Oral history interview with Dan Bricklin and Bob Frankston

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Oral history interview with Dan Bricklin and Bob Frankston

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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).


Transcript, 73 pp.

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Dan Bricklin and Bob Frankston, OH 402. Oral history interview by Martin Campbell-Kelly and Paul Ceruzzi, 7 May 2004, Needham, Massachusetts. Charles Babbage Institute, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis. http://purl.umn.edu/113026

Suggested citation

Bricklin, Dan; Frankston, Bob. (2004). Oral history interview with Dan Bricklin and Bob Frankston. Retrieved from the University Digital Conservancy, https://hdl.handle.net/11299/113026.

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