Relevant notes and citations provided to TED by Dan Bricklin.
These quotes from Steve Jobs come from a long, wonderful interview available from WGBH.org: "05/14/1990 Interview with Apple and NeXT co-founder Steve Jobs." Here are the full quotes from the transcript listed with it. (Steve remembers the year of VisiCalc wrong, and his reason was only one of the reasons the Apple II was chosen first.)
There have been, if you look at why the majority of people have bought these things so far, ah there have been two real explosions that have propelled the industry forward. The first one ah really happened in 1977. And it was the spreadsheets. I remember when ah Dan Fylstra who ran the company that marketed the first spreadsheet, walked not my office at Apple one day and pulled out this disk from his vest pocket and said, "I...I have this incredible new program. I call it a visual calculator." And it became VisiCalc. And that's what really drove, propelled the Apple to...to the success it achieved more than any other single event.
And...and with ah the invention of Lotus 123, and I think it was 1982, that's what really propelled the IBM PC to the level of success that it achieved. So that was the first explosion was the spreadsheet. Ahm the second major explosion has driven our, the desktop industry has been desktop publishing.
Disk drive was crucial. Ah one of the things that people forget when they think about...about Apple and the Apple II in particular was that we were the first company to come out with a reliable, inexpensive floppy disk drive. And we had a low cost floppy disk drive that really worked about two to three years before any of our competitors. And that was an incredibly important reason why the Apple II was successful. A matter of fact, ah there were a few others.
The Apple II could hold up to 48 kilobytes of memory which today doesn't seem like much, but at that time was maybe three times as much as its competitors. And that's why Visicalc was written for the Apple II. It was the only computer that could hold it. And so if Visicalc had been written for some other computer you'd be interviewing somebody else right now. And it was because of that design decision and other design decisions like it that the Apple II really beat its competition.
This photo is from the 1969 NASA-NSTA (National Science Teachers Association) Youth Science Congress at Goddard Space Flight Center. I was presenting my pre-processor for FORTRAN, which I called WHARTFOR after the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania where I worked after school hours in 11th and 12th grade and where I developed it. (Notice that the jacket and tie I'm wearing is the same as in the 1966 photo.) We typed our programs onto cardboard punched cards in those days, carrying around boxes of cards instead of flash drives. Each card held about 80 bytes.
Information about Multics can be found on the Multicians website
At DEC I worked on Typeset-10 (a system running on DEC's large PDP-10 timesharing system used at a few major newspapers), the VT-71 terminal (LSI-11 microprocessor with memory-mapped display and software-defined characters -- I helped program the microcode for the display processor), and the WPS-8 Word Processing System (I was the main author of the Functional Spec and had the title "project leader" of the software).
This is a photo of my maternal grandfather's typewriter on which I learned to type in grade school. He was a newspaper reporter and then editor. The punched card sorter he showed me that his paper used for subscription records was the first computer hardware I encountered, inspiring me to build a simple version as a science fair project a couple of years later.
The company was FasFax Corporation. The photo is of a later model than the one I worked with.
The photo was from when we did a case about the pocket calculator market. I brought in an old hand-cranked calculator that I borrowed from my college friend, David P. Reed, an Internet pioneer.
The photos of the IBM 1403 printer and 029 Card Punch are ones that I took at the Computer History Museum. Both devices are the type I used. They were also the work horses of payroll printing and data entry in those days.
The photo is of the screen and printer for the DEC WPS-8 system I helped develop.
This is a simple illustration created for this talk. While the scissors are modern, the tape measure is the actual one my father used. In the actual mockups, he made, real copies of typeset proofs were used.
This is a key point: Prototyping helps you uncover key problems and figure out solutions early in the development process. This is a major theory in Michael Schrage's book, Serious Play See my review of the book. After VisiCalc (as explained in the longer version of my talk), I wrote Dan Bricklin's Demo Program, a tool for prototyping software. It was an award-winning, influential product in the DOS world.
To save time, I cut out explaining that while maps sometimes use "1A", "1B", etc., and/or have the numbers across the top, I went with the letter first and on the top so that when you typed the computer could distinguish between values (start with a number) and cell addresses (start with a letter). It also let the column headers be narrower ("K" vs. "11", "EA" vs. "131") which mattered on the 40-character wide Apple II screen. Functions needed to be differentiated, so I used the "@" character to indicate them. This made the computer code for parsing the input and doing the display easier and smaller, and the definition easier to explain.
Some of the added benefits of the grid were pointed out to me by my friend David Reed in an email posted on the "Was VisiCalc the "first" spreadsheet?" page on my website.
This example is a variant of the main demo I did in the early days of VisiCalc, recreated in Microsoft Excel.
This is a scan of a state diagram I made very early in the development of VisiCalc. It shows what would happen when you pressed each key. The user interface changed somewhat from this early version, but you can see ideas like "replicate" (which got into the product, now known as "copy" in most spreadsheets) and "help" (which was dropped to save scarce computer memory, hence the importance of the reference card). Interestingly, it is written on the back of a sheet of spreadsheet paper. You can see the blue lines bleeding through. We had that for use in homework when needed.
Ironically, the "Pepsi Challenge: in real life, not disguised like it is in the case, involved John Sculley. He later left Pepsi to join Steve Jobs at Apple in 1983. For another class, with the professor sworn to secrecy, I wrote a paper for the course about advertising the product. See my blog post about it. This was before the name VisiCalc was chosen. I was using the name "Calcu-ledger" at the time. In that paper I wrote: "Other names that I have thought of, such as 'electronic spreadsheet' or 'calcu-paper' don't sound right, or may not be understood by people, even after they know what it is (not everybody knows what a spreadsheet is, ledger is more common)." The resources of being a student at HBS helped.
Actually, VisiCalc was announced at the NCC's Personal Computer Festival, a small offshoot of the giant National Computer Conference. It was housed in a hotel down the street from the main venue. VisiCalc was published by Personal Software (a company that later renamed itself to "VisiCorp") which published the product. The software was written by Software Arts, Inc., the company Bob Frankston and I set up.
This is from page B1 of the June 7, 1979, edition of the New York Times.
This is slightly inaccurate (to save a few seconds and avoid confusion). I say "about two years" because there were some minor mentions inside a few other articles resulting from PR and other active pushing, but no major discussion of just electronic spreadsheets. The first major business press mention highlighting VisiCalc, as I recall, was a June 29, 1981 Fortune Magazine article on "The Coming Struggle in Personal Computers" by Bro Uttal. The sidebar was about "Software's Greatest Hits" and included VisiCalc, WordStar, DataStar, CP/M, and Microsoft Basic. This was the first professional photoshoot Bob Frankston and I were involved in together. The photo they used has me and Bob sitting on the beanbag chair I sat on when doing the early VisiCalc design. Bill Gates and Paul Allen were shown in the part about their product. Later, the January 3rd, 1983, Time Magazine "Machine of the Year" (not "person" that year) issue included a sidebar just on VisiCalc.
I kept a notebook during those days with entries about events related to business and development. This photo shows a notation on October 19, 1979, that Dan Fystra, the head of Personal Software, the publisher, told me he had his first complete, manufactured copy of VisiCalc ready to sell. I remember getting my copy by Fedex Saturday delivery the next day. Dan was heavily involved in the production of VisiCalc, having chosen the name VisiCalc out of all of the alternatives, as well as writing the manual in the package and making other marketing decisions. He was the one who showed Steve Jobs the early copy that Steve mentions in the video.
There are lots of things I left out. I acknowledge that here to make sure there are no misunderstandings. On the web, I posted a "History" section of my website that goes into more detail of the VisiCalc story. See The Idea and also VisiCalc: Information from its creators, Dan Bricklin and Bob Frankston.