VisiCalc: The Spreadsheet Killer App for Personal Computers

VisiCalc

VisiCalc software for personal computers

By Abbigail Nicholson
April 30, 2020

VisiCalc was the first spreadsheet application for personal computers and had a large impact on personal computers and the software industry overall. At this time, the concept of spreadsheets existed and personal computers were a new technology, and it was Dan Bricklin who had the great idea to combine the two.

There were three main people involved in the development of VisiCalc: Dan Bricklin, Dan Fylstra, and Bob Frankston. Bricklin was the one who came up with the idea when he was sitting in one of his MBA classes and realized how useful a spreadsheet application would be. The summer of 1978 Bricklin started prototyping the spreadsheet software on his peer, Dan Fylstra’s, Apple II personal computer.Bricklin teamed up with his former classmate Bob Frankstonto help develop the actual VisiCalc product. Conveniently, Fylstra worked at a personal computer software company called Personal Software, so  Frankston and Bricklin would develop the software and Fylstra published it. VisiCalc was a major success once it was released in November of 1979and it played a key part in initiating the rise of personal computers.1

VisiCalc was named the “killer app” for the Apple II personal computer 2 . At the time, the target audience for personal computers was mainly for hobbyists, while the main audience for VisiCalc was businessmen and companies, which is a much larger group. Since VisiCalc provided so much value to employees of companies and it was only compatible with personal computers, it was a gateway for personal computers to make its way into the business world which greatly expanded the amount of users of personal computers. Thanks in part to VisiCalc, personal computers and productivity applications became very prevalent in the computing industry and are still very prominent today.

  1. Dan Bricklin, “The Idea,” Dan Bricklin’s Web Site, accessed March 31, 2020, http://www.bricklin.com/history/saiidea.htm

  2. Martin Campbell-Kelly, From Airline Reservations to Sonic the Hedgehog: A History of the Software Industry (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2003), 212.

VisiCalc