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Oral history interview with Dan Bricklin and Bob Frankston
Bricklin, Dan; Frankston, Bob (Charles Babbage Institute, 2004)

Oral history interview with Dan Bricklin and Bob Frankston

Issue Date

Charles Babbage Institute

Oral History

Dan Bricklin and Bob Frankston discuss the creation of VisiCalc, the pioneering spreadsheet application. Bricklin and Frankston begin by discussing their educational backgrounds and experiences in computing, especially with MIT’s Multics system. Bricklin then worked for DEC on typesetting and word-processing computers and, after a short time with a small start-up company, went to Harvard Business School. After MIT Frankston worked for White Weld and Interactive Data. The interview examines many of the technical, design, and programming choices in creating VisiCalc as well as interactions with Dan Fylstra and several business advisors. Bricklin comments on entries from his dated notebooks about these interactions. The interview reviews the incorporation of Software Arts in 1979, then describes early marketing of VisiCalc and the value of product evangelizing. There is discussion of rising competition from Mitch Kapor’s 1-2-3 and the steps taken by Fylstra’s software publishing company Personal Software (later VisiCorp). Part II of the interview begins with Bricklin and Frankston’s use of a Prime minicomputer to compile VisiCalc’s code for the Apple II computer. There is discussion of connections to Apple Computer and DEC, as well as publicity at the West Coast Computer Faire. The two evaluate the Fylstra essay, reviewing the naming of VisiCalc and discussing the division of labor between software developers and Fylstra as a software publisher. They describe the porting of code for versions of VisiCalc for other computers. Talks concerning a possible merger between Personal Software and Software Arts broke down, and instead there was a lawsuit between the companies. Software Arts developed a new product called TK!Solver and became a Macintosh developer. They evaluate the early spreadsheet products, including Kapor’s 1-2-3, Context MBA, Multiplan, and Excel as well as VisiCalc for the IBM PC. There is discussion of the Xerox PARC Alto and Macintosh. The interview was conducted in two parts, first with Martin Campbell-Kelly and the second with Paul Ceruzzi. There are references to an essay prepared by Dan Fylstra, circulated privately at the 2004 meeting and subsequently posted on the web (see “The Creation and Destruction of VisiCalc” in footnote).

Computer history
Alusic, Valdeane
Apple Computer, Inc.
BASIC (Computer program language)
Compilers (Computer programs)
Computer programming. -- History
Computer software -- Development.
Computer software -- Marketing
Computer software industry -- United States -- History.
Corbató, F. J.
Diffie, Whitfield.
Digital Equipment Corporation
Esber, Edward M., Jr.
Fylstra, Dan
Gilmore, Jack
Harvard Business School
Heinmiller, Paulyn
IBM Personal Computer
Interactive Data Corporation (2001- )
Jobs, Steven, 1955-
Lange, Julian
Kapor, Mitchell
Lotus 1-2-3 (Computer file)
Macintosh II (Computer)
Massachusetts Institute of Technology. -- Computation Center
Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Architecture Machine Group
Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Student Information Processing Board
Microsoft Excel (Computer file)
National Computer Conference
Personal Software
PL/I (Computer program language)
Prime Computer, Inc.
Project MAC (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)
Reed, David
Rosen, Ben
Sachs, Jonathan
SATN (Software Arts Technical Notes)
Software Arts
Steinberg, Seth
West Coast Computer Faire
Xerox Alto
Xerox PARC (Firm)

Appears in Collection(s)

Other Identifier(s)
other: OH 402

Transcript, 73 pp.

Suggested Citation
Bricklin, Dan; Frankston, Bob. (2004). Oral history interview with Dan Bricklin and Bob Frankston. Charles Babbage Institute. Retrieved from the University of Minnesota Digital Conservancy,

Content distributed via the University of Minnesota's Digital Conservancy may be subject to additional license and use restrictions applied by the depositor.