Dan Bricklin's Web Site: www.bricklin.com
Why should a product want to be "the next VisiCalc"?
VisiCalc is an example of a pioneering product whose users could migrate their data forward to later products.
Periodically, writers refer to VisiCalc when they want to mention a well-known pioneering program, once the most popular, that was superseded and now rarely used. While it's not the greatest feeling to have people think of one of your creations as an example of "what was and is no longer", it is nice to be remembered enough 20 years later to be used as a common example of something that was dominant. I like this better than not being remembered at all.

I received an email from Leonard Grossman pointing out a story in PCWeek that mentioned VisiCalc as something you may not have wanted to buy. Reading the article, I saw that I didn't agree with the reference. Actually, in this case, you do want to buy something that would be the next VisiCalc when it is superseded. Here's a copy of the email I sent to Michael Caton of PCWeek, the author:


I noticed your mention of VisiCalc in your article "How do you pick an ASP that will last?" on March 27, 2000:

"Will a shakeout in the hosted application space happen, and if so, how do you keep yourself from picking tomorrow's VisiCalc today?"

I believe you've got it backwards: It's "How do you pick the VisiCalc", not "How do you keep from picking the VisiCalc".

Why is this so?

VisiCalc was the dominant product of its time, and was the one from which the inevitable next dominant product, 1-2-3, could import data seamlessly. 1-2-3 is one you can seamlessly move ahead to the current dominant product, Excel. Most of VisiCalc's early competitors, the supposed "VisiClones and CalcAlikes" as they were once referred to, did not have such a smooth migration path.

In the long term, it is unlikely that any particular ASP will survive without you needing to migrate your data to something else.

I understand that you were trying to use VisiCalc as the name of a no longer used product that was superseded, which indeed it was (and for most purposes, Multiplan, SuperCalc, and even DOS 1-2-3 have become, too, along with the lesser known Sylk, ContextMBA, CalcPerfect, etc.). It's fame as a first product helps (what should we use for word processing? IBM MT/ST?) Unfortunately for your example of trusting your data with an ASP today, it is not a very good example.

The issue you bring up, of how do you deal with the fact that it is unlikely most ASPs will be around to maintain your data, is a good one. It should be discussed and careful attention should be paid to it. Your suggestion to go with ones that have the most partners and customers (VisiCalc's situation in its day) doesn't fit with your comparison to staying away from VisiCalc.

Thanks for your time and the article.

-Dan Bricklin
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