With a name that sounds like it's the favorite spreadsheet of the Visigoths, VisiCalc became the "killer app" of the Apple II, at least for the business market, a feat later replicated by Lotus 1-2-3 for the IBM PC. VisiCalc was developed by Dan Bricklin and Bob Frankston for Software Arts, and distributed by Personal Software, a company then largely publishing game software (one of their ads at the time was headlined "Even at 5:12 a.m., it's hard to quit playing Personal Software™ strategy games"), but which later devoted itself so much to VisiCalc and related software that it renamed itself VisiCorp.
VisiCalc didn't really invent the concept of a "spreadsheet"; accountants had been creating spreadsheets on paper for ages, and the clunky mainframe era of computing featured a number of attempts to perform the calculations involved in maintaining such sheets electronically. However, VisiCalc was the first personal-computer program to present a user-friendly interface to visually maintain a spreadsheet with automatic recalculation, and it inaugurated a type of software application that is still one of the major things done on computers now. All of that was done with a first version of the software whose entire executable file was smaller in byte size than many of the graphic files that decorate Web pages now.
Starting on the Apple II, VisiCalc was eventually ported to various other platforms including the fledgling IBM PC, though it lost to Lotus 1-2-3 for market share on that platform.
Reportedly, the native file format consisted simply of a series of commands and data elements in the same manner that they would be typed into the program by a user, so that loading a file simply piped it to the input stream of VisiCalc.
VisiCalc could also save files in Data Interchange Format, a file format invented by the creators of VisiCalc for the purpose of cross-program/platform data exchange.
The original Apple II didn't have up and down arrow keys, so the makers of VisiCalc had to improvise and use the left and right arrows for up and down as well as left and right. Pressing the space bar toggled between horizontal and vertical modes.
- VisiCalc executable download of early PC version
- In-browser emulation of Apple II version 1.37 at Internet Archive
- In-browser emulation of Atari 800 version 1.74a at Internet Archive
- Calc-Man: parody Pac-Man game on a VisiCalc screen, for Apple II (in-browser emulation)
Manuals and Books
- 1979 TRS-80 VisiCalc manual
- 1981 TRS-80 VisiCalc pocket reference
- 1981 Atari VisiCalc manual
- 1983 TRS-80 Model 4 VisiCalc pocket reference
- VisiCalc for the Apple II Plus Computer (1982 book)