30 Years of spreadsheets

You probably didn’t experience them till much later, but 2009 is the 30th anniversary of the beloved spreadsheet. Developed by Dan Bricklin and Bob Frankston, it was said to be the first application that turned computers into serious business tools.

Amazingly, these pioneers didn’t patent their program, and the idea was copied by Lotus 1-2-3 and of course the behemoth that is Microsoft Excel. Business people immediately saw how such an application could speed up bureaucracy and make financial modeling much faster. John C. Dvorak angrily writes that, ‘society as a whole has deteriorated ever since its invention,’ which is quite a statement! That may be an exaggeration, but it’s true that things like the Enron financial scandal may not have happened without spreadsheets.

My immediate reaction to spreadsheets was intimidation. For such a common tool, the programs are still really complex, and you need a degree of expertise before you begin to feel comfortable using them. Despite this they are inescapable, whether you like it or not.

If you start to imagine doing what spreadsheets do manually, you can see how much easier office life has become. The hours of tedious calculation that humans have been liberated from is probably reason enough to celebrate.

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