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It came straight from the blackboards of the Harvard Business school.
Invented by a graduate student, Dan Bricklin with his programmer friend
Bob Frankston,
VisiCalc was the first electronic spreadsheet.
A spreadsheet is a tool for financial planning,
bringing together for the first time the seduction of money
with the power of microcomputing.
Dan Bricklin's professor at Harvard
showed how companies used a grid of numbers on a blackboard
to work out profits and expenses.
- Sixty down here and your profit would be this minus this which
gives you forty.
- And then well let's see what's the sales growth, say there's a
ten percent...
The trick to a spreadsheet is that all the values in the table
are related to the others.
So changes in one year would ripple through the table,
affecting prices and profits in subseqent years.
Students were asked to calculate how future profits would be affected
by various business scenarios.
It was called running the numbers and they did it laborously by hand.
- Well let's say your initial costs have a hundred fixed costs at the beginning
so now you have a minus twenty
- is how much you make the first year and in the second year you have
a hundred but your variable is say
- let's say twenty-five so now your losing, what is it, it's a pain in the neck
I wasn't very good at this stuff,
- eightyfive
- no no no - fifteen - minus fifteen right and eventually your making money,
- what year do we make money and how much does the cost of money
that's what running numbers was...
Because each value was linked to others, one mistake
could mean disaster.
- ...it blows your all number afterwards because you make all your
calculations based on the other numbers before them.
Dan, who had worked as a programmer,
started daydreaming about how he could use a computer
to replace the tedious hand calculations.
- I imagined that there was this magic blackboard that did like
word processing does word wrapping
- if you make a change to a word it automatically pulls everything back,
well why no recalculate in the same way?
- So that if I change my number, you know, I should have used ten per cent
instead of twelve per cent,
- I could just put it in and it would recalculate everything
and go through it you know
- and that would be this idea of an electronic spread sheet.
Following a model that's common today, Dan Bricklin designed
the program,
but got his friend Bob Frankston to write the actual computer code.
After months of programming late at night when computer time
was cheaper,
the Harvard Business School blackboard came to life.
- Now we've set this up, OK. Then we type a new value in, then
I'm going to take that one hundred,
- I'm going to change it right and here, it recalculated! Woa!
That saved me so much time!
People who saw it and went and got it like an accountant,
I remember showing it
- to one around here and he started shaking and said:
"that's what I do all week, I could do it in an hour you know,"
- you know, they would take their credit cards and shove them
in your face.
I meet these people now they come up to me and say
"I gotta tell you you know..."
(BOB): You changed my life.
(DAN): You changed my life. You made accounting fun and...
- You have to remember what it was like in those days we did not use
the word spreadsheet
- cause nobody knew what a spreadsheet was.
- I came up with the name visible calculator or visicalc because
we wanted to emphasise that aspect.
VisiCalc hit the market in October, 1979, selling for $100.
Marv Goldschmitt sold the first copies from his computer store
in Bedford, Massachusetts.
After a slow start VisiCalc took off.
What it did in our society, it gave people who were obsessed
with numbers,
whether they were in business or at home,
how much am I worth today, what's my stock portfolio worth, how
am I doing against budget on this project.
It gave them an ability to play with scenarios

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