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The i-Technology Right Stuff

Searching for the Twenty Top Software People in the World

 

Dan Bricklin

 

Brief Description: Cocreator of VisiCalc, the first PC spreadsheet

Further details:

The co-creator (with Bob Frankston) of VisiCalc, the first PC spreadsheet, Dan Franklin has been a developer, inventor, entrepreneur, and business person, with both a degree in Computer Science from MIT and an MBA from Harvard.

The idea for the electronic spreadsheet came to Franklin while he was a student at the Harvard Business School, working on his MBA degree, in the spring of 1978. Here's how he tells the story himself:

 

"Sitting in Aldrich Hall, room 108, I would daydream. 'Imagine if my calculator had a ball in its back, like a mouse...' (I had seen a mouse previously, I think in a demonstration at a conference by Doug Engelbart, and maybe the Alto). And '..imagine if I had a heads-up display, like in a fighter plane, where I could see the virtual image hanging in the air in front of me. I could just move my mouse/keyboard calculator around, punch in a few numbers, circle them to get a sum, do some calculations, and answer "10% will be fine!"' (10% was always the answer in those days when we couldn't do very complicated calculations...)

The summer of 1978, between first and second year of the MBA program, while riding a bike along a path on Martha's Vineyard, I decided that I wanted to pursue this idea and create a real product to sell after I graduated."

 

That's just what he did, though his vision became more realistic, and the heads-up display gave way to a normal screen. He and Bob Frankston decided to form a company under which to do business: Software Arts, Inc., incorporated on January 2, 1979.

VisiCalc was first shown to the regular personal computer press in a special room at the West Coast Computer Faire in San Francisco in May of 1979. The first "real" release, version 1.37, shipped in mid-October 1979. In 1985, though, Software Arts' assets were sold to Lotus Development Corporation, the creators and publishers of the 1-2-3 spreadsheet, and Lotus decided not to continue publishing VisiCalc.

"If I invented the spreadsheet today, of course I would file for a patent," Bricklin says on his incredibly candid Web site documenting the rise and fall of VisiCalc. In 1979, however, when VisiCalc was shown to the public for the first time, patents for software inventions were infrequently granted. Programs were thought to be mere mathematical algorithms, and mathematical algorithms, as laws of nature, were not patentable.

More Stories By Jeremy Geelan

Jeremy Geelan is Chairman & CEO of the 21st Century Internet Group, Inc. and an Executive Academy Member of the International Academy of Digital Arts & Sciences. Formerly he was President & COO at Cloud Expo, Inc. and Conference Chair of the worldwide Cloud Expo series. He appears regularly at conferences and trade shows, speaking to technology audiences across six continents. You can follow him on twitter: @jg21.

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