MARKS OF ESTEEM
History Of The Microcomputer Revolution
The Killer Application
By 1979 there were lots of microcomputers and a fair number of
software programs, including word processing and accounting programs. The industry was somewhat standardized on an operating
system - CP/M - although there were notable exceptions like Radio Shack and Apple, and the Apple II had emerged as an
industry star, with its sound, graphics, and sleek design. But these programs duplicated what was already existing on
mainframe and minicomputers, and in a horse race - micros really were out of the running.
What the industry needed was a Killer application
- a software program that would let a microcomputer do something the other bigger computers
couldn’t do, and a MIT graduate named Dan Bricklin - came up with an idea. Dan already was
a computer programmer, working on - you guessed it - DEC minicomputers - but when the microcomputer market
began to happen, he realized that the people who used them would want powerful but simple
to use business-oriented programs. He went back to graduate school at Harvard and came up with the idea of creating a
program designed for generic business applications that would let people work with numbers on a microcomputer; build financial
models, and have the computer do all the calculating. What will our profit be if we sell 10,000 gizmos at fifty cents
each? What if our inventory expenses rise suddenly?
O The concept was the traditional accounting worksheet with its
rows and columns, except that everything would be magically hooked together - so that if a value in one row changed -
any other values it effected would automatically be recalculated and changed. This would be a calculator program that would
show you visibly onscreen the results - hence he named it Visicalc...
- The market for it - was virtually every small business and corporation
in the world. Even though big corporations had big computers, there was a tremendous backlog in submitting jobs and getting
work back - weeks, months, even years. Rather than depending on centralized data processing departments, across the country
thousands of corporate midmanagers were doing it themselves - working with traditional paper spreadsheets, penciling in
amounts, changing, erasing, and using desktop calculators to create reports such as forecasts and budgets. Small business
people were doing the same thing.
In actually writing the program, Dan Bricklin didn’t even have
his own microcomputer, but he met up with another Dan who was already writing and marketing micro software - Dan Fylstra
- who felt they should write it for the industry star - the Apple II. They actually first wrote it using a procedure which
should be familiar to those of you who have been following the series. Yes - using a DEC minicomputer they created an
Apple II emulator program initially. Later, they wrote it on a real Apple II . In a few months they had a finished product
designed specifically for Apple computers. The market response was incredible, because this was not just computer hardware
and software - it was a complete business solution.
Managers could buy an Apple II with Visicalc, bring it into their departments,
and immediately increase their productivity. Budgets and forecasts
that traditionally took weeks could now be done in hours.
Word spread so quickly and so many people recognized the productivity
potential that people would walk into computer stores asking for a Visicalc system, as if it was all one thing. This was
the true killer application that launched the industry - it appealed to virtually everyone - from the corporation - to
small business - to home users. And you could buy the whole thing for only a couple thousand dollars - put it almost anywhere
and learn it quickly - it was a small, portable, productivity system.
Visicalc was soon modified to run on other microcomputers; Radio Shack
at first, then others . But the most significant point
here is that people were buying a ready made solution and microcomputers were beginning to infiltrate American corporations
by the thousands. This was a case of the tail wagging the dog - a hundred dollar piece of software was selling a two
thousand dollar computer, and sales increased exponentially into the millions.
The industry had grown from hobbyists and long haired kids in
garages into a business market generating serious money, and on the sidelines the world’s largest computer company had
been watching and studying it. Next week we’ll learn how IBM planned to get a piece of the action, but ended up getting
a whole lot more than they bargained for.
History of the Microcomputer Revolution
The Historic Background.
The Revolution Begins.
The Washington State Connection.
High School Kid’s Computer Company.
The World’s First Commercially Available PC.
What good is a computer without Software?.
Send in the Clones.
The First Operating System Standard.
Home Brewing and Computers Named Apple.
The Deal of The Century.
A Walk in the PARC.
Send in the Clones again - Freud would have said GUI-Envy.
The PC Industry at Age 11 in 1986.
Will the Circle Be Unbroken?.