Steven Levy, republishing a piece he originally wrote for the November 1984 issue of Harper’s:
The problem with ledger sheets was that if one monthly expense went up or down, everything – everything – had to be recalculated. It was a tedious task, and few people who earned their MBAs at Harvard expected to work with spreadsheets very much. Making spreadsheets, however necessary, was a dull chore best left to accountants, junior analysts, or secretaries. As for sophisticated “modeling” tasks – which, among other things, enable executives to project costs for their companies – these tasks could be done only on big mainframe computers by the data-processing people who worked for the companies Harvard MBAs managed.
Bricklin knew all this, but he also knew that spreadsheets were needed for the exercise; he wanted an easier way to do them. It occurred to him: why not create the spreadsheets on a microcomputer?
I can’t think of another invention that has done more for office worker productivity in the last half-century. With a few key presses, I can accomplish in a matter of minutes what would take an entire department weeks to accomplish in the late 1970s. And yet, it’s quite amazing how little the ‘electronic spreadsheet’ has changed over the years, with the main interface – a simple grid of rows and columns – essentially unchanged.
(Via Planet Money)