Whatever happened to …


When I bought my first computer (TRS-80) at home, I decided that I would write a program to create a marks book for myself. Looking back, it was pretty simplistic; it was basically a collection of two dimensional arrays that contained either names, marks, or a calculation.

Photo by Mika Baumeister on Unsplash

It did take away the drudgery of sitting with a calculator and manually doing all my marks. I had an electrostatic printer that would print the marks and calculations on this strip of metallic paper. From there, I would manually enter them into the mark entry sheeets provided by the school to complete the process. It probably made the process longer than normal but it was something that I wanted to write to keep my skills and my department was impressed. I had included all kinds of statistics to go along with it.

On the nerdy horizon was this thing called VisiCalc. It was a program that allowed you to enter text, numbers, and formulas and any formula that was based on a number or the result of another calculation was automatically recalculated. If I recall, it was priced at $129 at Radio Shack but I wanted it. It was far more flexible than my personal program and when a student wanted to know “what they needed” to get a particular result, we could do so immediately. I remember writing an article for 80-Micro about creating a markbook using the program. It actually became my answer to just about any question. Looking back at that article, it was all about the calculations and so far from the concepts of assessment and evaluation that we treasure today.

If you read the article in the link provided above, you’ll know that VisiCalc was purchased by Lotus of 1-2-3 fame who eventually retired it. But the concept really caught on and inspired greater and greater features. Today’s spreadsheet resembles the original VisiCalc only when it’s open. Could there be any other software that would be considered bloatware?

What brought all this to mind was this article.

35 Classic Excel Hacks, Tips and Tricks for Analytics Professionals on Excel’s 35th Birthday!

Seriously? Excel is 35. I remember life before this Microsoft Product and I’d used and workshopped so many spreadsheet programs. VisiCalc, Lotus 1-2-3, ClarisWorks, AppleWorks, Quattro Pro, Microsoft Works, OpenOffice, Google Sheets, and eventually Microsoft Excel.

But, they all have evolved from the original VisiCalc premise “What if?”. And, for me, I’m always grounded by using a spreadsheet as a marks collection utility.

For a Sunday, your thoughts please…

  • what’s your poison? Microsoft Excel or something else?
  • did you ever use VisiCalc?
  • the current suite of options include paid proprietory, free proprietory, and open source options. Do you have a preference?
  • what would you consider your best spreadsheet creation?
  • have you ever written a spreadsheet that was so complex that you had one spreadsheet calling for values from another spreadsheet?
  • In the original article, VisiCalc was described as “VisiCalc is one of the most important programs ever created for microcomputers.” Agree or disagree?

As always, I’d be most interested in your take on this. Please share your thoughts in the comments.

This post originated at:


If you read it anywher else, it’s not the original.

Published by dougpete

The content of this blog is created by me at the keyboard or as a result of an aggregator of my daily reading under the title OTR Links. On Fridays, look for my signature post "This Week in Ontario Edublogs" where I try to share some great writing from Ontario Educators. The other regular post appears Sunday mornings as I try to start a conversation about things that have gone missing from our daily lives.

3 thoughts on “Whatever happened to …

  1. VisiCalc was the original killer app. It is what tipped the personal computer, originally an Apple II, into the business world and gave people a reason for a computer on every desk. I used it for a while and later moved to Lotus 1-2-3. I also used AmiPro (remember that word processer, which Lotus moved into a suite with 1-2-3. It took me a while to move from 1-2-3 to Excel but I’ve been an Excel di-hard ever since. Excel is still my go to for spreadsheet work.

    I’ve also done a lot of workshops to show teachers how to create a gradebook in Excel. These days it’s not as necessary as a lot of student information systems have the ability built-in. I did use a gradebook as an example for students though. Something they can relate to.


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