A lot of people don't realize that Dan Bricklin should be a household name in the PC business. Back in 1978, he and Bob Frankston came up with the idea of an electronic spreadsheet. Until then, spreadsheets were done on paper. The numbers in the boxes were computed with adding machines, calculators, and probably an abacus or two. And, they were very prone to errors. One year and thousands of lines of code later, VisiCalc was born, the dream became a reality, and Bricklin and Franskton were immortalized in computer industry history as two of the key contributors to the PC revolution. Wordstar (a wordprocessor) was the other killer application and later, Ashton Tate's dBase gave PCs even more traction. But Visicalc literally revolutionized the jobs of the people who controlled the money that was needed to purchase PCs in the first place: the beancounters.
In a sort of renaissance of the spreadsheet, Bricklin is now working on wikiCalc -- a sharable Web-based spreadsheet program that many thought couldn't be done. Well, he's doing it. In single-handedly writing wikiCalc (which will be open sourced), Bricklin is doing what he loves to do most: code. Just prior to a Dave Winer-organized geek-meet-eat-and-greet in Cambridge, MA, I caught up with Bricklin; not just to talk about wikiCalc, but also to do a little industry reminiscing and cover the issue of patents and software. When VisiCalc came out, software couldn't be patented. If it could have been, Bricklin tells us, things might have been different. For one, he says he I might not have been interviewing him in the front seat of his 1999 Honda (although he's such a down-to-earth guy... I actually think I would have been). For another, Bricklin says, he probably wouldn't be working on wikiCalc today. Even so, says Bricklin, he believes that patents and software don't mix.
The interview, one of my personal favorites of all the ones I have done, is available as an MP3 that can be downloaded or, if you’re already subscribed to ZDNet’s IT Matters series of audio podcasts, it will show up on your system or MP3 player automatically. See ZDNet’s podcasts: How to tune in.