Tuesday, March 10, 2020

DOS applications - VisiCalc

My favorite DOS application is a spreadsheet. So let's take a look at the first desktop spreadsheet application, Visicalc.

VisiCalc was the brainchild of Dan Bricklin and Bob Frankston. While there were other programs that let you perform calculations, these were not very interactive, and you needed an expensive computer system to run them.

Dan and Bob envisioned a new kind of program that let you interactively enter numbers on a grid, and perform calculations with them. This was the first desktop spreadsheet application. VisiCalc was released in 1979 for the Apple II computer. VisiCalc was so immediately popular that many businesses purchased Apple II computers just to run VisiCalc.

You can see in the video that Visicalc—while it's quite old—is still easily recognizable as a spreadsheet program. VisiCalc is similar to modern spreadsheets; you enter numbers on a grid labeled with letters for columns and numbers as rows. So your first cell is A1, B1, C1, and so on. In column A, your cells are A1, A2, A3, and so on.

The reason VisiCalc looks so much like modern spreadsheets is because that's how software lineage often works. VisiCalc was the dominant spreadsheet program until upstart company Lotus released Lotus 1-2-3. And Lotus 1-2-3 was able to take that market share because 1-2-3 looked and acted like VisiCalc, while adding new features. Then Quattro Pro took away the Lotus 1-2-3 market before Microsoft Excel for Windows took the market from Quattro Pro.

So each successive program borrowed certain elements (including look and feel) from its predecessor, while adding new features. As you look at modern spreadsheets like LibreOffice Calc or Microsoft Excel, you'll see echoes of VisiCalc.

You can download VisiCalc for free! Find it at Dan Bricklin's VisiCalc website.

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