Monday, December 13, 2004

Joab Jackson interviews Dan Bricklin

Making software that’s immortal

How long should an agency use a piece of software? Dan Bricklin, co-inventor of the first electronic spreadsheet program, thinks applications should last for centuries. Last summer, Bricklin wrote an essay about this idea called “Software That Lasts 200 Years,” which was widely discussed within the IT industry.

In IT circles, the notion of extending software longevity borders on heresy, given how companies thrive on rapid obsolesce and regular upgrade cycles. Still, Bricklin has argued, as electronic data becomes more central to our daily lives, the tools to manipulate that data are much like the roads, bridges and buildings we use every day. As such, he maintains, software should be commissioned and maintained in much the same way.

Bricklin knows a thing or two about software. In 1979 he co-developed VisiCalc while he was a student at Harvard Business School. Although Lotus 1-2-3 eventually eclipsed VisiCalc in the marketplace, Bricklin has continued to work in the field, both as a consultant and a software developer. In 1985 he formed his own company, Software Garden Inc. of Newton Highlands, Mass., which he still runs today.

Bricklin holds a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and computer science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a master’s degree in business from Harvard University. Staff writer Joab Jackson interviewed Bricklin by phone.

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