25-year-old App Still at Core of Corporate Computing

By CIOinsight  |  Posted 10-05-2005 Print Email
Twenty-five years later, the classic spreadsheet is still a killer app, and not just for bean counters.

Put your party hats on: this year marks the 25th anniversary of the invention of the digital spreadsheet, a program that most technophiles consider part of the holy triumvirate of software (along with the word processor and the database) that helped usher in the Computer Age.

To commemorate the spreadsheet's longevity, Bill Jelen, a.k.a. "Mr. Excel," has published a kitschy pop-up book, The Spreadsheet at 25: The Evolution of the Invention that Changed the World (Holy Macro! Books, 2005). Jelen runs a popular Web site (www.mrexcel.com) that provides assistance to Excel users, answering as many as 30,000 questions each year.

While the book misses some important points—such as how the digital spreadsheet facilitated the leveraged buyout craze of the 1980s—it does offer a general history of the development of the software, and highlights some of the more creative ways it's been put to use, including flight training, creating birthday cards, even designing quilts.

"That was the most off-the-wall use of the program I have ever seen," says Jelen.

While plenty of bells and whistles have been added over the years, the basic premise of rows, columns and A1 notation has remained virtually unchanged since computer programmers Dan Bricklin and Bob Frankston created the first digital spreadsheet software, VisiCalc, in late 1979.

By 2004, Microsoft Corp. held 90 percent of the market share for digital spreadsheets with Microsoft Excel, with only a handful of competitors (such as Lotus 1-2-3, StarOffice Calc and Quattro Pro) in tow.

Perhaps the most amazing thing about the spreadsheet, however, is its remarkable staying power—and with relatively little updating. This, despite all the new-fangled business-intelligence programs that promise more accurate demand forecasting, just-in-time inventory scheduling and scenario planning.

"I think one of the reasons for its continued success is that Excel is so broad," Jelen says. "No matter what industry you're in, you can build useful models in Excel."



 

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