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Visacalc changed my life…

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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2 Responses to “Visacalc changed my life…”

  1. josh says on: 29 December 2007 at 4:59 pm

    Wonderful story. When I was 8 years old my parents wouldn’t buy me an Atari video game console. So I asked for a computer, and got a TI-99/4A, along with some books with source code in them. So I typed in the code to play the games. Made so many typos that I had to re-read the code over and over again. I figured out how to program because of it.

    Then when I was 15 I went to work for a computer consultant, by then I had an XT clone and had mastered DOS and had lots of pirated copies of business software thanks to a 2400bps modem. So I had value. He would drive me to his clients and drop me off, because I was too young to drive. Once I graduated high school I became Novell CNE certified. And things continued on from there.

    Excel is my favorite program. Using VBA coding, I can make it do almost anything.

  2. KurtV says on: 30 December 2007 at 12:45 am

    Hey Gary, remember trying to get the Votrax (external voice synthesizer) hooked up to those Atari 400’s and 800’s? I can still clearly hear the thing saying “The Doll Hospital and Toy Sol-dee-urr Shop” and having to edit it from saying “Soldier” to “Soljer” to get it to pronounce it better. Of course, back in those says it was a big deal to get it to say anything it all! The machines only had 16K to 48K of RAM… (You needed the “maximum” ammount in order to run “serious” programs like Visicalc.) By the way, while I usually like to wax nostaglic about programming in 8K BASIC on the “KIM-1” computer I helped my engineer Dad build (before ANY of the Apples, Ataris, Commodores, TRS’s, Texas Insruments, etc… were around), I wholeheartedly agree with you that it was VisiCalc that really enabled/made/legitimized the buying of computers. While there’s always people that just love to play with technology, Visicalc really made it possible for non-programmers to “use” the machine for something other than wordprocessing, games or very specialized programs. Here’s a couple of Visicalc links you might find interesting:

    You can actually STILL run the old 27K Visicalc on your PC!
    http://www.bricklin.com/history/vcexecutable.htm

    For more history, take a look at
    http://www.bricklin.com/firstspreadsheetquestion.htm

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