Mitch Kapor on spreadsheets, Magellan, etc


Yesterday, a NYT tech column suggested that Mitch Kapor of Lotus was responsible for the fundamental innovation of the spreadsheet.

Today I said, quoting Dottie Hall, that actually Dan Bricklin and Bob Frankston had invented the spreadsheet, with VisiCalc for the Apple II -- but Kapor had brought it to the PC world with Lotus 1-2-3.

Kapor writes to say that's wrong too!

As long as we're beating a dead frog, let me add my two Linden dollars*: Bill Gross was responsible for Lotus Magellan, not me. I had nothing to do with it.

Also, "and while he (me, that is) can be credited with introducing the spreadsheet for the PC," is not true either. Both VisiCalc and MultiPlan were available when the IBM PC shipped in October 1981. 1-2-3 didn't hit the market until January 1983.

As for Bill Gross: I've written a whole string of articles lauding him for the programs he has created. The only one of these articles I can find online right now is this. from my own days as a NYT tech columnist.** Gross was also the force behind a program I have praised so often I should be on its payroll, X1. (To spell it out: I'm not, and I paid for my copy of X1.) I had assumed that as Kapor was institutionally responsible for Lotus Magellan, but he should know.

And as for spreadsheet genealogy, I have already received so many accounts of how this happened that I have decided to quote only Kapor's for the moment, since the rest have so many variations on points large and small.

* For those embarrassed to ask: Linden dollars are the currency of Second Life.

** Back in my day as NYT tech columnist, the paper ran a correction when I made a mistake. I'm just saying.....

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

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