Computer Science Illuminated, Third Edition


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Chapter 12: Information Systems

Daniel Bricklin

Many of the people whose biographies appear in this book have been winners of the ACM Turing Award, the highest award given in computer science. The ACM also gives an award for outstanding work done by someone younger than age 35, called the Grace Murray Hopper Award. The charge for this award reads:
   Awarded to the outstanding young
   computer professional of the year . . .
   selected on the basis of a single recent
   major technical or service contribution. . . . The
   candidate must have been 35 years of age or less
   at the time the qualifying contribution was made.

Daniel Bricklin won the Hopper Award in 1981, with the following citation:
   For his contributions to personal computing and, in
   particular, to the design of VisiCalc. Bricklin's
   efforts in the development of the "Visual Calculator"
   provide the excellence and elegance that
   ACM seeks to sustain through such activities as the
   Awards program.

Daniel Bricklin, born in 1951, is a member of the computer generation. He began his college career at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1969 as a math major, but quickly changed to computer science. He worked in MIT's Laboratory for Computer Science, where he worked on interactive systems and met his future business partner, Bob Franksten. After graduation, he was employed by Digital Equipment Corporation, where he worked with computerized typesetting and helped to design the WPS–8 word processing product.

After a very short stint with FasFax Corporation, a cash register manufacturer, Bricklin enrolled in the MBA program at the Harvard Business School in 1977. While there, he began to envision a program that could manipulate numbers much in the same way that word processors manipulate text. As Bricklin realized, such a program would have an immense impact on the business world. He teamed up with his MIT buddy Franksten and turned the dream into a reality. With Bricklin doing the design and Franksten doing the programming, the pair created VisiCalc, the first spreadsheet program.. In 1978, they produced Software Arts to produce and market VisiCalc. In the fall of 1979, a version was made available for the Apple II for $100 per copy. A version for the IBM PC became available in 1981.

Bricklin made the decision not to patent VisiCalc, believing that software should not be proprietary. Although it didn't own a patent on its product, the company grew to 125 employees in four years. Soon, however, another start-up named Lotus came out with a spreadsheet package called Lotus 1–2–3, which was both more powerful and more user-friendly than VisiCalc. Software Arts' sales suffered. After a long expensive court battle between Software Arts and VisiCorp (the company marketing VisiCalc) Bricklin was forced to sell to Lotus Software. In turn, Lotus 1–2–3 was surpassed by Microsoft's Excel spreadsheet program. Both Lotus 1–2–3 and Excel were based on VisiCalc.

After working for a short time as a consultant with Lotus Software, Bricklin again formed a new company. As president of Software Garden, Inc., he developed a program for prototyping and simulating other pieces of software, which won the 1986 Software Publishers Association Award for "Best Programming Tool." In 1990, he cofounded Slate Corporation to develop applications software for pen computers, small computers that use a pen rather than a keyboard for input. After four years, Slate closed its doors, and Bricklin went back to Software Garden.

In 1995, he founded Trellix Corporation, a leading provider of private-label web site publishing technology. He still serves as the company's Chief Technology Officer. When Bricklin was asked to share his view of the Internet, here is his reply as captured by the interviewer.
   "Most people don't understand it. They fail to
   grasp the capabilities of its underpinnings." He
   likens the Net to a primitive road during the early
   days of the automobile, when few saw the potential
   that a massive interstate highway system might
   one day provide. "We need to understand not so
   much the technology," he explains, "but the
   progression of technology and what might be built
   with it. E-commerce, like electricity or the telephone,
   simply enables us to use technology to do
   what we now do, only better."

Additional Links

Dan Bricklin hosts his own website which is definitely worth visiting. He actively updates the material on his site and keeps a personal log that's worth checking out.

Visit the Daniel Bricklin web site
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