I just found that bit interesting for all the people who hold onto "the good old days" and question if computers have really helped or hindered us.

In my mind I try to imagine just where we would be if we still only had large main frames. The power of the PC is truely amazing.

(sorry just got back from a workout and am high on endorphines (or whatever they are))

Re:Some Special on TV (4, Interesting)

Blakey Rat (99501) | more than 10 years ago | (#9330816)

What's interesting is that it doesn't actually save any time, it just means that they do more, and different kinds, or financial reports.

Re:Didn't save any time (2, Interesting)

rewt66 (738525) | more than 10 years ago | (#9331126)

Yes, the amount of time spent doing financial reports has pretty much stayed the same. But the ability to create scenarios, to play "what if" games, has led to much better financial information being available to corporate planners.

It's like many other situations: You'll pay for as much information as you can get, rather than just get the same information more cheaply.

Re:Some Special on TV (1)

kfg (145172) | more than 10 years ago | (#9331526)

There are 24 hours to the day. We fill them up. All of our "labor saving" devices do more work, but I don't think I've ever seen any save much in the way of labor. Some of 'em even add to it.

We've still got 60 hour work weeks, not 6.

KFG

Capitalism (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9331787)

in a non-captialist society, we could work less. But since we are all wage slaves, we'll keep working all week.

Re:Capitalism (2)

IncohereD (513627) | more than 10 years ago | (#9331992)

in a non-captialist society, we could work less. But since we are all wage slaves, we'll keep working all week.

Nah...because there'd always be someone working harder than you in some other society, and eventually they'd come take your cake. Sad but true.

Re:Some Special on TV (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9330942)

(sorry just got back from a workout and am high on endorphines (or whatever they are))

We don't serve your kind here!

Re:Some Special on TV (0)

aliens (90441) | more than 10 years ago | (#9331428)

lol, I'd mod you up. To tell the truth I was more half dead than high.

Re:Some Special on TV (1, Interesting)

gkuz (706134) | more than 10 years ago | (#9331034)

In my mind I try to imagine just where we would be if we still only had large main frames. The power of the PC is truely amazing

Isn't revisionist history wonderful? You're obviously unaware that computerized spreadsheets were running on mainframes nearly 15 years before VisiCalc. Look here [dssresources.com] , for instance. Supercomp-Twenty was a strong mainframe-based spreadsheet at about the same time as VisiCalc. To suggest progress would not have been made without the PC is specious at best.

Re:Some Special on TV (2, Insightful)

aliens (90441) | more than 10 years ago | (#9331418)

Well I don't think that everyone would have a Mainframe to connect to, to run spreadsheets. Now every business large and small can easily keep records that would have been done by hand.

Re:Some Special on TV (1)

PacoTaco (577292) | more than 10 years ago | (#9331179)

The accountant supposedly started visibly shaking and proclaimed "Do you realize just how much time this will save me??"

Wow, I've never seen an accountant visibly shake!

Re:Some Special on TV (1)

(H)elix1 (231155) | more than 10 years ago | (#9331709)

Wow, I've never seen an accountant visibly shake!

Try turning in an expense report, complete with the itemized receipts, from a trip to Japan back at a US office. I suspect it was more a mental seg fault than quivering in delight, however...

Re:Some Special on TV (1)

deacon (40533) | more than 10 years ago | (#9331624)

In my mind I try to imagine just where we would be if we still only had large main frames. The power of the PC is truely amazing.

Hold on there for a minute. DEC VAXs had DECCALC [okstate.edu] , email, chat, clusters, paint programs, EDT (like emacs) fortran, etc. etc. in 1979

Unfortunately, all the hardware is probably dead now, and it was very expensive when new. On the other hand, the uptime was better than PCs, and there were no problems with users installing viruses, games, and other crapware at work. Users interfaced with the mainframe with VT100 or better terminals, and these terminals did support graphics so you could see your graph plotted, and it was possible to scan in pictures and display them on a terminal, sort of a pre-gif gif file.

Just because most people don't know the archaology of VAXes does't mean they didn't exist.

Back then we didn't have spread sheets (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9330794)

. . . but we did have Polaroid spread shots. [roadkill.com]

what about the NEXT killer app? (2, Interesting)

Whitecloud (649593) | more than 10 years ago | (#9330810)

Excellent quote from Dan Bricklin:

I think that community is coming back. With the Web, blogs, e-mail, and cell phones, we're seeing a resurgence in community. Technology is now something for bringing people together.

Visiclac kicked off ebusiness, email gave us instant global communications, mobile phones let us do that on the move, whats next?

Re:what about the NEXT killer app? (2, Funny)

awful (227543) | more than 10 years ago | (#9331061)

"Visiclac kicked off ebusiness, email gave us instant global communications, mobile phones let us do that on the move, whats next?"

Rocketpacks with streaming audio obviously...

You mean.. (2, Funny)

dj245 (732906) | more than 10 years ago | (#9330831)

You mean to tell me that solitare was not the first killer app?

Re:You mean.. (3, Funny)

PCM2 (4486) | more than 10 years ago | (#9331217)

The second killer app was clearly the hotkey you could press in games that would instantly switch over to a simulated VisiCalc spreadsheet when the boss walked by your workstation.

too bad they didn't GPL it (4, Interesting)

argoff (142580) | more than 10 years ago | (#9330865)

Boy, if they would have, it would have stopped alot of the anticompetitive business practices that's happened in the 25 years since, they could have locked out execl before it even happened.

Re:too bad they didn't GPL it (1, Funny)

black mariah (654971) | more than 10 years ago | (#9330935)

Yeah, just like how vi and Emacs are more widely used than that evil piece of software, Notepad.

Oh, wait... nevermind.

Re:too bad they didn't GPL it (1)

rk (6314) | more than 10 years ago | (#9330949)

Yeah, everybody knows that execlp is where it's at. No manual path searching for me, no sir! Oh wait...

Re:too bad they didn't GPL it (4, Insightful)

pauljlucas (529435) | more than 10 years ago | (#9331489)

The GPL does nothing to prevent anybody from writing their own version not using any GPL'd code. The GPL wouldn't have stopped anything in this case.

Software like this would still be useful (2)

hattig (47930) | more than 10 years ago | (#9330882)

Most spreadsheets are overkill for most tasks.

I wouldn't mind some cut down spreadsheet software, a number-processing equivalent of a plain text editor compared to a full blown word processor.

Shouldn't be too hard to create something like this, I'm sure. EasySheet. KSheet. GSheet. OhSheet!

Too much software has been enticed by the lure of features and complexity, at the expense of simplicity and doing what most people need it to do.

Re:Software like this would still be useful (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 10 years ago | (#9331354)

You know, that was another great screw up from Microsoft. They had a less powerfull verion of there Office products, but they wre a pain to get them to work under Office!

Sheet! (1)

acariquara (753971) | more than 10 years ago | (#9331464)

OhSheet!

Users of Microsoft Excel are pretty accostumed to this one...

pun (-1, Offtopic)

name773 (696972) | more than 10 years ago | (#9330891)

and other historical bits
LOL...

history evolving / revealing over time (1)

pedantic bore (740196) | more than 10 years ago | (#9330912)

This is fascinating -- I'll be the first to admit that I'm not a scholar of software history, but I did witness the whole visicalc revolution and this is the first time I've ever heard that Dan Bricklin had co-authors! I'd always heard that he hacked the whole thing together himself and the only help he had was figuring out how to package and sell the thing.

I wonder what other software myths will fade or be debunked in the next twenty years.

First Programming gig... (3, Interesting)

bokmann (323771) | more than 10 years ago | (#9330934)

I didn't even realize it until I saw tihs article, but my first programming gig was with Visicalc...

It was 1982, I was 13, and a guy paid me $50 to create a spreadsheet for him that would let him calculate his cost per share of some stock he was buying over multiple purchases (dollar cost averaging).

Re:First Programming gig... (1)

name773 (696972) | more than 10 years ago | (#9330968)

how was programming different back then?
(if you don't mind answering)

Re:First Programming gig... (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9331199)

Well, if you'll recall, that was back in the era of the Cold War. So, obviously, the sheet spread you.

Re:First Programming gig... (1)

red floyd (220712) | more than 10 years ago | (#9331325)

Ditto. First paid consulting gig. Some guy wanted me to write a VisiCalc spreadsheet to help him run his biz. On an Apple III, running the Apple ][ emulator under SOS.

Ali imajo tožilci Testena? (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9330950)

Ze prihodnji teden bo stekel drugi krog iskanja novega generalnega drzavnega tozilca. Vlada se je namre na predlog pravosodne ministrice Zdenke Cerar zaradi smotrnosti, kot smo slisali po seji, odloila, da bo razpis ponovila, potem, ko sta kandidaturi umaknili visja drzavna tozilka Elizabeta Györkös in Vlasta Nussdorfer. O vrhovnem drzavnem tozilcu Hinku Jenullu, ki je edini ostal v igri, sploh ni odloala. Ali zato, ker se ji ob njegovem kratkem tozilskem stazu, pa vendarle precej dolgem pravniskem, ze vnaprej zdi, da ni sposoben uinkovito voditi taksne organizacije, kot je tozilstvo, eprav je na dvajsetih straneh napisal, kaksno naj bi bilo to v prihodnje? Ali zato, ker je za koalicijo politino nesprejemljiv? Ker ne vedo, ali je dovolj zanesljiv? Pa ne v strokovnem pogledu. Odgovorov ni. Niti vsaj priblizno jasnih.

Ko je odstopila Györköseva, so nekateri postali nervozni. Ko je odstopila Nussdorferjeva, so si nekateri oddahnili. Ker je ostal (samo) Jenull, nekateri niso ve videli ovir, da razpisa ne bi ponovili. Ali je pri tem ministrska ekipa ravnala zakonito, bodo morebiti morale odloati tudi najvisje sodne instance v drzavi. Nekateri so prepriani, denimo predsednik drzave, ki ima doloene pristojnosti v kar nekaj volilnih postopkih, da se mora v primerih, ko je konna odloitev na drzavnem zboru, poslancem omogoiti, da se o kandidatu, ki izpolnjuje formalne pogoje, tudi izrekajo. Na njih pa seveda je, da ga potrdijo ali zavrnejo.

Toda pravne poti znajo biti zapletene in na morebitni sodni epilog bo zagotovo treba kar nekaj asa akati. Toliko asa zagotovo ne bodo imeli tisti, ki razmisljajo o prijavi v drugem krogu. Vlada se ne boji, da taksnih ni kar nekaj. Toda, ali je res prepriana, da bo ob njenih dokazljivo slabih kadrovskih vesinah, ki so najvekrat v skodo dostojanstvu in verodostojnosti kandidatov, res tako? Pogoje za kandidiranje formalno izpolnjuje kakih 70 tozilcev. Toda, ali bodo kandidirali res odlini, tako kot v prvem krogu? Ali ima koalicija v tozilskih vrstah koga, kot je v sodniskih vrhovni sodnik Franc Testen? e ga ima, ni panike. e ga nima, je panika ze tu.

To ni prav (-1, Offtopic)

metulj (571543) | more than 10 years ago | (#9330979)

Kdo si? Zakaj ti pisel si po Slovensko? A norec si? Ce brale bodo, bi razumele bodo! Stoj!

Re:To ni prav (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9331277)

Hahaha, I thought the same. Go figure!

VisiCalc vs. Microsoft Multiplan (2, Interesting)

SIGALRM (784769) | more than 10 years ago | (#9330998)

Bricklin and Frankston did some innovating work in (the quite stable) VisiCalc... not to be outdone, in 1982 Microsoft released Multiplan 1.0 which was a pioneer in some, shall we say, more infamous terms. It was a revenue bomb, and it's miscalculations cost customers umpteen $$. I remember hearing somewhere that the legal threats due to Multiplan almost shut down Microsoft's early operations.

Apparently, rumor was that SCO was hired to port Multiplan [google.com] (to various *nix's I would guess).

Anyway, it's interesting that one of Microsoft's first attempt to unseat a software application was targeted at Visicalc. Did they succeed?

Re:VisiCalc vs. Microsoft Multiplan (3, Interesting)

AKAImBatman (238306) | more than 10 years ago | (#9331181)

Anyway, it's interesting that one of Microsoft's first attempt to unseat a software application was targeted at Visicalc. Did they succeed?

Nope. In fact, Microsoft kept failing at spreadsheets until long after Lotus 123 became popular. It wasn't until Microsoft was able to leverage Windows that they finally gained a foothold. Of course, that's a story in itself.

Interestingly enough, the whole Windows story has a lot to do with VisiCalc. You see, VisiCalc took all their hard earned money and put it into creating a piece of software known as VisiOn. VisiOn was the first PC GUI for DOS. Given that Graphical User Interfaces had been the domain of expensive Unix machines, this worried Microsoft a great deal. So they announced Microsoft Windows.

In typical Microsoft fashion, they really didn't have anything. But they managed to spam the media and make everyone put off purchasing VisiOn in hopes that this mystical "Windows" would be a far better investment.

The early betas of MS Windows were actually nothing more than a way of multitasking different DOS apps. By pressing certain keys, you could switch from one "Full Screen Window" to another. About that time, Apple introduced the world to a true WIMP interface. This caused Microsoft to change directions. When the first version of MS Windows was delivered, it allowed for multiple programs to run in tiled windows. One window could be maximized at any time, thus obscuring the other windows. To be blunt, this sucked.

Windows 2.0 was only slightly better, but it sucked too. Windows 3.0 finally hit the mark by delivering a full WIMP interface and a program manager. Why Microsoft thought the program manager was a good idea when the Macintosh showed otherwise, is a mystery that will forever remain unsolved.

VisiOn (1)

hemp (36945) | more than 10 years ago | (#9331334)

I seem to recall Control Data Corp (CDC) buying it from Bricklin, et all for several million and then CDC proceding to screw it up and had the advantage back to Microsoft.

So I think they probably got out at the best time.

I also seem to remember GEM (better product IMHO) coming out around the same time, so the marketplace had plenty of competitors at that time.

Re:VisiOn (1)

AKAImBatman (238306) | more than 10 years ago | (#9332415)


I also seem to remember GEM (better product IMHO) coming out around the same time, so the marketplace had plenty of competitors at that time.


Didn't GEM go on to become popular on various early handheld devices? In fact, I seem to remember that it was GEM handhelds that first introduced the "Graffiti" handwriting recognition that was later used in US Robotics Palm Pilots.

Re:VisiCalc vs. Microsoft Multiplan (1)

spitzak (4019) | more than 10 years ago | (#9332272)

I think you are confusing TopView, which was an IBM product, with early versions of Windows.

TopView was a disaster but it probably killed any of the competitors, including multidos and VisiOn. It was actually IBM pulling the Microsoft stunt of advance annoucement to kill your competitors.

Windows was always run in graphical mode, and was a good deal later than VisiOn. You are describing accurately the pre-3.0 tiled versions of Windows, however. I worked with those as well. The fonts were so bad that it did look like it was running in text mode, but it really was graphics.

Re:VisiCalc vs. Microsoft Multiplan (2, Interesting)

AKAImBatman (238306) | more than 10 years ago | (#9332406)

I think you are confusing TopView, which was an IBM product, with early versions of Windows.

No, I'm talking about the pre-release stuff that Microsoft sent to the computer mags of the time. They described how a slight change to your DOS code would make it "Windows Compatible", which basically meant that it could be suspended and replaced on the screen at any time.

As for preannouncing, my source is the book "Barbarians Led by Bill Gates", an insider's description of what happened inside Microsoft. It's really a great read. My favorite part was how the author inadvertantly insulted Bill Gates for his lousy BASIC code. :-)

Re:VisiCalc vs. Microsoft Multiplan (2, Insightful)

geekoid (135745) | more than 10 years ago | (#9331337)

Howmany people know what VisiCalc was? How many people know what excel is? I'd say they succeeded.

Like a lot of great computer scivement, VisiCalc lacked good marketing.

Implementing Visicalc (4, Informative)

Gatton (17748) | more than 10 years ago | (#9331022)

Feel free to mod redundant if it's already been posted but I didn't see it.

Read this website several months ago and it's quite detailed. Maybe more than you wanted to know but it's very detailed and is a good read.

Implementing Visicalc [frankston.com]

Microsoft patent application (1, Funny)

lothar97 (768215) | more than 10 years ago | (#9331033)

In other news, Microsoft announced today that they have filed a patent application for a "spread-sheet," as evidenced by Excel 2003. They claim that the earlier art is irrelevant, as the test is whether people associate "spread-sheet" with Microsoft's current intellectual property. This stems from Microsoft's original "0s and 1s" patent, ripped off here from a story from The Onion [funehumor.com] .

Re:Microsoft patent application (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 10 years ago | (#9331322)

..who ripped off the old IBM "1's" and "0's" patent joke.

thanks guys (-1, Flamebait)

painehope (580569) | more than 10 years ago | (#9331086)

for giving a whole new generation of ass-jockey middle-management MBAs a justification for their existence.

just kidding, really, good work, I'm sure you've cried along with the rest of us who have had to open a spreadsheet for something that could have taken a 1 paragraph description.

Must suck seeing your brainchild abused, huh?

Misread story... (1)

ignavus (213578) | more than 10 years ago | (#9331502)

I thought it said ..."It's hard to believe that it's already been 25 years since the release of one of the world's first 'killer apes.'

I thought it was about King Kong!

why don't one of you PERL gurus show us... (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9331693)

...one of your "fully-funtional spreadsheet in 2 lines of PERL" tricks?

Surely you can duplicate VisiCalc with 1 or 2 lines, right? ;)

Am I the only one... (2, Insightful)

trudyscousin (258684) | more than 10 years ago | (#9331758)

...who reads the name "Software Arts" and thinks of the innocence it implies?

There once was a time when software really was art. Now, it's a steely business. Back in 1979, Bill Gates was only some weenie whining because people were pirating paper tapes of his BASIC.

Re:Am I the only one... (1)

andalay (710978) | more than 10 years ago | (#9332015)

There once was a time when software really was art. Now, it's a steely business. Back in 1979, Bill Gates was only some weenie whining because people were pirating paper tapes of his BASIC.

And now he's only some weenie whining because people are giving away operating systems and compilers for little or no cost.

And still going strong! (probably) (2, Interesting)

Sabu mark (205793) | more than 10 years ago | (#9332021)

I'll bet you a million dollars that there's at least one company, or even more likely a government agency, that still uses VisiCalc because they never had the motivation to update all their data.

Smallest spreadsheet ever... (with RPN features) (1)

MavEtJu (241979) | more than 10 years ago | (#9332376)

From: http://www.arkko.com/ioccc.html
Size of source code: 1,536 bytes
Source: http://www.formation.jussieu.fr/ars/2000-2001/C/co urs/COMPLEMENTS/DOC/www.ioccc.org/2000/jarijyrki.c
Makefile: http://www.formation.jussieu.fr/ars/2000-2001/C/co urs/COMPLEMENTS/DOC/www.ioccc.org/2000/Makefile
E xternal files: http://www.formation.jussieu.fr/ars/2000-2001/C/co urs/COMPLEMENTS/DOC/www.ioccc.org/2000/sheet1.info

Usage: make jarijyrki; ./jarijyrki sheet1.info

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