There was a time through the 1970’s when spreadsheets were synonymous with ledger books and paper as shown below. Of course, you can still purchase ledger paper at any office supply store, and many accountants still use ledgers for light bookkeeping and budgeting tasks.
However, by the early 1980's the world marveled as the first electronic spreadsheets found their way onto the personal computers of the day. My introduction to electronic spreadsheets began with VisiCalc (Electronic Arts). Below is a screenshot of VisiCalc as it would have appeared on my Apple //e computer back in 1983. At the time, VisiCalc amazed me with its capabilities and potential. Remarkably, VisiCalc still runs on today’s computers (follow the link below for instructions and a free download of the program).
VisiCalc (Electronic Arts)
VisiCalc was soon followed by the introduction of Lotus 1-2-3 (Lotus Development), which by the mid-1980's was the best selling electronic spreadsheet program on the market. Lotus 1-2-3 (shown below) boasted improved speed and functionality over VisiCalc, as well as the addition of integrated graphing capabilities.
Lotus 1-2-3 (Lotus Development)
However, the emergence of Windows (Microsoft) in 1987 was quickly joined by the arrival of Excel (also Microsoft) as shown below. By the mid-1990's, Windows and Excel had become industry standards in the fast-growing technology sector.
Excel 2.1p (Microsoft)
The spreadsheet technology available today has certainly come a long way since VisiCalc, Lotus 1-2-3, and the early editions of Excel. The latest version of Excel (shown below) now reigns as the the most ubiquitous software application in the world, and is widely regarded to be an essential business intelligence and personal productivity tool with unparalleled capacities to support problem-solving and decision-making.
Excel 2010 (Microsoft)
I have omitted a number of other less popular spreadsheet applications from this short history. However, all spreadsheet programs (including Excel) trace their lineage to the paper ledgers of years past. Some say that spreadsheets have seen their day and will eventually be replaced by something new. Perhaps, but I suspect that whatever comes next will still somehow resemble plain old ledger paper.
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