Wednesday, January 26, 2011

And the world changed . . .

JANUARY 26, 1983: Lotus begins selling its spreadsheet application for Microsoft DOS, called 1-2-3 and how business is run changed forever. The advent of 1-2-3 and cheap PC's allowed the re-organization of business world-wide.

For example, their appearance allowed all the contracting-out that started in the late 80's, because sole proprietors could now conveniently keep a set of company books. On the government side, it allowed the rise of the VAT, which would have been almost impossible to administer without PC's and 1-2-3. WIRED magazine has a commemoration of this by Dylan Tweney, "Jan. 26, 1983: Spreadsheet as Easy as 1-2-3", that's worthy of perusal.

Spreadsheet software, which seems commonplace and rather boring today, was a major breakthrough for personal computing. Sure, it made it easy to keep track of columns of numbers, such as sales receipts, paychecks, expenses or even athletic records.

But the real power of the spreadsheet was the ability it gave business people to run quick and easy “what-if” calculations. What if we lowered the price of our widgets by $10? What if mortgage rates drop to 5 percent and we refinance? What if we laid off 5,000 workers and shuttered our Kalamazoo plant, then outsourced manufacturing to a Chinese company for less than half the price?

Technology pundit John C. Dvorak has lamented the effects of the “what-if society,” saying that corporate executives have become slavish devotees of spreadsheet scenarios, failing to make decisions based on what customers actually want. But there’s no doubt that the spreadsheet has given companies, both large and small, a far better picture of their bottom lines. For better or worse, that power has transformed American business and the economy.

1 comment:

AtlanticHockey said...

Ah, but we forget that 1-2-3 was not the original spread sheet. That was VisiCalc which ran on the Apple II over 30 years ago. Now it wasn't the greatest - pretty clunky as I remember - but ALL the spreadsheet programs that followed it (SuperCalc and MultiPlan also preceded 1-2-3) built on its basis.