S1E8 VisiCorp VisiCalc – Supplement


This episode features VisiCalc, originally released in 1980 by Personal Software and later in 1982 released by VisiCorp.  It was written by Dan Bricklin and Bob Frankston under Software Arts, Inc.  This program for the Atari 8 bit line of computers was the first commercial spreadsheet for the Atari.  There is a very interesting relationship with the company names, see the show links at the bottom for full details.

Podcast: Download

Box and Manual Scans

I provided these scans to AtariMania as well to replace the scans of the tattered box that was found there.

Scan of the front and back of the box sleeve:

VisiCorp VisiCalc Box Front VisiCorp VisiCalc Box Back


Scan of the front of the box (the back is the same):

VisiCorp VisiCalc Box Inner


Scan of the Manual Cover and the License Agreement Insert:

VisiCorp VisiCalc Manual Cover VisiCorp VisiCalc License Agreement


Scan of the original manual cover and first manual page as developed by Software Arts, Inc, and published by Personal Software, Inc:

VisiCalcManual1Sm Software Arts VisiCalc Manual Cover


First Advertisment

The very first ad was a teaser and placed in Byte Magazine’s May 1979 issue:


VisiCalc First Advertisement


Byte May 1979 Cover:

VisiCalc Byte Magazine May 1979 Cover


Subsequent Ads:

From Compute! November 1980:



Atari Advertising

Here is a full page ad from Atari in 1980 for VisiCalc:

VisiCalc 1980 Full Page Ad


VisiCalc in Action

No splash screens, no menus, boot right into the application and start working – very productive:

VisiCalc Boot Good


Boot failure with a cartridge in:

VisiCalc Boot Failure


Press / to bring up the menu:

VisiCalc Menu


Forward Referencing example:

VisiCalc Forward Reference


Circular Reference example.  Each recalculation causes the value to be further incorrectly calculated:

VisiCalc Circular Reference


Cell replication in several steps, two displayed (range selection, and reference updates):

VisiCalc Cell Replication

VisiCalc Cell Replication

Lookup function in use.  Value in A13 is looked up in range B1 to B11, which lands at B5.  The value to be returned is immediately to the right at C5.  Had the lookup range been in a row, the value returned would need to be immediately below the matching cell:

VisiCalc Lookup Function


The column widths being demonstrated at 9 characters.  Column width effects all columns.  A1 contains .0000007, A2 contains .00000008, A3 contains 88888888, A4 contains 888888888 (one more significant digit than A3).

A6 contains ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ, B6 contains JKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ, C6 contains STUVWXYZ.  All strings terminated at 9 characters:

VisiCalc Column Widths


Example of complete spreadsheet (from the lessons in the manual):

VisiCalc Budget Example


Using split window mode on the budget spreadsheet:

VisiCalc Split Window


Another example of split window, this time using different column widths in each window and the graphing format:

VisiCalc Split Window Graphing



Printing the budget spreadsheet entire range:



Printing the graph spreadsheet formulas:



Cheat Sheet

Pocket Reference download


Show Links:


Bit Rating 8


Intro music is an excerpt from a chip tune by Wizwars named 8 Bit Raceway.  It is used under Creative Common license Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States.

9 thoughts on “S1E8 VisiCorp VisiCalc – Supplement

  1. As always, enjoyed your podcast. VisiCalc on the Atari was the first spreadsheet I ever used. I was a teenager and it was a pirated copy without a manual so it was pretty hard to figure out what it was all about and how to use it as I had to learn by trial and error. As I hardly needed a spreadsheet I remember doing some calculations for my dad, certainly one of the rare occasions when I could do something really “grown-up-useful” with the Atari.

    SynCalc looked a bit niftier but AFAIK it wasn’t as flexible in copying cell references in formulas. (Something to look into when you review it.)

    1. Thanks for the story! It’s always interesting to hear how others used the software as well. I’ll keep the cell references in mind when I feature SynCalc.

  2. Bob Frankston will be at VCF East 10 on Sunday April 19th. I’m looking forward to his talk and maybe getting a copy of the Atari 8-bit version VisiCalc autographed!


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