Microsoft Excel: The Program’s Designer Reveals The Secrets Behind The Software That Changed the World 25 Years Ago



In a year when big names from the digital realm profoundly affected the world—Mark Zuckerberg or Julian Assange, take your pick—it’s appropriate to add one more: Douglas Klunder. While largely unnoticed, 2010 marked the 25th anniversary of perhaps the most revolutionary software program ever, Microsoft Excel, and Klunder, now an unassuming attorney and privacy activist for the American Civil Liberties Union in Washington state, gave it to us.


For Doug Klunder, the mission 25 years ago wasn’t so grandiose. As lead developer of Excel, he was handed the job of vaulting Microsoft—then known best for MS-DOS, the operating system in IBM’s PCs—to the forefront in business applications. “We decided it was time to do a new, better spreadsheet,” recalls Klunder, now 50, who joined Microsoft straight out of MIT in 1981 (part of the interview process included lunch with Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer at a Shakey’s pizza parlor).


Klunder and his team came up with “intelligent recalc,” an approach where the program updated only the cells affected by the data change rather than all the formulas in the spreadsheet. Klunder credits Gates with the idea for how to implement the feature—though he says Gates eventually told him he hadn’t implemented what he had in mind at all. Klunder thinks Gates misremembered the discussion, but adds, “Maybe he actually did have a more brilliant idea that now is lost forever.”

Author(s):Thomas E. Weber

Publication Date:14 July 2017 (originally published 2010)

Publication Site: Daily Beast