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Who Are The All-Time Heroes of i-Technology?

From Ada, Countess of Lovelace to Jamie Zawinski

Dan Bricklin

 

Brief Description: Co-creator of VisiCalc, the first PC spreadsheet

Further details:

The co-creator (with Bob Frankston) of VisiCalc, the first PC spreadsheet, Dan Franklin has been a developer, inventor, entrepreneur, and business person, with both a degree in Computer Science from MIT and an MBA from Harvard.

The idea for the electronic spreadsheet came to Franklin while he was a student at the Harvard Business School, working on his MBA degree, in the spring of 1978. Here's how he tells the story himself:

 

"Sitting in Aldrich Hall, room 108, I would daydream. 'Imagine if my calculator had a ball in its back, like a mouse...' (I had seen a mouse previously, I think in a demonstration at a conference by Doug Engelbart, and maybe the Alto). And '..imagine if I had a heads-up display, like in a fighter plane, where I could see the virtual image hanging in the air in front of me. I could just move my mouse/keyboard calculator around, punch in a few numbers, circle them to get a sum, do some calculations, and answer "10% will be fine!"' (10% was always the answer in those days when we couldn't do very complicated calculations...)

The summer of 1978, between first and second year of the MBA program, while riding a bike along a path on Martha's Vineyard, I decided that I wanted to pursue this idea and create a real product to sell after I graduated."

 

That's just what he did, though his vision became more realistic, and the heads-up display gave way to a normal screen. He and Bob Frankston decided to form a company under which to do business: Software Arts, Inc., incorporated on January 2, 1979.

VisiCalc was first shown to the regular personal computer press in a special room at the West Coast Computer Faire in San Francisco in May of 1979. The first "real" release, version 1.37, shipped in mid-October 1979. In 1985, though, Software Arts' assets were sold to Lotus Development Corporation, the creators and publishers of the 1-2-3 spreadsheet, and Lotus decided not to continue publishing VisiCalc.

"If I invented the spreadsheet today, of course I would file for a patent," Bricklin says on his incredibly candid Web site documenting the rise and fall of VisiCalc. In 1979, however, when VisiCalc was shown to the public for the first time, patents for software inventions were infrequently granted. Programs were thought to be mere mathematical algorithms, and mathematical algorithms, as laws of nature, were not patentable.

His latest endeavor is wikiCalc and textCalc.

More Stories By Jeremy Geelan

Jeremy Geelan is Chairman & CEO of the 21st Century Internet Group, Inc. and an Executive Academy Member of the International Academy of Digital Arts & Sciences. Formerly he was President & COO at Cloud Expo, Inc. and Conference Chair of the worldwide Cloud Expo series. He appears regularly at conferences and trade shows, speaking to technology audiences across six continents. You can follow him on twitter: @jg21.

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Most Recent Comments
Justin Hart 02/18/07 11:20:16 PM EST

Vint Cerf's name is Vinton Cerf, not Vincent Cerf.

pvdg 02/09/07 07:20:28 PM EST

I'd begin with:

N°1 : Charles Babbage (designed the first computer)
N°2 : Konrad Zuse (built the first working computer)

pvdg 02/09/07 07:09:09 PM EST

What about Seymour Cray?

Bill Gates was a "hero of i-Technology" and I didn't know? What technology did he invented?

kjell krona 02/06/07 01:03:36 PM EST

In your list of IT heroes, I am missing some of the important people involved in the Graphical User Interface, as first instantiated in Macintosh UI (and later was copied by Microsoft):
Douglas Engelbart, who at SRI in the 60's invented, among other things, the idea of a mouse, overlapping windows, hypertext, outlining, video collaboration, and many other things that later inspired a lot of people to improve interaction with computers;
Larry Tesler, who at Xerox Parc (working with Alan Kay on Smalltalk) invented among other things the modeless editor and, I believe, cut/copy/paste, and later moved to Apple and worked on the Lisa and Macintosh;
Bill Atkinson, who wrote the "Quickdraw" graphics layer in Macintosh, proving that advanced bitmapped graphics was possible on a low-end processor; the orignal MacPaint, basically the predecessor to Photoshop, without which the graphical world today would be lost; and Apple HyperCard, which with its successors showed what "user programming" could mean, and accustomed people to the idea of "linking" pieces of information with clickable buttons, which subsequently exploded in the World Wide Web.

- kjell

Lars Arvestad 02/06/07 06:04:03 AM EST

|| m6 commented on the 6 Feb 2007:
|| Can someone explain to me why Jamie Z is
|| a hero?

The word "hero" should of course be used sparingly, and probably not in adjunction to "tech", but JWZ holds his place among the Big Hackers, IMHO.

Some of his accomplishments, in no particular order:
* XEmacs. He was one of (the?) main people making a user-friendly version of GNU Emacs.
* XKeyCaps. This little application has really helped me getting a sane keyboard layout under X a few times.
* Mosaic. I believe he was the main hacker on the Unix version of the first "real" browser. And one of the first employees at Netscape.

fm6 02/06/07 05:15:53 AM EST

Can someone explain to me why Jamie Z is a hero? I only know him from reading his comments in the Netscape keyboard resource file when I was trying to get the browser to behave under Linux. These left me with a permanent dislike for the dude: instead of explaining the format of the file, he put in lengthy sarcastic (and misinformed) rants about the "mistakes" made by various Unix vendors in designing their keyboards.

Ron Blessing 02/05/07 01:36:09 PM EST

Every time I see one of the computer Hall of Fame articles in a magazine
it seems to me there is always one glaring omission. I know there are
many that have contributed but I feel like there are two people that
deserve to be mentioned and always seem to be missed. Ward Christensen
and Randy Suess, in my opinion, started what eventually led to our
current Internet when they launched the first dialup Bulletin Board
system called CBBS. In addition, Ward developed the first widespread
file transfer protocol, XMODEM, which allowed files to be transferred
error free between bulletin boards around the world.

...Ron Blessing

Grady Booch 02/05/07 11:45:30 AM EST

I'm quite flatted that you've numbered me among your top twenty all-time technology heroes.

As for the Renaissance jazz bit, I play the Celtic harp, on which I perform a number of medieval and renaissance pieces. I once had an instructor who taught me some great improvisational skills, and thus the phrase, Renaissance jazz, for I like to do riffs off of really old themes.

I think I would have been an itinerant musician or a priest if I were not doing software :-)

Grady

InOtherNews 02/05/07 08:34:39 AM EST

Yakov Fain has devised his own version over here: http://yakovfain.javadevelopersjournal.com/who_are_the_heroes_of_itechno... in case anyone wants to take a look.

More Nominees 02/05/07 06:19:39 AM EST

There's a great supplemetary list by Mark Hinkle here: http://www.encoreopus.com/content/view/334/35/.

Among the new names he adds are Jarkko Oikarinen, Bram Cohen, and Jerry Yang & David Filo, the founders of Yahoo!

i-net user 02/05/07 01:21:03 AM EST

Congratulaions, you have just insured that I will never willing used AJAX in any of my projects. Your pop-over add that blocks the article is annoying at best.

Barry Threw 02/05/07 12:54:00 AM EST

Vannevar Bush
Norbert Weiner
John Von Neumann
Claude Shannon
John Pierce

kelley meck 02/04/07 11:44:05 PM EST

You have to include Claude Shannon, and you might want to consider Oliver Selfridge. Shannon was the mathematician who figured information theory, and Selfridge started everything behind neural networks--which have never caught up with modal programming, but whose promise is unbounded.

Lee Butler 02/04/07 09:34:23 PM EST

You should also remember Michael J. Muuss. He developed "ping" and was instrumental in some of the developments of TCP/IP and Unix in the early days. He worked at the Army's Ballistic Research Laboratory.

Carsten Schlemm 02/04/07 08:19:22 PM EST

Jeremy,
I am a bit disappointed you forgot Konrad Zuse (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zuse). His problem is that he doesn't have an Anglosaxon name....
Judge for yourself.

Cheers,

Carsten

Troy Angrignon 02/04/07 07:55:13 PM EST

Jeremy, great post. Here are my additional nominations:

http://www.troyangrignon.com/blog/_archives/2007/2/4/2709776.html

w3c 02/04/07 07:25:58 PM EST

I would nominate Dave Raggett (W3C). Over the years, Dave has been involved in the design of many important Web Technologies, starting with HTML (tables etc.), CSS, VoiceXML, MathML and XForms. He's also the author of Tidy, an important tool for Web developers.

Mike Radow 02/04/07 07:01:24 PM EST

Nomination for ''all-time hero"...: "Paul Baran" ( go to www.google.com ) He invented _packet-switching_ ( funded by DARPA ) for the ArpaNet.
-
He is certainly worthy of your consideration. Thanks!
Regards, [email protected]
-
-eot-

Mike Radow 02/04/07 07:01:24 PM EST

Nomination for ''all-time hero"...: "Paul Baran" ( go to www.google.com ) He invented _packet-switching_ ( funded by DARPA ) for the ArpaNet.
-
He is certainly worthy of your consideration. Thanks!
Regards, [email protected]
-
-eot-

Mike Radow 02/04/07 07:01:24 PM EST

Nomination for ''all-time hero"...: "Paul Baran" ( go to www.google.com ) He invented _packet-switching_ ( funded by DARPA ) for the ArpaNet.
-
He is certainly worthy of your consideration. Thanks!
Regards, [email protected]
-
-eot-

Mike Radow 02/04/07 07:01:09 PM EST

Nomination for ''all-time hero"...: "Paul Baran" ( go to www.google.com ) He invented _packet-switching_ ( funded by DARPA ) for the ArpaNet.
-
He is certainly worthy of your consideration. Thanks!
Regards, [email protected]
-
-eot-

Mike Radow 02/04/07 07:01:08 PM EST

Nomination for ''all-time hero"...: "Paul Baran" ( go to www.google.com ) He invented _packet-switching_ ( funded by DARPA ) for the ArpaNet.
-
He is certainly worthy of your consideration. Thanks!
Regards, [email protected]
-
-eot-

Mike Radow 02/04/07 07:01:04 PM EST

Nomination for ''all-time hero"...: "Paul Baran" ( go to www.google.com ) He invented _packet-switching_ ( funded by DARPA ) for the ArpaNet.
-
He is certainly worthy of your consideration. Thanks!
Regards, [email protected]
-
-eot-

a VMS afficianado in days past 02/04/07 06:20:43 PM EST

Dave Cutler, while quite brilliant, was hardly the "brains behind VMS". He worked on it, sure. And he contributed a lot. But he didn't create it and wasn't in the early architectural planning; he came along later. Maybe you should say he was "a major contributor to VMS" to be accurate.

ccrmalite 02/04/07 05:34:16 PM EST

When discussing the heroes of "I-Technology", no list would be complete without Max Mathews, the pioneering creator of the first digital music systems at Bell Labs in the 1950s upon which all digital music software and research was based. These days, imagining a computer system without music seems impossible yet without Max's work on the Music I-Music V computer music languages, we wouldn't be rocking out on our iTunes while reading this article, let alone creating digitally based music of any kind. For those who don't know Max, remember the end of Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey", when a dying HAL sings an homage to Max's influential early recording of "Daisy," signifying one of the computer's earliest memories. Kubrick got it right, I strongly suggest you add Max to your list.

Andy Poggio 02/04/07 04:43:00 PM EST

Please add Doug Engelbart to your list of heros of i-Technology. If you are unfamiliar with his work, just Google his name or "mother of all demos". Doug and his group at SRI international pioneered many of the things we now take for granted, e.g. hypertext networked documents, videoconferencing, collaborative work, and the mouse.

an0n 02/04/07 04:25:26 PM EST

Presper Eckert (ENIAC)
Alex Stepanov (STL)
J.C.R. Licklider (ARPA)
Charles Goldfarb et al (SGML)
Jim Clarke (Silicon Graphics, Netscape)

Agree this is in part a popularity contest. Some of the ones on the original list were influential tech CEOs or Chief Architects in their time, but does that Hall of Fame material?

And if you say "Myrhvold", I think you must also say Bruce and ESR....

Andrew 02/04/07 12:33:44 PM EST

Ed De Castro deserves to be on the list as the inventor of the personal computer - The PDP8 was my first personal computer, even if not yours :-)

Jeff LaMarche 02/04/07 11:26:11 AM EST

Grace Hopper did not invent COBOL. She absolutely 100% should be on the list, but she should be on the list for what she did do. She invented a language called FLOW-MATIC, which was then later used as the starting point by COBOL, which was (quite obviously) designed by committee wthout any further input from Admiral Hopper. She later used COBOL, but she had no direct participation in COBOL.

Much more important, though, she came up with the groundbreaking concept that computer programs could be written in a more English-like language rather than in machine code, something we all take for granted now, but which really was one of the key enablers that allowed computers to become what they are today.

Fellowship 02/04/07 08:28:41 AM EST

>> There is no genius in JUnit, unless you
>> count the hype machine that culimated in
>> Kent Beck's name appearing on this list.

Didn't Beck become an Agitar Software Fellow a while back? Alberto Savoia, co-founder and CTO of Agitar specifically called him "one of my heroes" - here's a link to the announcement back in '04: http://www.agitar.com/news/pr/20040802.html

Jeremy Epstein 02/04/07 05:03:06 AM EST

Here's a few key people I think should be on the list:

Steve Bellovin - author of USENET, security researcher, author of the seminal book (with Bill Cheswick) on firewalls

David Bell & Len LaPadula - developed the multi-level security model used to represent military security

Gene Spafford - leader of CERIAS at Purdue Univ, which spun off numerous security product companies (e.g., Tripwire, ISS)

Roger Schell - very early proponent of attacker models; first penetration tester; architect for highly secure systems

jim scandale 02/04/07 03:58:03 AM EST

there are an awful lot of what I would call purely hardware people. No doubt that they contributed greatly but "software people" they're not.
And Fred Brooks seems to have fallen off of the list.

"Inventor of the Internet" Missing 02/04/07 03:08:29 AM EST

Shouldn't Al Gore get a token place in the list?

"During my service in the United States Congress, I took the initiative in creating the Internet."

;-)

OOPS 02/03/07 05:11:49 PM EST

Bertrand Meyer not on the list? (Eiffel and Design By Contract)

Eric Sarjeant 02/03/07 03:33:40 PM EST

I think Ward Cunningham, the creator of the "Wiki" deserves to be added to the list. If not the top 40, then surely the next 60.

Kelly 02/03/07 03:32:09 PM EST

Overall, a very reasonable list. Lots of luminaries there. Then I saw "Kent Beck, creator of JUnit and pioneer of XTreme Programming" Ergh! Sorry, I just vomited a little bit, in my mouth... Give me a break! JUnit took what? An afternoon to come up with? There is no genius in JUnit, unless you count the hype machine that culimated in Kent Beck's name appearing on this list.

Wolbdrab 02/03/07 03:31:08 PM EST

Glad to see John von Neumann and John Backus recommended.
I would add Nicholas Negroponti and William Gibson(!) (first explorer of cyberspace).

HTMHell 02/03/07 12:49:33 PM EST

I would challenge Tim Berners-Lee's positin on this list since it is HTML that has also brought us the Browser Wars, and the subsequent HTML writer's hell of trying to get a page to display properly on all the popular browsers, and all versions thereof.

The name HTML - Hyper Text Markup Language, implies a rich set of features that don't exist in reality

chiew 02/03/07 12:48:17 PM EST

Richard Stevens is the most deserving of inclusion in this entire list: everything is based on TCP/IP.

Knoppix Lover 02/03/07 12:45:47 PM EST

Has anyone nominated Karl Knopper yet - "Mr Knoppix"? Ah yes they have, I see, he was in the first 40. Quite right!

Dissenter 02/03/07 12:43:49 PM EST

Donald Knuth!? Knuth, like a lot of those listed, are just Ivory Tower acadamics with no real applications in industry

rusty0101 02/03/07 12:42:17 PM EST

Arguably Bill Gates did more for personal computers than most anyone else out there. I would have to point out however that most of what he has done is related to his business ability rather than his software writing abilities.

solarrhino 02/03/07 12:38:47 PM EST

You know, when I looked at this list, I found myself disappointed. Sure, there are some big important guys, but software is more than about applications and the big picture. It's also about the technology, and creating new abstractions. And in a lot of ways, the guy who first invented debugging is a lot more important to the success of computer science than anybody listed there.

It may be because I'm an old fart, but I remember the excitement of learning each new abstraction, either as I discovered it, or as it was invented. And it seemed to me that the creation of those abstractions are the really great deeds of computer science. Maybe nobody knows who had those break-through moments first, but I'm sure that they occured, and they seem to be to the the Great Moments in computer science.

1) The first guy to think "I shouldn't have to rewire, I should be able to write instructions that rewire it for me" - i.e., the assembler moment

2) The first guy to realize "I'm not just re-wiring this, I'm describing an procedure for it to use" - the FORTRAN moment

3) The first guy to ask "Why can't I used the same procedure from different places in my code" - the subroutine moment

4) The first guy to say "I should be able to use the subroutine in the program it already knows" - the library moment

5) The first guy to ask "Why do I have to be the one writing down the results?" - the printer moment

6) The first guy to realize "This isn't just a calculator, it's also a controller!" - the embedded moment

7) The first guy to realize "This isn't just a calculator, it's also a storage system!" - the database moment

8) The first guy to realize "This isn't just a calculator, it's also a communication system!" - the network moment

9) The first guy to realize "I'm not just submitting instructions for it to process - it's submiting instructions back for me to process!" - the interactive moment

10) The first guy to think "Why can't it do something else while its waiting?" - the multitasking moment

11) The first guy to think "Why can't it show me more context while I work?" - the full-screen moment

And finally...

12) The first guy to think "Man, why can't this thing show me some chicks?" - the porn moment

--
"Lord, grant that I may always be right, for Thou knowest that I am hard to turn" -- A Scots-Irish prayer

More Here 02/03/07 12:34:30 PM EST

How about pioneers like George Boole, John Louis von Neumann, and the 'Forgotten Father of the Computer' John Vincent Atanasoff?

bach_hoang 02/03/07 11:50:51 AM EST

It's nice to see some of the names (from the 70s) of those who advocated "open" systems (V Cerf, B Metcalfe, etc) from

Robert Sawken 02/03/07 11:24:59 AM EST

You need to add Ken Olson founder of Digital Equipment Corp. DEC owned the then mini computer market in the 70's and 80's
which was the "windows system alternative to Big Blue" of that time...

The people from DEC and RT-11, TOPS10, VAX, VMS, DECNET are some the major contributors in hardware and software like X-Windows, early Networking, first clustering, wrote much of Windows NT and are the senior developers and architects in a lot of today's technology industry...

Robert Sawken 02/03/07 11:24:57 AM EST

You need to add Ken Olson founder of Digital Equipment Corp. DEC owned the then mini computer market in the 70's and 80's
which was the "windows system alternative to Big Blue" of that time...

The people from DEC and RT-11, TOPS10, VAX, VMS, DECNET are some the major contributors in hardware and software like X-Windows, early Networking, first clustering, wrote much of Windows NT and are the senior developers and architects in a lot of today's technology industry...

queZZtion 02/03/07 09:36:50 AM EST

Where's Steve Jobs????

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