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Written By: Gary on December 29, 2007 2 Comments

Visacalc, I think it’s one of those products that changed the world. I’m certain that it changed mine…

For those that don’t remember it – Visacalc was the first really popular spreadsheet program (maybe the first), it was before Lotus 123 and Microsoft Excel (it was probably be fore the was a Microsoft). It ran on Apple and Atari home computers (probably TRS-80 computers too). There were some other spreadsheets out there (anyone?) but I’d say that Visacalc was one of the first easily accessible ones. It put really powerful calculations into the hand of anyone allowing them to do a variety of “what if?” scenarios. I’d say that what 99% of what the average people does with spreadsheets these days do not exceed the capabilities of Visacalc from almost 30 years ago (other than graphing).

How did VIsacalc change my life? Jack Parish, the owner of The Doll Hospital and Toy Soldier Shop (a hobby and toy shop two blocks and five houses from my house), was shown Visacalc. I think he bought a computer that day and shortly their-after starting carrying the Atari 800 and 400 computers at his store. He knew they were the things to come, he didn’t know all the details but he knew…

So some of us kids started hanging out at the store more and we probably sold as many computers as the sales people. A few months later Jack offered me a job, they were going to start giving away training as his value added benefit to shopping at the store. I was going selling computers and teaching computer classes, teaching classes to kids and adults. My one condition was that I get a computer ASAP, they took a chunk out of my check every week until it was paid off, I got an Atari 800 with a cassette(!) tape drive.This really did change everything for me. I learned and played and learned. I liked it more than other hobbies because it was fixable, correctable and once you got something done and it was perfect, it ran perfect every-time.

There were a limited number of computer stores in the area and if you owned a computer you eventually visited all the stores, I pretty much met everyone in the Detroit area who had an Atari computer and those people were contacts for me in the future.

So it wasn’t really using Visicalc that change my life, just that fact that it existed and started a series of events that got me my first computer. I still would have gotten into computers but it probably would have been a little later in life, having that computer then opened up some doors that I wouldn’t have found otherwise and some of those doors would have closed before I found them (as computer businesses tended to do).

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