VisiCalc's Dan Bricklin weighs in on the tablet revolution

Co-creator of the original PC killer app sees ample opportunity for innovators on tablets

In 1979, Dan Bricklin wrote the most innovative piece of software in history. Before VisiCalc, there was nothing that remotely resembled an "electronic spreadsheet." After it, the world of business was different in deep and fundamental ways.

His attention has shifted to the tablet marketplace, where he runs Software Garden, purveyor of Note Taker HD -- a top-of-the-line iPad app for taking and organizing notes via either keyboard or electronic ink. He was kind enough to share his thoughts on tablets, inking, character recognition, and other, more important topics.

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Advice Line: The PC revolution, which you were instrumental in starting, was all about empowering individual employees. That seems to have gone by the wayside, in favor of an IT-centric approach. Do you agree?

Dan Bricklin: It's more complex than that. Microsoft used to empower technically knowledgeable users. That has pretty much been taken over by the open source world, and Apple has gone yet a different route.

No question, Microsoft's focus is on corporate IT. That isn't an indictment. Microsoft supports legacy stuff incredibly well, where Apple lets legacy stuff go pretty quickly -- which also isn't an indictment. It's a choice.

Microsoft's schtick has been to empower developers to do whatever they want. Apple's has been to develop the "perfect thing." It's always gorgeous, but you always have to add something. Apple has taken a very strong consumer view of the world. With iOS, they overdid it at first -- made it way too closed. Apple's way of opening it up was with apps, which has served it incredibly well.

From a corporate viewpoint, this had issues because you can't do anything you want, because Apple imposed all these restrictions. There may be good reasons for them ... but they do pose a problem for corporations.

A long time ago, someone explained to me that in computing there are three steps: Solving it for one, solving it for two, and then solving it for n. Apple, for many things and especially for iOS, has gone with solving it for one. Limiting itself like this solves a lot of problems for it. I'm keeping a close eye on how Microsoft is approaching the tablet marketplace, because it has already solved a lot of these problems for n.

Advice Line: You're the inventor of the original "killer app," and so far as I can tell, the office suite/email combo, which built on your original killer app, is the only killer app there's ever been. Do you think the "killer app" concept has any merit anymore? If so, what do you think it will be for tablets?

Dan Bricklin: There have been others, for example, desktop publishing. With tablets, the notion of the killer app might not be the best way to look at the situation. It's more that once you've used one, you say, "I get it."

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