In 1978, Daniel Bricklin, who was then a masters student in business administration, came up with the idea of an interactive visible calculator and programmed the first working prototype of his concept on an Apple II in Basic.
As the program wasn't really powerful, he asked his friend Bob Frankston who had been working with computers for 15 years, to improve and expand the program. They founded Software Arts Corp. in January 2, 1979 and Frankston turned the Bricklin idea into a powerful and compact spreadsheet program they named VisiCalc, for Visible Calculator.
In October 1979, the first Apple II versions appeared in the computer stores at $100 and VisiCalc became an instant success. About 1 million copies were sold within four years, Software Arts grew from 2 employees to 125, and many businessmen bought an Apple II just to run VisiCalc on. Although Atari, Tandy Commodore and later IBM versions were also launched, Visicalc widely contributed to the commercial success of the Apple II and further Apple systems.
It was said that VisiCalc was the first computer spreadsheet program. However the 'Spreadsheet' term was fist used in 1952, and the first computerized version of an accounting matrix appeared in mid 1960's, programmed in Fortran language. However, at the time, the only way to use such a program was to rent calculation time on a shared system or run it on a mainframe. Both options were cost prohibitive.
Visicalc was in fact the first 'democratic' productivity software which turned first generation of personal computers from toys or game consoles into real business assistants.
VisiCalc was sold to Lotus Development Corporation in 1983 and became the Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheet for the IBM-PC. Other major sequels of Visicalc were SuperCalc for CP/M systems and Quattro Pro from Borland. The first Excel version appeared in 1985 for the Apple Macintosh.
For a complete information about VisiCalc history, don't miss the Dan Bricklin Web site.