One of the most popular and widely used software utility, the backbone of countless projects ,graphs, and computations, turned 30. No, this is not about JAVA or any other programming language. I am talking of Microsoft's gift to the modern software engineer: MS Excel. According to Wikipedia, Microsoft released the first version of Excel for the Macintosh on September 30, 1985, and the first Windows version was 2.05 (to synchronize with the Macintosh version 2.2) in November 1987. The reason they released it first for Mac was due to the huge popularity of Lotus 123, the king of spreadsheets at that time. Gradually though, Excel has worked its way up and today is the default spreadsheet application of choice.
Its surprising that even the most die-hard fans of Excel do not know of this little bit of trivia, and Excel continues to be the downtrodden, faithful servant it has always been. Excel's history is really colorful, they started with copying off the features of Lotus 1-2-3, but then started adding features of their own, adding a mountain of functions to VBA, its automation script tool, and even changed the file format multiple times to incorporate new features. Today, it is even available on the cloud, and Google too has taken a few ideas for their Google sheets system. But what had set Excel apart is the Recalc feature, instead of re-computing the values of every formula cell, Excel smartly re-calculates only the values of cells required, nothing more. The original project team members reveal that this was done for optimization and speed, but only a handful of people knew the exact underlying workings.
My first tryst with Excel was in circa 1993. We had to learn computer applications in school, and Lotus 1-2-3 was the software of choice, both in offices, as well as in school curriculums. I quickly figured out that Lotus 1-2-3 had this nifty macro system, which could be used to write quick and small functions to automate tasks. It was difficult to write the macro code, I remember one had to use the '=' key to access macro functions. But someone had installed MS Excel on the school machine assigned to me, and I found what I thought was the newer and improved version of Lotus. It had mouse support and had more colors for its graphs, and was faster. Way faster. It was fun to use, and easy to learn. Even in my wildest dreams, I could not foresee that this little piece of software would end up being the main part of my day-to-day work as a Software Engineer. I have built various tools during my work on Siebel and BIP using VBA macros, and maintain project information and even my loan and finance details on good ol Excel. Who would have thought that a simple idea of maintaining data in rows and columns would be the best way to start out any project.