Lesson 2


Birth and Evolution of the Electronic Spreadsheet

The category of software that Excel occupies is known as the spreadsheet. The spreadsheet has evolved through several iterations from its humble beginnings in the late 1970s to present day.

1979: Dan Bricklin and the First Electronic Spreadsheet – VisiCalc
Dan Bricklin is considered the father of the spreadsheet. While a student at Harvard Business School, Bricklin desired a better way to manipulate numbers.  His desire was primarily fueled from the business school frustration of writing columns of numbers manually with pen and paper, only to discover later that one of the numbers entered was incorrect. Having one incorrect number invalidated all of the other columns of numbers which based their values on the incorrect number. This mistake usually required a manual recompilation of all of the other data. Bricklin knew there had to be an easier way.

Bricklin’s answer came to him in the form of the Apple II personal computer platform, using an electronic spreadsheet program he developed. This first electronic spreadsheet program became what is known as VisiCalc, a shortened name for its function as a visual calculator. VisiCalc does all of the primary basic functions of what a modern spreadsheet does today.

The primary basic function of a spreadsheet includes creating columns of data with the ability to change any number and have that change automatically update all other numbers associated with that changed number. This primary functional ability of automatically updating numbers completely revolutionized the way business conducts accounting, inventory control processes, and other number-intensive applications.

More importantly, this new way of entering and manipulating numbers freed up the labor-intensive time that business accounting routinely took to enter numbers manually with pen-and-ink onto paper. This new electronic spreadsheet called VisiCalc was instrumental in fundamentally changing the way America conducted business. Primary business areas affected were accounting, finance, commodities, inventory control, and any other business involved in manipulating numbers.

1983: IBM Lotus 1-2-3
A company called Lotus Works, which would later become part of IBM, released a software program called Lotus 1-2-3 in 1983. Lotus 1-2-3 is an electronic spreadsheet modeled after VisiCalc, but with additional features. Lotus quickly overtook VisiCalc, and eventually became the dominant electronic spreadsheet program throughout the 80s and 90s. The main PC platform for Lotus 1-2-3 was the IBM PC, released in 1981. Bundling Lotus 1-2-3 with the IBM PC was a big factor in phenomenal IBM PC sales. Due to Lotus’s popularity, many business users were purchasing the IBM PC so they could use Lotus 1-2-3. IBM quit producing Lotus in 2013 and officially ended support in 2014. There are still thousands of active Lotus users and if you receive a Lotus file from a colleague or friend, you can import it into Excel for conversion into an Excel workbook.

1985: Microsoft Excel
The initial release of Microsoft Excel Version 1.0 in 1985 was used by the Apple Macintosh computer only. In 1987, Microsoft Excel Version 2.0 would be the first official Excel version released specifically for a regular IBM compatible type PC. There would be several other releases of Excel, although for our purposes there are two primary generations of Excel to keep in mind.
1st Generation of Excel Versions 1997 – 2003

Excel versions from 1997 through 2003 have a binary-based infrastructure and are considered the previous generation of Excel. They are still compatible with the current 2016 version of Excel. Although they are compatible, they have limited functionality because of the big difference of features between this older generation of Excel and the new generation of Excel versions.

2nd Generation of Excel Versions 2007 – Present
Excel can be used with the Windows, MacOS, iOS, and Android operating systems. Excel versions from 2007 to present day are considered the new generation of Excel, primarily because these versions (2007-2019) of Excel are built using XML. This was a considerable change from the older, binary-based infrastructure of the previous generation of Excel versions. The advantages of the change from binary-based to XML-based Excel versions are outlined next. Excel overtook Lotus 1-2-3 in the 1990s as the number one spreadsheet application and maintains that status today.

Excel Compatibility Mode
When an Excel workbook created in an Excel version from 1997 through 2003 (.xls file extension) is opened in an Excel version from 2007 – present (.xlsx file extension), Excel automatically goes into the Compatibility Mode. You will know you are in the Compatibility Mode because you will see the words “Compatibility Mode” displayed across the top of the screen, next to the filename. In FIGURE 1 below is an example of how it is displayed. It will be up at the top of the Excel screen next to the filename.

Figure 1

Since we will have limited ability to use features of the Excel version being used, it is recommended that you convert this older Excel file to the current Excel version. Conversion is accomplished by selecting the File tab, select Info while in the Backstage View, and select the Convert button located at the top of the screen. The Convert button will only appear if there is a file open that needs conversion. Below in FIGURE 2 shows what we will see in the Info section of the Backstage View.

Figure 2


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