Give credit where credit is due

January 20, 2008

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.


Hasbro, where are you?

October 13, 2007

The WSJ today has an article about the success of Scrabulous, an online Scrabble game that’s available as a Facebook application.  More than 950,000 people have downloaded Scrabulous since its Facebook debut in July and the article quotes Facebook as saying that 36% of those players are “daily active users”.  I’m one of them.  Scrabulous is single-handedly responsible for 95% of my Facebook time and accounts for a full 50% of all my wasted time online. 

My Scrabble credentials:  I’ve been playing the board version of Scrabble for years though most of my local friends don’t want to play as often or as intensely as I do.  A couple of years ago, I bought a CD-ROM version and played it for awhile.  In the last year or so, I moved up to the Internet Scrabble Club (ISC) online Scrabble game and became addicted.  I now play daily.  The interface of the ISC version is ridiculously antiquated, though the program seems to work fine. I moved to Scrabulous recently and it is a much better execution of the game.   

I have always wondered why Hasbro, the company that owns the U.S. rights to Scrabble, is completely absent from the online Scrabble world.  When you Google “scrabble”, you get a link to Hasbro’s board game web site.  That just plain flabbergasts me.  Scrabble is a game that lends itself easily to the electronic world; as games go, it just can’t be that hard to program.  And casual gaming online is a major trend, while the traditional board game business is in decline.  (I don’t really know the facts on this but it seems obvious on the face).  How can a company be so clueless?! 

The WSJ article explores whether Scrabulous could be infringing Hasbro’s copyright, and seems to suggest they might not be. I hope that’s the case.  Rajat Agarwalla, one of the creators of Scrabulous, has apparently gone so far as to email Habro to notify the company about Scrabulous and has received no reply. 

The ideal solution for people like me would be if Hasbro blesses Scrabulous.  Scrabulous could certainly teach them alot about leveraging their games online.  Alternatively, Hasbro could make some clear statement that they don’t intend to object to any of the electronic versions of the game.  I’d like something to assure me that my daily fix isn’t at risk.

Slow news day

September 28, 2007

True, it was in the Weekend Journal section, but still.  I’m rolling my eyes at the Wall Street Journal’s feature today “The Three-Martini Renovation” which clues us in that it may be a bad idea to host remodeling parties that combine cocktails with “ripping out walls and laying floors.”  Apparently, it doesn’t always work out well. Gosh, I’m glad they told me.  I never wouldn’t have guessed that.  (I wonder how long my link to the article will work.  Has WSJ improved on that front?)