VisiCalc: Apple’s first big break came because of the spreadsheet

“These days, Apple’s marketing campaigns play up the company’s appeal to cool, creative people,” Jason Karaian writes for Quartz. “Things were different in the early days of the now dominant computer and device maker.”

“The $800 billion market cap behemoth we know today owes much of its initial success to the humble spreadsheet,” Karaian writes. “More specifically, a key selling point of the Apple II, the company’s first machine aimed at a mass audience, was VisiCalc, the first electronic spreadsheet program.”

“Today (Oct. 17) is International Spreadsheet Day, marking the day back in 1979 that VisiCalc first shipped for the Apple II,” Karaian writes. “And for two years, you could only run it on the Apple II. ‘We’ve heard of several cases in which Apple II computers have been purchased for the express purpose of running VisiCalc,’ went an article in InfoWorld in 1980. It was, in a sense, the computing era’s first killer app. Apple’s machine became a sensation because of it.”

Much more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Note: Lotus 1-2-3 killed VisiCalc with striking efficiency.


  1. Our corporate Apple IIs in the early 80s had Visicalc but we struggled to use it. Once Lotus 123 came along we were off and running however. My fingers still remember many of the keystroke combinations with 123.

    1. There’s a lot of things from the “old days” that us greybeards can remember …

      However, what MDN missed on their coverage on this topic is to acknowledge that the inventors of VisiCalc (Bricklin & Frankston) pretty much got their IP ripped off by Lotus, MS, etc, as software programs weren’t legally eligible for patents at the time.

  2. For the Mac it was Multiplan from MS that kicked hits off for spreadsheets, Lotus’s answer was “jaZZ”, kind of an underpowered “Symphony”. Then things changed with Excel for Mac which predated Excel for the PC.

  3. I bought my first Apple ][+ specifically to access and employ VisiCalc in my work as an assistant product manager to avoid the boring use of 13-column tabular paper. It was truly revolutionary and wonderful at the time. The introduction of Excel for the Mac (only) drove me to upgrade from the ][ to a Mac. Great days! (Yes, I’m older ‘n dirt)

  4. Ah, the memories. I just made a Lotus 1-2-3 joke yesterday.

    What about the data base program called Incredible Jack? I recall those being contemporaries. But, alas, I can’t recall what I used to type out assignments on my ][e that would have made the trifecta as the word processing program (was it not until iPhones that programs gained the “app” moniker?).

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