The history of VisiCalc

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VisiCalc, short for "visible calculator", was the first spreadsheet computer program for personal computers. It was originally released for the Apple II by VisiCorp on October 17, 19791. The idea for VisiCalc came from Dan Bricklin, a Harvard Business School student, who sought a way to quicken the tedious process of updating spreadsheets. He and his friend Bob Frankston designed what became the first electronic spreadsheet3. VisiCalc was created to address and replace the manual spreadsheet management method. It allowed for data sorting and storing in tabular rows and columns. Changing a single value meant modifying the entire spreadsheet because changes made to one cell were automatically reflected in all cells that depended on it4. VisiCalc is famously known as “The killer app” for the Apple II. It sold over 700,000 copies in six years and up to one million copies during its existence4. Steve Jobs recognized that VisiCalc “powered the Apple II to the success it achieved,” and many accountants and business owners divided their professional experience into two periods: before and after the computerized spreadsheet was introduced46. The success of VisiCalc laid the foundation for the development of more sophisticated spreadsheet programs like Lotus 1-2-3 and Microsoft Excel5. However, VisiCalc's success was short-lived. When Mitch Kapor left the company, VisiCalc became perhaps the first casualty of what Clayton Christensen would call a disruptive innovation. Lotus bested VisiCalc by offering the same major features plus a handful of others, such as variable column widths and the ability to create charts and graphs6. Despite its fall, VisiCalc's impact on the world of computing was significant. It transformed the way businesses operated, streamlined record-keeping, and revolutionized financial analysis. Its user-friendly interface made it accessible to a wide range of users, enabling businesses to make informed decisions based on accurate and up-to-date information11.
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