Dan Bricklin

Dan Bricklin

Dan Bricklin is perhaps the most famous programmer alive. Because he, with partner Bob Frankston, created VisiCalc, the first spreadsheet to run on a personal computer.

It was 1979 and it ran only on an Apple II. Arguably it made Apple, because this was the first business program, and that created a reason to buy Apple, instead of the half dozen other desktops at that time. Before VisiCalc, most people in the business said the personal computer was a really a game machine, and would never be anything else. Visicalc changed that forever. The fact that it was written for the Apple and not some other computer was an accident.

The two men were students at Harvard and initially started working on making a spreadsheet that would run on the Radio Shack TRS-80, which belonged to a fellow student across the hall. But he dropped out and transferred to another school, taking his TRS-80 with him. So Bricklin and Frankston rewrote their spreadsheet to run on the Apple II, which belonged to another student down the hall. From such chance events do fortunes rise and fall, and business empires are created.

Now Bricklin is promoting a new kind of program, called “Alpha Anywhere.” This is a database that can be used by nearly anyone to create custom applications for business — anything from inventory updates to deep-depth data analysis. There are many ways to create these business apps, but most companies use old school methods like Microsoft Access. In fact, Bricklin knows a company whose programmers created 10,000 apps from Access just for internal use.

Here’s the problem: Applications built with Microsoft Access often don’t work well with modern touch devices or the web. To create business apps to work on tablets, phones and computers would require the knowledge of a dozen computer languages, as well as an understanding of the business problem you’re trying to solve. Nuff said.

Alpha Anywhere is made by Alpha Software, a database company we have covered for nearly 20 years. (Bob used their database for around ten years and liked it a lot.) But previous versions of the software didn’t do the things users have come to expect on smart phones and tablets. Bricklin’s rewrite can create an app that lets the user scroll through any customer list and tap on a name to get a detailed record.

Alpha Anywhere is $99 a month for one to nine users, and goes up from there. There’s a free trial at Dan Bricklin’s introduction to the program can be found here: “Alpha Anywhere Matters.”

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