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1/ The origin of what would be called Microsoft Excel [original code name Plan 2.0 and then Odyssey] can be traced to a retreat at the Red Lion hotel in Bellevue in October of 1983. Bill Gates, Jeff Raikes, Doug Klunder, Jabe Blumenthal, Pete Higgins and others were there.
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2/ Microsoft Multiplan version 1.00 for MS-DOS shipped on August 1, 1982 and had a valuable feature called re-calc. In 1981 there were about 70 or 80 different personal computer architectures (e.g., 6502, Apple II, Z80, CPM/80, MS-DOS, CPM/86). Mutliplan ran on all of them.
3/ January 20, 1983 Lotus shipped 16-bit 1-2-3, which finished a short fiscal year with about $53 million in revenue. The three key features of Lotus 1-2-3 were: faster spreadsheets, bigger spreadsheets and built-in business graphics, all of which were well mapped to the IBM PC.
4/ Bill Gates: “Multiplan targeting the 8-bit machines was a huge error. When we talk about, 'Are we aiming too low, in terms of system requirements,' we often think: 'Is this another case like Multiplan?' because it was a great product, but the basic strategy was wrong."
5/ In 1984 a controversial decision was made to focus Excel on graphical user interface which meant the first target for Excel wouldn't be PC character user interface. but rather the Apple Macintosh. Bill Gates: “We picked the Mac and they didn’t. They just didn’t do it.” 1989
6/ Bill Gates: “At [the] time [Microsoft committed to the Macintosh] we decided our app strategy would be to emphasize the Macintosh and win there, then roll back to the PC when graphical interfaces become popular.” InfoWorld, January 29, 1990
7/ Jeff Raikes: “Lotus Jazz was going to ship a little before Excel so we were trying to fend it off and so we put together a bundle of Microsoft Word, Microsoft File, Microsoft Chart and Microsoft Multiplan.” The "first version of Microsoft Office was in January of 1985."
8/ 1-2-3 was doing so well on DOS that making Mac the first bet with Excel and doing Windows later was low downside but big upside. "Porting code to other platforms always took longer than many people thought. People forget how long it took to create an integrated Office suite."
9/ My favorite DM response: "People forget how audacious the decision was. Mac wasn’t selling well, had a black and white tiny screen, etc." But just matching 1-2-3 wasn't the right decision. The best decision was the big upside but small downside bet on Excel on the Mac.
10/ Since enough people liked this thread more detail: IBM considered the Motorola 68000 for the first IBM PC (which Apple would later use in the Mac). Bill Gates argued in favor of the 68000. IBM chose Intel since the Motorola was too expensive and 68000 wasn't really ready.
11/ When "the Excel on Mac before IBM PC" decision was made by Microsoft the 286 based PCs were thought to be too slow for Windows to run well. Windows needed the 386. Putting Microsoft developers on the Mac moved them along the learning curve on doing graphics applications.
12/ The exclusive given to Apple was for a limited period and the delay in the Mac shipment meant the period was quite short anyway. Excel was a depth application; Works was for breadth users. Not trying to create all on one applications like Symphony enabled Microsoft to focus
13/ Originally APPL was going to pay MSFT a $10 per MAC shipped royalty but that ended when MSFT convinced APPL that they needed third party developers. So MSFT was able to direct to end customers on the Mac. A "switcher" was created to allow shifting between applications.
14/ Did Motorola gift the market to Intel by not pricing the 68000 lower as was done with DOS vs CP/M? Did Motorola not take: (1) demand elasticity; and (2) the fact that they were creating a pricing umbrella for competitors, into account?
15/ IBM's decision to go with Intel rather that use Motorola's 68000 for the PC is 1) any interesting and important part of history; and 2) an example of "Rashomon effects" in that some people who were actually involved remember events in different ways. I must be very careful.
16/ Charles Simonyi describes the importance of Xerox PARC and Bob Taylor who “wrote the first check for ARPANET [and then at PARC] was responsible for the personal computer, at least the first personal computer. ...He was a great people collector.”…
17/ A history of Xerox PARC is here:… "the world’s first bit-mapped display, graphical user interface with windows and icons, WYSIWYG (What You See is What You Get) editor, local area network/file storage, and commercial mouse." + Ethernet & laser printer.
PARC History - PARC
If you’re reading this on a computer, it’s more than likely we’ve played a part in making that happen. This is because at PARC, we’ve been pioneering
18/ The Alto PC was first conceived in December 1972 by PARC’s Butler Lampson as described in this memo:… One person called his Alto PC a “gozunda” as in “it goes under the desk.”
19/ Simonyi, Lampson and other colleagues created the first WYSIWYG text editor at PARC. Bravo software ran on Alto machines which were not affordable for mass markets. An initial run of 80 units was produced by Designlabs. Chuck Thacker said just Alto’s BOM was $12K.
20/ Simonyi: "2001 [A Space Odyssey] was a new film and the displays there had a big impact on me. I also remember some science fiction I read in the late '50s that described CAD-CAM, which is a form of WYSIWYG." The phrase was borrowed from Flip Wilson's routine on "Laugh In."
21/ Simonyi: "I realized I was a snob was when I saw VisiCalc running on an Apple machine. The word processing programs [at the time] I never took seriously because we were so much better on the Alto. But when I saw VisiCalc I said 'wow'."
22/ “Jobs kept saying that he couldn’t believe that Xerox had not commercialized the technology. “You’re sitting on a gold mine,” he shouted. “I can’t believe Xerox is not taking advantage of this.” Page 97
Steve Jobs
Walter Isaacson, Dylan Baker: 9781442394933: Books
23/ Bill Gates: “Xerox did a poor of taking commercial advantage... because its machines were expensive… Translating great research into products that sell is still a big problem for many companies." Page 58
The Road Ahead
Bill Gates: 9780670859139: Books
After using PCs for years, I remember the powerful mix of emotions the first time I used a Star workstation at Xerox HQ in 1992: simultaneously impressed by the advanced technology and depressed at the missed opportunity.
As you know well, Motorola was run almost entirely by engineers who believed strongly that their technology was superior and that it would prevail & crush Intel. Later, this repeated itself in the RISC vs CISC wars.
It was hard to make a low cost 68000 PC because of the price of the processor but, probably more importantly, the cost of memory chips. It had a 16 bit data bus vs the 8088's 8 bit. So needed 16 data chips vs 8. Wasn't until the 68008 you saw low cost implementations.
Motorola could have forward priced the chip to fend off Intel. They are of course now deceased. The RAZR was another mispriced product as was iDEN and Iridium satellites.
Yes but lowering the price would not have allowed OEMs to produce systems price compatible with the Intel systems because of the necessary extra cost of the 16 bit vs 8 bit data bus.
My argument is that MOT could have been the standard not Intel. Intel would have needed to be compatible with the 68000. Intel's leap from memory to compute under Grove was tenuous and not an assured. win
I worked closely with MS at the time (Logica were were part of the Xenix consortium with MS & SCO, in US and HCR in Canada), OEMs complained far more about the H/W cost of supporting the 68000 than the cost of the chip. Same with the Zilog Z8000 and beautiful NS 320xx processors
First attempt at a Motorola 68000 PC was the 1982 Tandy TRS80 Model 16. It was an expensive failure despite Microsoft's best efforts to support it with software (it's why MS licensed Unix from AT&T). Gates was very anxious to help Tandy as they were a v important OEM at the time.
I asked Bill my 68000 question this morning. On Unix I disagree. MSFT created Xenix for a number of reasons one of which was to have a horse in every race.
I talked to Bill at the time. As always, he saw an amazing number of possibilities. But Tandy was in a hole as DR failed to produced a Moto version of MP/M and he dug them out of a hole. He also completely outsmarted AT&T on licensing, but that's another story:)
People forget how young he was when he was outsmarting the giants. Bill and I were born in 1955.
Yes. Youth was a card he played well. We used to remark on the fact that his clothes were two sizes too big for him. As though he was expected to grow into them. You are both 6 years younger then me. Outsmarting AT&T wasn't that hard. Telecoms companies are both dumb and vicious
Former Lotus 1-2-3 developer here. In fact, with a subsequent release of the product Lotus aimed at a multiplatform strategy including ports to DOS, OS/2, Mac and (gulp) VMS and mainframe. Mac version, which was beautiful, won many awards.
Multiplatform strategy was, interestingly, fundamentally sound. However, the big bet on OS/2 was not.
and holding off on a Windows port for so long (I was told on purpose?)...
The take away from the case study is that you can't just match an other offering that has momentum and expect to win. You need to change the game somehow like was done with "Excel 1st on Mac." MSFT was run by someone technical so the % of people who would write code was higher
True, although I did the port of 1-2-3 to NeXT 😀
thanks to flu I cannot remember the name of the Lotus spreadsheet that wasn't 1-2-3 that I think was first on NeXT, that had some really unusual though now routine ideas. Improv? Changed things up a bit, more than the arguably more advanced Quattro Pro
It was indeed Improv. Long story behind it, we originally were planning to move 1-2-3 to NeXT (which is what I did) but Steve wanted "new and cool," not really understanding that Improv wasn't really a spreadsheet, more what today we'd call a BI tool.
One of the people I consulted before I sent my tweet storm was Mike Slade who was at MSFT early and at NeXt. He was also at Apple reporting to Steve for 7 years. Also CEO of Starewave. He has seen all sides.
circling back to Excel, I think a lot of its longevity is the ability to incorporate those kinds of new tools and bring them to the mainstream audience. I wrote something of a love letter to Excel this time last year ;)
Every IT department on the planet runs on Excel.
that *may* not be a good thing, but it's a true thing
This is right on, espec the last sentence!
I was also very pleased with the line "Looking for something like Excel that has co-editing and an app store? Try Excel!"
Yes, that was certainly true, although a bit more complicated. Lotus had a very close relationship with IBM (even pre-acq) including many former IBM VP's in senior positions at Lotus; hence the (clearly incorrect) priority given OS/2.
Manzi tried to say Microsoft had an advantage because it knew Windows was better than OS/2 but Microsoft was the only company that shipped full OS/2 applications as well so his argument doesn't hold up very well.
I'm not sure I agree. In many ways OS/2 was technically superior (pre-emptive multitasking long before Windows) but poorly managed and supported. And when SAA came along it was no wonder MSFT bailed.
Developers and others in the industry making PC hardware IBM only via microchannel after it had been already opened up in markets was never going to happen in anything but theory (just like many OS/2 advanced features!).
I think it's more like this. I was chatting with an OS/2 dev in Boca back in the day, he told me "people buy computers for the OS." Nope. Only a few weeks later a Windows dev in Redmond told me "people buy computers for the apps." Yep.
if the apps are equal people will choose for the OS, the price, the hardware, the coolness & other secondary features. But the OS features that matter to then are more the way eg the file handler works than the technicalities - unless an app needs those
Agreed, but was thinking at the time that IBM just didn't "get" that people want computers to solve their problems for them -- which apps do but not OS's. Feel better, Mary!!
I can't wait to get well; almost a week now. Arguments about OS responsibilities like device support when I can think more clearly
BG: "Microsoft will never have an easier product to sell than Office. It’s all features. Systems are hard.” Forbes, February 28, 1994 “Five years ago, a lot of improvements in applications were just throwing features in. Now we have to understand what people want to do.” 1992
And only now are we beginning to understand scenario-focused design😀
I will never forget the technical support call I had with IBM for OS/2 when they told me they didn't recommend using the amount of RAM I had; it was literally what was printed on the box ;)
yeah and if I remember correctly there was a shipped version of Warp that didn't print. Did.not.print. To any kind of printer. Something about "we'll fix it with a patch disk."
oh yeah. The number of printer drivers was pretty low anyway
another never forget moment was the confetti canon at the Warp launch at the London Planetarium. IRA bombings had not long stopped and a fair few journalists hit the deck when it went off.
I was in a room of IBM Marketing execs when Ballmer did an Excel on Windows demo - the room full of 1-2-3 users was blown away, entirely by the look. The IBMers looked at one another and said 1) how do we use this to kill hardware clones (I shit you not), & 2) OS2 is gonna kill.
Most amazing thing is the Red Lion is still there! 😀
Excellent thread
Shouldn't Visicalc get a mention?
Had it in the thread but cut it as too boring. In 1961, Professor Richard Mattessich pioneered the development of computerized spreadsheets. LANPAR" LANguage for Programming Arrays was 1969. VisiCalc was first on a PC but 1-2-3 had knocked them flat by the time of Excel decision.
Great thread, Tren. This is so interesting
I cut out lots of material I thought people would find boring. VisiCalc era etc. It is hard to please everyone.
Should’ve kept!
Quattro Pro!
I had a lot more material but I left it out because it thought it was too boring. Visicalc etc. Nine tweets in the storm about a historical topic seemed long.
Put it all in a blog for us historians tren
The two experts in the linked article I sent explain it better than I can. AGI isn't remotely the same as what was described in the NYT article about an algo learning to play chess.
That is what is also called Red Ocean/Blue Ocean strategy. Blue Ocean is compete in a different space. Lot of variables would drive the execution.
This raises the concept of a “profitable beachhead.” Mac was definitely such for Excel. Underrated but also important was Europe for Multiplan and Word as a profitable beachhead.
And Mac for Word and PowerPoint.
Bill Gates: "With Word (after Multiplan), we’d hired Charles Simonyi from Xerox PARC. We knew that graphics interface was where it’s at. We knew that laser printers were going to be very big. We designed something whose underlying structure was ready for the graphical world."
"There was a family of products that we called the Multi-Tool Family of products. There was Multi-File and Multi-Chart. The user interface was identical to the Multiplan user interface. Our color at the time was green." BG
And DOS Works at the low end in Central Europe.
That was later - DOS Works shipped fall 87 about the same time as first version of Windows Excel.
Trivia: The first version of Multiplan to ship was actually Microsoft's Japanese product on the Mitsubishi Melco 16 bit machine (before Microsoft shipped the Apple II product in August of 1982). Kay Nishi involved in that? In 1982 the annual revenue of ASCII Microsoft was $20M.
Later than the start of the thread, earlier than the end of the thread :-)
And also part of this history, software developers like WordPerfect needed to deal with the Windows side of Microsoft, which supposedly NEVER spoke to the Word team ;-)
Tren, what prompted this bit of nostalgia?
Thinking about opportunities and challenges I face today in my day job. History does not repeat but it rhymes.
Indeed it does. Isn’t this era more akin to the late 90s with protocols and apis emerging laying the ground work for new platforms? Aggregating component value feels like a different stanza or verse of the rhyme. Just a thought...
Giambattista Vico about History
omg i was thinking the same thing. where did this thought suddenly come from?
I often think about how Lotus was one of the huge companies of its time and sold for just $3 billion. Today many companies raise that much before they are profitable.
I knew that Microsoft was on Mac, but didn’t realize Office preceded Windows.
Spreadsheets are a vastly underrated invention of the past century. It would be difficult to do most of today's business planning or managing without them. Unsexy, but essential.
Very true, and VisiCalc was the genesis.
Electronic versions go back to 1961. Visicalc was first on a PC.…
Before computerization, a spreadsheet was paper in a ledger book containing oversized sheets that made numbers spreadable. Columns and rows on the sheets of paper enabled manual entry of data using a pen or pencil.…
This is how the finances of the garage I worked in were done. Rows were invoices. Columns were billing categories (labor, parts, tires, etc). The accountant would sum the rows and columns with a calculator. Row and column sums had to agree or there was a math error somewhere.
My graduate advisor told the tale of an entire dissertation over multiple years consisting of the paper calculation of an ANOVA.
My mom “kept the books” for various organizations when I was a kid. It was a paper book, pencil, and adding machine affair. The adding machine plugged into the wall and continually and loudly printed on a thin scroll of paper.
Thanks. I just thought they copied Lotus.
(There was another code name you didn’t mention 😉)
I talked to both Pete Higgins and Mike Slade and they said that was never a real Excel code name so I intentionally left it out.
Yep. Pete Higgins says it was never a real code word. Just a humorous reference he says.
Proposed product name rather than code name. But proposed by people who don’t get to name things...
Lots of facts and stories would have made a 4K word 25IQ essay rather than a tweetstorm. I know where all the bodies are buried.
Number Buddy wasn’t what I was referring to 😉
...although “Buddy” almost sounds similar.
Buddha was a Borland code name wasn’t it?
"Borland's Quattro Pro 2.0 — code-named Buddha..." Assume the position.
Oh... I had folks from Office tell me that was an Excel codename. One which they said Bill hated. Guess you can’t believe some people sometimes!
Once Novell bought them, the position was “bent over a table”. Novell used WP and Borland as a piggy bank, and not much else.
I don't make a move on something like this without consulting with Mike in advance.
He's the best! I was just tagging him so he could see it. Thanks for the great history.
Thank you. Great refresh on the development of the PC market. (My first was a 1984 086 IBM XT...purchased with Samna Word Processor Application and dot matrix printer. ~$4,500.)