Give credit where credit is due

In the category of “this really bugs me.”  In his NYT tech column today, G. Pascal Zachary credits Mitch Kapor with inventing the spreadsheet.  Specifically he says: 

While at the Lotus Development Corporation, Mr. Kapor created another such “killer app,” or application: the spreadsheet for the PC.”

He is just plain wrong.

That distinction goes to Dan Bricklin and Bob Frankston, the inventors of VisiCalc for the Apple II, which was singlehandedly responsible for moving the Apple II into widespread business use.  Lotus’ 1-2-3 was notable as the first spreadsheet on the IBM PC.  It propelled PCs even more into the mainstream of business and that was a big deal but not close to the level of innovation in the original invention. 

I know this first hand.  I was one of the original editors for Computing Retailing magazine when VisiCalc was introduced (yes I know this dates me).  Much later, Dan, Vern Raburn, Tom Byers and I started Slate Corp., one of the early efforts at software for the pen interface.  Bob Frankston joined us there soon after and I have very fond memories of working with both Dan and Bob.


2 Responses to Give credit where credit is due

  1. Ken Sides says:

    I’m glad somebody is taking the time to correct these revisionist histories that steal credit from the original thinkers, the real breakers-through. I used to teach “electronic spreadsheets” at Florida Keys Community college in the 90’s and I would always devote a few minutes to crediting Dan Bricklin for creating the first electronic spreadsheet. I imagine I was the only instructor to do so.

    Today’s spreadsheets are only marginally improved. and I think Lotus 2.4 might actually have been faster to use, back when keystrokes ruled and the mouse was an afterthought.

    -Ken Sides, PE

  2. Bob Washburn says:

    Mitch Kapor was in on the beginning of spreadsheet success on the Apple II. He wrote, and Visicorp published, Visiplot and Visitrend, two Visicalc extension products. Mitch founded Lotus using his royalty funds from his two successful products.
    Bob Washburn

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