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The History of Excel
The History of Excel
You probably weren’t expecting a history lesson when you bought this topic, but you may find
this information interesting. At the very least, this section provides fodder for the next office
Spreadsheets comprise a huge business, but most of us tend to take this software for granted. In
the pre-spreadsheet days, people relied on clumsy mainframes or calculators and spent hours
doing what now takes minutes.
It started with VisiCalc
Dan Bricklin and Bob Frankston conjured up VisiCalc, the world’s first electronic spreadsheet,
back in the late 1970s when personal computers were unheard of in the office environment. They
wrote VisiCalc for the Apple II computer, an interesting machine that seems like a toy by today’s
standards. VisiCalc caught on quickly, and many forward-looking companies purchased the
Apple II for the sole purpose of developing their budgets with VisiCalc. Consequently, VisiCalc is
often credited for much of Apple II’s initial success.
Then came Lotus
When the IBM PC arrived on the scene in 1982, thus legitimizing personal computers, VisiCorp
wasted no time porting VisiCalc to this new hardware environment. Envious of VisiCalc’s success,
a small group of computer enthusiasts at a start-up company in Cambridge, Massachusetts,
refined the spreadsheet concept. Headed by Mitch Kapor and Jonathan Sachs, the company
designed a new product and launched the software industry’s first full-fledged marketing blitz.
Released in January 1983, Lotus Development Corporation’s 1-2-3 proved an instant success.
Despite its $495 price tag (yes, people really paid that much for a single program), it quickly
outsold VisiCalc and rocketed to the top of the sales charts, where it remained for many years.
Microsoft enters the picture
Most people don’t realize that Microsoft’s experience with spreadsheets extends back to the early
1980s. In 1982, Microsoft released its first spreadsheet — MultiPlan. Designed for computers
running the CP/M operating system, the product was subsequently ported to several other
platforms, including Apple II, Apple III, XENIX, and MS-DOS. MultiPlan essentially ignored existing
software UI standards. Difficult to learn and use, it never earned much of a following in the United
States. Not surprisingly, Lotus 1-2-3 pretty much left MultiPlan in the dust.
Excel partly evolved from MultiPlan, and first surfaced in 1985 on the Macintosh. Like all Mac
applications, Excel was a graphics-based program (unlike the character-based MultiPlan). In
November 1987, Microsoft released the first version of Excel for Windows (labeled Excel 2 to
correspond with the Macintosh version). Excel didn’t catch on right away, but as Windows gained
popularity, so did Excel. Lotus eventually released a Windows version of Lotus 1-2-3, and Excel