30 years of the spreadsheet

The reason that others were able to take over, might strike people as odd. The concept was never patented which is one of the reasons that Bricklin and Frankston did not become unfeasibly wealthy.

The reason was that back in 1979, patents for software was almost unheard of and that it was only later than the publishers realised that strategic importance of having a patent, relying instead on copyright and trademark laws for the programme. By the time the importance of the concept was realised, it was too late to file for retroactive patent protection.

Some cynics in the crowd...

Of course, not everyone is so thankful to the spreadsheet, and infamous tech cynic John C. Dvorak this year labelled VisiCalc as the "culprit", for giving the world spreadsheets - asking if "anyone can really say that we've actually benefitted from its invention".

That's a pretty easy one to counter though, as even if you don't like bean counters, by popularising computing, VisiCalc enabled the computer to come full circle to be used as an all round work and entertainment device too now acting as a digital hub for music, films, information and spreadsheets.

The spreadsheet itself has not really evolved much since Microsoft Word became the de-facto standard, and only with the ability to share documents over the internet - as with Google Docs, that have users gained anything tangibly new - which only goes to show how strong an idea it was in the first place.

So next time you fire up Excel give a thought to the big daddy - the original, the code brother number one VisiCalc, the world's first spreadsheet.

Slice of spreadsheet history

If you want to sample a piece of computing history for yourself, then you can actually download a copy of VisiCalc directly from Bricklin's web site, and run it on any PC today where it will run under Windows or DOS.

Remember to free up some space first though - the download comes in at a whopping 29.6Kb...

VisiCalc then can be thanked with directly helping to popularise the personal computer, by making users see that it was a serious tool that could deliver serious business benefits.

Benny Har-Even

Benny Har-Even is a twenty-year stalwart of technology journalism who is passionate about all areas of the industry, but telecoms and mobile and home entertainment are among his chief interests. He has written for many of the leading tech publications in the UK, such as PC Pro and Wired, and previously held the position of technology editor at ITPro before regularly contributing as a freelancer.

Known affectionately as a ‘geek’ to his friends, his passion has seen him land opportunities to speak about technology on BBC television broadcasts, as well as a number of speaking engagements at industry events.