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Software

The First Killer App: VisiCalc 224

Sabah Arif writes "The first electronic spreadsheet, VisiCalc, helped transform the Apple II from a home computer into a business computer. Without VisiCalc, it is possible IBM would not have introduced the IBM PC in 1981. Read about the software at VisiCalc's creator Dan Bricklin's site and a brief history at Braeburn."
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The First Killer App: VisiCalc

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  • What? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by einstienbc ( 825770 )
    I thought the first killer app was email?
    • Re:What? (Score:2, Informative)

      by gauger22 ( 829062 )
      networked computers weren't the norm back then. People did back ups onto dozens of floppy disks one at a time.
      • Re:What? (Score:3, Informative)

        by ScrewMaster ( 602015 )
        What do you mean, floppy disks? We used audio cassettes.
      • The norm for who? DARPA? Universities? Hospitals?
    • Re:What? (Score:5, Informative)

      by canuck57 ( 662392 ) on Sunday September 04, 2005 @11:45AM (#13477191)

      I thought the first killer app was email?

      Not for a Microsoft MS-DOS PC it wasn't. These PCs didn't even have any other viable networking option with the OS until Novell came along. Microsoft didn't really get much networking until Windows 3.0 and it was a hacked up mess. So how could a PC transmit email? It didn't unless you loaded Novell with ccMail or some other similar infrastructure add in. Novell got a start here as people were tired of copying to floppies (sneakernet).

      VisiCalc, SuperCalc and later Lotus was the rage that drove the PCs in business. For home, but shorty after business it was Procomm to a local Fido BBS or perhaps to a UNIX system running mmdf or uucp. For PCs, email was second or perhaps third.

      The raw fact of the mater is Microsoft has invented nothing but FUD. Every technology they use or sell has been borrowed from someone else, except perhaps for NETBIOS that no one wants to use any more. The only thing really innovative about Microsoft is the strong arm marketing tactics used to create a monopoly. History of the technology is best gotten from more neutral sources than Microsoft that would have you believe they invented the internet.

      So I hope you were being funny.

      • Re:What? (Score:4, Informative)

        by DustCollector ( 903185 ) on Sunday September 04, 2005 @12:46PM (#13477520) Homepage
        >>So how could a PC transmit email? It didn't unless you loaded Novell with ccMail or some other similar infrastructure add in.

        Well, there was the serial port and a Hayes Modem. A popular communications app was a shareware one: ProComm. Email was available via Compuserve, a BBS, perhaps a university, and later AOL.

        So the PC could send and receive email. It just wasn't a straightforward thing to set up, at least for the business types.
        • Well, there was the serial port and a Hayes Modem. A popular communications app was a shareware one: ProComm. Email was available via Compuserve, a BBS, perhaps a university, and later AOL. So the PC could send and receive email. It just wasn't a straightforward thing to set up, at least for the business types.

          Ehhh.....I'd say it's a wee bit of a stretch calling terminal emulation capability "email". I used to send and receive email on an XT PC via a Hayes 1200, but before that I used an ADDS Regent 15"

      • I could be wrong ( cobwebs in the memory banks ) but i do belive there were SNA cards for the PC long before Novell came around..

        Id call hooking to a mainframe as 'viable networking'. Considering that is where your email was ( PROFS ) and your *real* applications... ( TSO )

        • Well, you could hook a PC up to a mainframe with an sna connection, sure. You still ended up using terminal emulation (a 3270 emulator usually), and this just bypassed the pc for most parts and turned it into a glorrified 3279 terminal. Tho it indeed used a 'proper' networking protocol, the role of the PC wasn't that of an intelligent node or such.

          It wasn't untill things like lan server, lan manager and of course Novell had been around for a while that pcs became capable of being an end node or terminal in
      • Wasn't NETBIOS developed by someone else for IBM & Microsoft's NT partnership and then IBM with Microsoft developed SMB for Lan Manager? So, not even that, really. ;)
      • Re:What? (Score:4, Informative)

        by Nefarious Wheel ( 628136 ) on Sunday September 04, 2005 @06:39PM (#13479669) Journal
        Umm...guys, VisiCalc first came out on Apple ]['s, not MS-DOS PC's. I worked at Apple during those years, and nearly every unit we sold was because of that app. 8086 PC's came in much later on in the piece. We were working on our first duck quack synthesizer when IBM brought out their competitor -- the one with the heavy steel plate in the keyboard to make it feel more solid (closest they could come to those big iron plates they put in the base of their mainframes).
      • Microsoft didn't really get much networking until Windows 3.0 and it was a hacked up mess.
        I clearly remember that early OEM installations of Windows 95 did NOT come with TCP/IP installed, even though "networking" (IPX) was installed. Microsoft was still hoping the Internet would never take off without its help, because they preferred the model of selling CDROMs for everything.
    • Re:What? (Score:4, Funny)

      by mog007 ( 677810 ) <{moc.liamg} {ta} {700goM}> on Sunday September 04, 2005 @11:56AM (#13477257)
      What about solitare?
    • The selling point of early home computers was "teach yourself programming at home in your own time".

      Once people started connecting 80 column printers to their computers, the next killer apps were "maintain your own address lists" and "write your own newsletters".

      At the same time, as modems became affordable, then people were able to send/receive E-mail from their local BBS. Then services like AOL and Telecom Gold allowed people to send/receive E-mail nationally.

  • by Carthag ( 643047 ) on Sunday September 04, 2005 @11:18AM (#13477019) Homepage
    it turns out VisiCalc looked more like a giant chick than a lizard.
  • Right on! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by BWJones ( 18351 ) * on Sunday September 04, 2005 @11:20AM (#13477039) Homepage Journal
    Although I am very familiar with the history of Visicalc as it was one of the first programs I bought for my Apple ][+ back in 1982, I am happy to see articles like this on Slashdot. We need more stories about this history of computing and the Internet to educate all the N003Ies out here.

  • by cpu_fusion ( 705735 ) on Sunday September 04, 2005 @11:20AM (#13477042)
    I don't think I'm going out on a limb here when I say the first killer app was probably pr0n.

    Even if it was 20 character wide, uppercase ASCII, downloaded on a 110 baud accoustic-coupled modem and printed to a teletype machine hooked up to a CDC mainframe.

    That was probably the point where someone said, "holy crap, this computer thing is gonna take off!"
  • by BeerCat ( 685972 ) on Sunday September 04, 2005 @11:22AM (#13477050) Homepage
    After Visi-Calc, though, it was Lotus 1-2-3 that defined the spreadsheet; to ease transition, it could read .vc files. (Version 1 was pretty lame, though, as it couldn't do any string based functions. Version 2, though, was much better)

    Lotus, though, was a real pain when it came to graphing - it was a case of "set this; try it out", rather than real-time drawing. So, Excel took over the mantle. Again, it could read .wks and, to some extent .wk3 files to ease transition.

    So, the next question is: what is the killer feature that will make people convert from Excel to something else? Or, to put it another way, what feature of Excel is still a bit clunky to use?
    • by kfg ( 145172 ) on Sunday September 04, 2005 @11:24AM (#13477063)
      ". . .to put it another way, what feature of Excel is still a bit clunky to use?"

      Its license.

      KFG
    • Excel is frozen in time. When people no longer need compatibility with MS Office/OpenOffice, then Excel will die its much-deserved death.

      Back in the 1980s I used a wonderful "presentation worksheet" program called Trapeze on the Macintosh. It used named variables instead of row-column references and was insanely powerful. You could position your data variables anywhere you wanted, style and size them independently of other datablocks. The datablocks could even automatically resize if the numbers of r
    • excell handles curve fits much better than open office, and it statisical anaylis of data is much better also. As for improvements, The optimize function, doesn't seem to work as well as I would like, Also I would like it to have symbolic integration and derivation built in so I don't have to switch back and forth to maple. Oh yeah and the autocomplete could stand to be more predictable.
      Most people I discuss this with don't even know what I am talking about, so these are most likly not killer apps
      • As a hardcore spreadsheet user

        You should be using Gnumeric.

        excell handles curve fits much better than open office,

        Here, I assume you mean "easier."

        and it statisical anaylis of data is much better also.

        Please see these reports [csdassn.org] on unfixed bugs in Excel. I've seen similar documents (which compare to other commercial software, such as Origin, Kaleidagraph, Profit, etc.) Hardcore spreadsheet users have zero tolerance for error & many consciously avoid excel.

      • If you were a real statistics geek, you'd use your own functions or whatever excel calls them. Saying that the bundled statistical analysis that comes with OpenOffice sucks is like saying that this new coloring book sucks cause it's in black and white.
      • I've used Excel's Solver package for years to do complex curve fitting, such as simultaneously fitting multiple curves with one or more shared parameters, which can be extremely useful. Until Harvey Motulsky added this feature to Prism, none of the commercial packages would do it. But I still find Excel to be the most convenient for doing a large number of curve fits simultaneously.

        The last time I checked out the Open Office equivalent of Excel, it didn't seem to have anything like the Solver.
    • So, the next question is: what is the killer feature that will make people convert from Excel to something else? Or, to put it another way, what feature of Excel is still a bit clunky to use?

      I love and use Gnumeric. I sometimes use OO.o sheet.

      But neither of these makes quick-and-dirty graphing as easy as MS Excel does. Until that happens, I don't think we need to figure out what to add.

      However, the arbitrary row/column limit in Excel has frustrated some of our users. Personally, I think the solution is t

    • So, the next question is: what is the killer feature that will make people convert from Excel to something else? Or, to put it another way, what feature of Excel is still a bit clunky to use?

      mmmm the price tag?

    • It's graphing package is horrible--unintuitive and obscure, with ugly defaults, and requiring a large number of actions for simple modifications. Even something that seems simple, like adding error bars, turns into an ordeal. Every single graphing package that I've used--Prism, Kaleidagraph, Pro-fit, Deltagraph, even the venerable Cricket Graph--is enormously superior to Excel.
  • A Dupe. (Score:4, Informative)

    by k-zed ( 92087 ) on Sunday September 04, 2005 @11:27AM (#13477077) Homepage Journal
    And here is the original article [slashdot.org] :)

    Simply amazing, Slashdot is these days.
    • Seems like most of the articles on Slashdot lately are things that I have seen two or three days earlier on del.icio.us [del.icio.us] or BoingBoing [boingboing.net]. A good example is the "Google to destroy all information not indexable" Onion article [slashdot.org] which came out on Friday but I first saw on O'Reilly Radar [oreilly.com] on Tuesday.

      And then there are the embarrassing dupes and story descriptions that are just blatantly wrong. In a world where everyone and their dog has one or more blogs, Slashdot is quickly becoming irrelevant.

      As an aside, I think c

  • by nick_davison ( 217681 ) on Sunday September 04, 2005 @11:29AM (#13477093)
    To be fair, I'd argue the first killer app was cracking. The very reason the first computers were ever built was to do this task which really was a matter of life or death.

    Ironic, when you think about it: The first killer app, the reason computers first got built, the app that saved civilization, was encryption cracking. Now we have the DMCA to save us from it and the MPAA arresting sixteen year old Swedish kids for doing it.
    • ronic, when you think about it: The first killer app, the reason computers first got built, the app that saved civilization,

      I know this is /. but to even claim an app saved civilisation does serious injustice to the men and women who gave their lives fighting the war. The information helped but armies still had to be defeated with weapons and courage.
      • by nick_davison ( 217681 ) on Sunday September 04, 2005 @05:57PM (#13479471)
        The second world war has several key events that are, literally, that black and white. Any one of them literally had civilization hanging on them:

        Had Hitler refused Goering's request to use the Luftwaffe to destroy the British at Dunkirk, the British army wouldn't have escaped, Hitler would have walked in to England in 1940, RAF or not, and, from a consolidated Europe would have likely beaten Russia.

        Had the Luftwaffe not switched to city bombing, the RAF was literally down to its last day of fighter strength. Without that switch, Eagle day would have gone ahead and the above remained true.

        Had Hitler taken Vicini's advice and never gone up against a Sci... never started a land war in Asia... and finished Britain first, it may well have been a very different war.

        Had Hitler knocked out Britain in 1940, the British wouldn't have had the next two or three years of nuclear weapons research that formed much of the basis of the Manhattan Project. Most likely, with Britain out and thus no staging post for U.S. attacks, Germany would have had the bomb long before the U.S. You may recall, they allied with the Japanese against the U.S.

        Had Bletchley not existed, had they not had the bombes, had Turing and other geniuses not worked there, had they failed to crack the Enigma, the U-Boats would have continued in the Atlantic pretty much without limitation. Sending troops and arms to England would have been a near impossibility under those conditions, pulling pressure off the Western front long enough for Germany to have a significantly different war in the East. Same situations as above then happening.

        The truth is that many people died (and many more risked but didn't - I'm always bemused how dying is more heroic than being willing to) and, yes, without them the victories couldn't have happened. Similarly, without that one app, most likely, the victories couldn't have happened either.

        No one thing won the war on its own. Many individual things, in their absence, would have been enough to have lost it.

        Thus, claiming an app saved civilisation is true. As is claiming Goering's stupidity did. As is claiming the D-Day ruse did. As are countless other totally valid claims. And, yes, behind all of them, there were masses of individuals fighting and dying.
        • Hitler would have walked in to England in 1940, RAF or not, and, from a consolidated Europe would have likely beaten Russia.

          Basically true, but not quite that much. A solid Dunkirk victory would still not've been enough to give Hitler a military landfall on Britain before 1947. It would've destroyed the RAF to the point where the Luftwaffe could have air superiority over every UK port, rendering an American landing in France impossible... but

          Had the Luftwaffe not switched to city bombing, the RAF was lite
    • I see someone else read Count Zero.

      The bombes used in Bletchley Park were, strictly speaking, not general purpose computing devices. The first Turing-complete computing machine was ENIAC and it was used to calculate ballistic trajectories, not to crack codes.

      Of course if you want to play fast 'n' loose with the definition of "computer" there were plenty of electromechanical calculators and *analog* devices which predate the enigma cracking effort by a fair amount. And don't get me started on Konrad Zuse...
    • I'd have to disagree. There is always a need for specialized computers that are produced in small quantities. Not only did VisiCalc put computers on a lot of desks, but frugal and conservative business-folk were taking the plunge.

      Code breaking is important. But it doesn't sell computers to businesses or Joe Sixpack. Visicalc put personal computers in the hands of normal users -- without the need for a security clearance.
    • Close, but not quite.

      Electronic digital computers were first invented to calculate artillery tables for naval guns, which told the gunner what angle to fire the gun so the shell would reach a certain distance. The tables were originally calculated with logarithm tables and slide rules, by hordes of "calculators" (human calculators, that is). Then John Atanasoff invented a method of calculating them electronically with the Atanasoff-Berry Computer [ameslab.gov]. Unfortunately, Atanasoff abandoned his project when WWII sta
  • news.. (Score:5, Funny)

    by b100dian ( 771163 ) on Sunday September 04, 2005 @11:40AM (#13477161) Homepage Journal
    Slashdot. News for teens. Stuff that mattered.
  • by Dr_Marvin_Monroe ( 550052 ) on Sunday September 04, 2005 @11:41AM (#13477171)
    Here's a perfect example of how software patents would have drasticly changed how things are today...

    Imagine if the folks that came up with Visicalc had gotten a software patent for it?... Which big software and OS manufacturer wouldn't have a huge chunk of their current profits and wouldn't have at least one of the apps in their office pack?... How might the software landscape be different today?

    I was always told that "you can't patent an idea," but software patents come close to that....
    • Dude, you can't get a patent for a program, only for an algorythm, busniess model or invention.

      If you could patent programs, Microsoft would have the entire software industry sewn-up.
      • Yes, but you could definitely patent the IDEAS behind a program.

        If patents worked like they do today back when VisiCals was invented, there surely would've been patents on "Method and apparatus for using a computer to perform calculations on values input by users into a grid-like spreadsheet".

        VisiCals would be the ONLY spreadsheet there is.
    • Imagine if the folks that came up with Visicalc had gotten a software patent for it?... Which big software and OS manufacturer wouldn't have a huge chunk of their current profits and wouldn't have at least one of the apps in their office pack?... How might the software landscape be different today?

      Probably better. The Visicalc company had innovative interface designs that anticipated modern GUI's. Unfortunately, they were a bit ahead of the hardware, and while they were working on that, Lotus stole their ma
  • It seems that while it's not the first killer ap per se, it is the first (or one of the first) that got some momentum going in the idea of using computers for small business and personal use.
    • Actually, it was the first killer app. Accountants who knew nothing about computers would go in and buy VisiCalc, and "oh yeah, by the way, an Apple ][ to run it on". Other groundbreaking programs like Electric Pencil and Vulcan ran a distant second.
  • by Faust7 ( 314817 ) on Sunday September 04, 2005 @11:45AM (#13477193) Homepage
    The success of VisiCalc turned Apple into a successful company, selling tens of thousands Apple II's to businesses who wanted them only for the spreadsheet.

    Here we have the promising beginnings of a company that could revolutionize the business market with personal computers. Why, then, did it end up being someone other than Apple that did so? Here are my thoughts.

    - Apple ///. Subpar engineering and other bad choices (such as intentionally limiting backward compatibility) was a perhaps mortal blow against Apple's business entry. Undoubtedly the Mac made up for some of this later, but I've always been of the opinion that Apple should have focused on and expanded their core, the ][ line. It was similar to IBM's PC (and later clones) in its expandability and presented far more possibilities. Why did they not simply pursue a GUI for the ][ series instead of branching off with a completely different product?

    - The ][ platform wasn't opened up to cloning. Granted, no one, including IBM, was prepared to actually sanction this; the culture back then was of every microcomputer manufacturer having its own hardware, OS, disk format, et cetera - each one dreamed of total domination with its own platform. It took Compaq's sleight-of-hand on IBM to do it. Why was no such cleverness pulled with the Apple ][ platform?

    Your thoughts?
    • They did all that (Score:5, Interesting)

      by PCM2 ( 4486 ) on Sunday September 04, 2005 @12:28PM (#13477430) Homepage
      Why did they not simply pursue a GUI for the ][ series instead of branching off with a completely different product?
      You make it sound like they quit making the Apple ][ series when they started working on the Apple ///. Not so. The Apple /// was simply a new product line developed with business use in mind.

      Also, you're talking Apples to oranges -- the Apple /// didn't have a GUI, so giving the Apple ][ a GUI wouldn't have helped it replace the Apple ///. In fact, the reason the Apple /// failed is because most people felt the Apple ][ was a superior, more flexible computer, so they kept buying those.

      Apple did eventually paste a GUI onto the Apple ][ series, as well -- have you forgotten the Apple //gs [monmouth.com]? The problem there was, not only was the IBM PC already going like gangbusters by the time it was released, not only was the //gs competing with both the Amiga and the Atari ST for the color games market, but Apple had already released its first Mac by the time the //gs came out. There was a well-documented battle going on between the Apple ][ camp and the Mac camp at Apple, and the Mac camp won. Nobody was going to promote the Apple //gs as Apple's gold-standard software development platform if it meant cannibalizing Mac sales.

    • Here we have the promising beginnings of a company that could revolutionize the business market with personal computers. Why, then, did it end up being someone other than Apple that did so?

      Because Apple didn't have the single feature most desired by busines buyers:

      The IBM logo.

      Apple was a tiny company in California. Who would bet a company on a tiny company run by California hippies? IBM was a huge, century-old corporation in New York. It's salesmen wore suits. It's products were used by the government and
    • The ][ platform wasn't opened up to cloning. [...] Why was no such cleverness pulled with the Apple ][ platform?

      I owned two Apple ][ clones in the early '80s, produced by some Taiwanese manufacturer. I got my first programming job writing dBase II aps on an Apple clone with a giant 12" platter 5 MB hard disk. My friends bought Apple ][ clones, except for one early adopter who had a real Apple, and a Commodore dweeb. Apple clones were everywhere - they were cheap, ubiquitous, and probably illegal in th

  • by Bushcat ( 615449 ) on Sunday September 04, 2005 @11:48AM (#13477206)
    I'd forgotten that Visicalc was less than 30k. Elite for the Beeb Micro was minute in modern terms. The two computers that made all my money for me in the early days were the Osborne 1 and later the HP200LX. In both cases, it was the bundled software which sold them to me. I can't remember how large the Osborne's applications were, but they were less than a 183kB floppy each, anyway. I keep trying to reuse the HP200LX, but my eyes just aren't up to it now.

    The most recent software install on my current notebook was 1.8GB.

  • by DaveRexel ( 887813 ) on Sunday September 04, 2005 @11:50AM (#13477223) Homepage Journal
    ::
    It is remarkable that Apple, with all this experience in spreadsheet development, has not yet released the logical companion to its Keynote and Pages applications, [Calculate]? (whatever they decide to name the spreadsheet app).

    Curious, when when they were the first to release a good spreadsheet for the desktop, this is a gaping hole in the iWork suite IMHO.
    • I'll jump in with some speculation here. I remember reading here on /. a while ago that Apple had trademarked the term Numbers. That would fit their naming schema perfectly for a spreadsheet, so maybe... They have a spreadsheet already as part of AppleWorks, but it is crufty and OS 9ish. Using the underlying technology, however, I would think it would not be terribly hard to release an OS X spreadsheet as part of the iWork suite. My work certainly includes more than page layout and presentations, so the sp
  • by lonedroid ( 888148 ) on Sunday September 04, 2005 @11:56AM (#13477258)
    Today on /. I learned that text processing already existed 20 years ago (on the thread about Masachussetts choosing an open file format) and now... Now I learn that MS didn't invent the spreadsheet concept either !?
  • Huh? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Zebra_X ( 13249 ) on Sunday September 04, 2005 @12:03PM (#13477301)
    And this is news because...?
  • by syntap ( 242090 ) on Sunday September 04, 2005 @12:11PM (#13477335)
    Visicalc still runs on all of them.

    http://www.bricklin.com/history/vcexecutable.htm [bricklin.com]
  • A1 (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Doc Ruby ( 173196 ) on Sunday September 04, 2005 @12:16PM (#13477372) Homepage Journal
    I was selling computers - Ataris (400/800), Apples (][+, //c), IBM ("PCs": 5150), Commodores (VIC-20, C-64), Texas Instruments (99/4), Colecovision (Adam), even the occasional Sinclair. Out of a neighborhood video rental store, which was the "high tech" center of town. We sold them mostly for games, an upgrade from people's Atari VCS/2600, or Intellivision, Colecovision. It was an amazing storm surge when VisiCalc came out. Instantly, an Apple ][+ was the computer to get, though they were all about the same, in different styles (I preferred the Atari). A couple of California hippies had blown the global powerhouse IBM out of the water for small businesses.

    Little stores and offices that never even used a paper ledger before could now have an electronic "accountant". For the first time, many of them actually had financial plans. Many of them exchanged financial and inventory info on floppies, where they never had coordination before beyond maybe their own employees. I was there for the first PC revolution itself, in 1977, when Commodore PET/CBMs, Radio Shacks, even Altairs and IMSAIs put an aircraft carrier in any garage. And I was there for the "desktop publishing" revolution, the LAN revolution, the Internet/Web revolution, etc. The VisiCalc revolution was the watershed.

    And what's funny is that its descendents, PC spreadsheets, are still the killer app. Tables of calculated data are how most people think of computers. Excel is probably the best program (other than screensavers) ever written for a microcomputer (ironically, by Microsoft for a Macintosh). Those VisiCalc guys are heroes.
    • by PapayaSF ( 721268 ) on Sunday September 04, 2005 @01:50PM (#13477872) Journal
      I didn't see this in the linked history, but once in an interview Bricklin (IIRC) said that in the early days they personally demonstrated VisiCalc at trade show booths. Sometimes accountants would actually cry, as they realized how many hours they'd spent adding up rows and columns of numbers, and how quickly they'd be able to do it now.

      You know you've got a "killer app" when members of your target market burst into tears, realizing how much your software is going to change their lives!
  • ...was not spreadsheets. We had those on paper and this was the kind of thing high school computer classes taught towards the end of the last semester as an exercise after writing a basic text editor which was euphamistically referred to as a "word processor" at the time, but most functions dealt with letters, not words. But I digress...

    The biggest contribution was the entrenchment of the phenomenon of software spurring hardware and not the other way around. In response to VisiCalc, ever larger character
  • Therac-25 (Score:3, Informative)

    by crutchman ( 897558 ) on Sunday September 04, 2005 @01:02PM (#13477605)
    Actually, wouldn't the first KILLER app be the Therac-25 controlling software? I mean, it actually did kill people when it malfunctioned. More info [wikipedia.org]
  • by sakusha ( 441986 ) on Sunday September 04, 2005 @01:05PM (#13477621)
    I worked at a computer store in a dinky little town in the midwest, back in the days of VisiCalc. I distinctly remember the shift in the public's attitude towards personal computers when VisiCalc hit the shelves.
    Before VisiCalc, people used to struggle with the whole concept of personal computers, and the most common question I got was "WHY would anyone need a computer?" Then after VisiCalc shipped, I could do demos with immediate obvious applicability to any business. The question shifted to "HOW would I apply this computer to my business?"
    This was the true start of the personal computer business. Sure, word processing was the killer app for some people, but it offered no real advantages to some people who should have been the core markets, like trained professional secretaries who could bang out a perfect business letter on a Selectric typewriter on the first pass, they saw no speed advantages out of word processing. But when people saw Visicalc instantly add up a column of numbers, and when they saw it instantly recalculate the sums when a number was changed, they GOT it, they immediately saw the advantage over old manual methods. I just loved doing demos, and watching the reactions on peoples' faces.
    People also forget that VisiCalc was the core of the first integrated office suites (of a sort), I recall VisiPlot, I think there were some other Visi apps, but I mostly used databases like DBMaster to collate data and export to CSV for use in VisiCalc. It seemed like we had all the computer tools we could ever think of a use for.
  • iPod killer (Score:3, Funny)

    by zpok ( 604055 ) on Sunday September 04, 2005 @01:09PM (#13477639) Homepage
    If only they made it portable, a little calculating device with maybe buttons and a small screen...

  • by FunkSoulBrother ( 140893 ) on Sunday September 04, 2005 @01:33PM (#13477761)
    I'm savin' all of those back issues of "Byte"
    Making the micro conversion
    I gotta handle text just right
    Ya know what I mean?

    I took you to a local computer store
    Then to a compu-fair shopping spree
    There's nothing left to purchase now
    'less it's, programmability...

    [BEGIN Chorus (invoked later)]
    Let's get VisiCalc*, VisiCalc
    I wanna get Visi-Calc, let's invoke VisiCalc
    Let me hear your modem talk, your floppies squawk
    Let me hear your I/O rock...
    [END Chorus]

    I've used paper, I've used wood
    Tried to keep my pen on the table
    It's getting hard, this hardware stuff
    Ya know what I mean?

    I'm sure you understand what eleven's* do
    You know the software intimately
    You gotta know, you're bringing out
    the VisiPlot* for me...

    [Invoke Chorus]

    * VisiCalc, VisiPlot are TM's of VisiCorp, Inc.
            Eleven is a trademark of Digital Equipment Corp.

    { Original material by Randal L. Schwartz }

  • Without CP/M, Visicalc would have been limited to one kind of computer. Although the Apple II was pretty popular, it probably wasn't popular enough for Visicalc to have helped spawn an industry. Instead, it was CP/M that enabled software vendors to target Apple II (with an add-on card), TRS-80, Osborne, and the hundreds of CP/M computer brands on the market. That, in turn, enabled Visicalc, WordStar, and Microsoft Basic to get the attention of the likes of IBM, starting the PC revolution and signaling the d
  • A bit of a Googling will turn up copies of visicalc. It still runs even on WinXP - I tried it a while back. It runs on Linux Wine too, but man, is it ever clunky. It is hard to believe that we raved about it...
  • Wow! talk about your nostalgia fix. I just downloaded a disk image of Visicalc for the TRS-80 Model IV (dmk image) from Ira Goldklang's TRS-80 website and fired it up on my Xtrs emulator. The really funny part is I still remember how to navigate around in it! :-)

The solution of problems is the most characteristic and peculiar sort of voluntary thinking. -- William James

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