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With VisiCalc, Apple II gets its ‘killer app’


January 2, 1979 Entrepreneurs Dan Bricklin and Bob Frankston are incorporating their Software Arts company to release a small program called VisiCalc.

The first table for the Apple II, $ 100 VisiCalc, eventually became the first “killer application” of personal computing. It helps to transform personal computers from “cool to have” toys into “must have” business accessories.

The dawn of home computing

For people who grew up with a PC and Mac in the workplace, it might seem inconceivable that there was a time when there was a real difference between “business” and “home” computers, other than the software that powered the machines.

In fact, in the early days of personal computers, many in the business viewed them as hobbyists who were not compared to the large computers that companies routinely used. At the technical level, they are not.

However, discerning individuals have realized that the dream of one computer for each person serves a different purpose. For example, personal computers shorten the weeks a worker could wait while their company’s computer department prepares a report.

VisiCalc was one of the first programs to “sell” personal computers like the Apple II as more than nerdy toys.

The VisiCalc spreadsheet application makes the Apple II a serious tool

VisiCalc, the world's first
VisiCalc, the world’s first computer spreadsheet, in all its glory.
Screenshot: Steven Weyhrich / Apple2History

In the way we are now accustomed to, the innovative spreadsheet program has taken as its metaphor the idea of ​​a business production planning board that could be used to collect and calculate finances. Creating formulas meant that changing the sum in one “cell” of a spreadsheet would change the numbers in another.

No program like VisiCalc has existed before. This meant that the Apple II version was not a softened, inferior version of the existing software, as the console ports of arcade games used to be.

VisiCalc for the Apple II has sold a whopping 700,000 copies in six years, and probably up to 1 million over its lifetime. Although the program cost $ 100 (equivalent to $ 382 today), many customers bought $ 2,000 Apple II computers just to be able to run it.

Eventually, VisiCalc was ported to other computer platforms. And rival spreadsheet programs such as Lotus 1-2-3 and Microsoft Excel have emerged. Both of these programs have improved aspects of VisiCalc, either technically or in terms of user interface.

However, the Bricklin and Frankston program proved to be extremely significant. It remains a key part of Apple’s history.

Which killer application was running on your first computer?

Which killer application led to your (or your family’s) first purchase of a computer? Has any software ever pulled you for or against hardware? Leave your comments below.





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Naveen Kumar

Friendly communicator. Music maven. Explorer. Pop culture trailblazer. Social media practitioner.

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