Feeds

Word and Excel creator: How Gates, Jobs and HAL shaped Office

Simonyi on the code, people and films that inspired Microsoft

Security and trust: The backbone of doing business over the internet

Back-of-napkin time

Next, Simonyi had lunch with Ethernet man Metcalfe, who'd quit PARC in 1979 to found Ethernet shop 3Com. Simonyi considered Metcalfe suitably "off the reservation" to offer impartial and confidential advice on where to go next. On a napkin Metcalfe wrote down the names of VisiCalc's creators, the "guys" at Digital Research who sold the Control Program for Microcomputers operating system (CP/M) that was used by Intel's 8080 and the Zilog 80 microprocessors (Simonyi doesn't list the names for us but the company was created by Gary Kildall), Seymour Rubenstein, and - oh, yeah - Bill Gates. In fact: "The first guy on the list was Bill. I don't know why," Simonyi tells us.

Next, on a trip to Seattle to meet Boeing and fix a problem with its Altos, Simonyi dropped in on Microsoft, packing his portfolio. Microsoft was small enough then that you could drop in, only Simonyi had gone there under the impression that Metcalfe had arranged a meeting. "I walked in.... and Steve Ballmer was ready to see me," he says. Ballmer had only just joined Microsoft in 1980 as Microsoft's first business manager – hired by Gates.

Simonyi started work in 1981 as director of development for Word and Excel and thereby became the latest PARC person to walk out in frustration. Others, aside from Metcalfe, included PostScript creators John Warnock and Charles Geschke who founded Adobe Systems.

2001 HAL poster

The future of human-computer interaction?

The attitude at Microsoft couldn't have been more different: competitive, commercial, hungry and focused. "I was incredibly impressed by Bill's vision and drive – and there were plenty of resources for the "low-hanging fruit" if we focused on them. Microsoft had been in business for five years and was very profitable," he said.

Simonyi reckons the idea for a suite of personal productivity apps was there from the very start. "We set out to do a suite of apps and we knew what those applications would be," he says: "We didn't know about PowerPoint, but certainly the anchors were spreadsheet and editor, business graphics, database, chart, file and that was pretty much it.

"We wanted to have a common user interface – this was before Windows. We were very much aware of the visual UI more than practically anyone and we were biding our time for the hardware to catch up to the software possibility," Simonyi tells us. "We bought a Xerox Star so everybody at the organisation could understand the direction we were going in."

The Xerox 8010 Star Information System - known simply as the Star - was PARC's successor to the Alto in 1981, building on concepts, its hardware and software laid down by the Alto. The Star featured a 384K memory expandable to 1.5Mb, a two-button mouse, Ethernet networking, micro-sliced processor, 17-inch display and Star desktop and application suite for text editor, graphics or spreadsheet. Documents could be placed on the desktop, filed or binned, icons arranged, and you could perform simple commands like move, copy, open and delete.

Around that time, Microsoft had a Word app - MultiTools for Word - and a spreadsheet, Multiplan, but no Windows and Microsoft was writing its apps for other people's platforms. This was a time when the PC platform wars raged with no clear winner.

So many platforms, just one Microsoft

Microsoft Excel precursor Multiplan ran on MS-DOS, used by IBM on its PCs, Mac, CP/M, Xenix, Commodore 64 and other operating systems in 1982. Simonyi's Excel spreadsheet debuted on Apple's Mac in September 1985 – Jobs and Woz released the Mac in January 1984 – using the Excel name for the first time: Excel for Mac. Windows 1.0 didn't arrive until November 1985, with Multiplan re-written and re-branded Excel in 1987.

Word predecessor MultiTools for Word was written for Xenix in 1983 and ported to MS-DOS for IBM in 1983, Mac in 1985 and others before being re-written for Windows in 1989.

Office didn't come into existence until 1990, a marketing touch from the ex-Apple software development manager turned director of applications marketing Jeff Raikes. Simonyi doffs his engineering hat to Raikes. "Office was a brilliant marketing idea," he says of the bundle that threw together two of the most commonly performed desktop work activities.

"The acquisition of PowerPoint was an important addition," he adds. Microsoft bought PowerPoint with the acquisition of Forethought in 1987. Raikes' marketing team also came up with the Excel name, which Simonyi says was an important concept in the 1980s.

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk

More from The Register

next story
New 'Cosmos' browser surfs the net by TXT alone
No data plan? No WiFi? No worries ... except sluggish download speed
'Windows 9' LEAK: Microsoft's playing catchup with Linux
Multiple desktops and live tiles in restored Start button star in new vids
iOS 8 release: WebGL now runs everywhere. Hurrah for 3D graphics!
HTML 5's pretty neat ... when your browser supports it
Mathematica hits the Web
Wolfram embraces the cloud, promies private cloud cut of its number-cruncher
Mozilla shutters Labs, tells nobody it's been dead for five months
Staffer's blog reveals all as projects languish on GitHub
'People have forgotten just how late the first iPhone arrived ...'
Plus: 'Google's IDEALISM is an injudicious justification for inappropriate biz practices'
SUSE Linux owner Attachmate gobbled by Micro Focus for $2.3bn
Merger will lead to mainframe and COBOL powerhouse
iOS 8 Healthkit gets a bug SO Apple KILLS it. That's real healthcare!
Not fit for purpose on day of launch, says Cupertino
prev story

Whitepapers

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops
Balancing user privacy and privileged access, in accordance with compliance frameworks and legislation. Evaluating any potential remote control choice.
WIN a very cool portable ZX Spectrum
Win a one-off portable Spectrum built by legendary hardware hacker Ben Heck
Storage capacity and performance optimization at Mizuno USA
Mizuno USA turn to Tegile storage technology to solve both their SAN and backup issues.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
The next step in data security
With recent increased privacy concerns and computers becoming more powerful, the chance of hackers being able to crack smaller-sized RSA keys increases.