Feeds

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

Simonyi on the code, people and films that inspired Microsoft

Boost IT visibility and business value

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.

5 things you didn’t know about cloud backup

More from The Register

next story
Why has the web gone to hell? Market chaos and HUMAN NATURE
Tim Berners-Lee isn't happy, but we should be
Apple promises to lift Curse of the Drained iPhone 5 Battery
Have you tried turning it off and...? Never mind, here's a replacement
'Stop dissing Google or quit': OK, I quit, says Code Club co-founder
And now a message from our sponsors: 'STFU or else'
Microsoft boots 1,500 dodgy apps from the Windows Store
DEVELOPERS! DEVELOPERS! DEVELOPERS! Naughty, misleading developers!
Linux turns 23 and Linus Torvalds celebrates as only he can
No, not with swearing, but by controlling the release cycle
Scratched PC-dispatch patch patched, hatched in batch rematch
Windows security update fixed after triggering blue screens (and screams) of death
This is how I set about making a fortune with my own startup
Would you leave your well-paid job to chase your dream?
prev story

Whitepapers

Best practices for enterprise data
Discussing how technology providers have innovated in order to solve new challenges, creating a new framework for enterprise data.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Advanced data protection for your virtualized environments
Find a natural fit for optimizing protection for the often resource-constrained data protection process found in virtual environments.
How modern custom applications can spur business growth
Learn how to create, deploy and manage custom applications without consuming or expanding the need for scarce, expensive IT resources.
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?