Apple's Numbers Spreadsheet - Like My Trapeze Spreadsheet But 20 Years Later

Aug 6, 2007

It's interesting looking at the features and marketing behind Apple's new Numbers Spreadsheet (just added in iWork 08). So familiar to me as I and the rest of Data Tailor (Bob Murphy, Ken Clark) in 1987 released Trapeze, a spreadsheet program for the Mac with a lot of the same features (and some different).

Like Numbers, Trapeze featured smart tables (which we called blocks), charts (2D and 3D), graphics and text, all freely movable around a canvas (which we called a sheet). Blocks were related by name (either the whole block, or tables where each column had a subname). Smart resizing occurred when you change related block sizes (i.e. add rows to a block and all dependent blocks resized and shifted location if necessary).

The big difference visually of course is a 20 year newer UI, I had to build mine in the old Quickdraw, supporting only 8 colors, and running on a 8mhz 68000. Still it worked well enough that 13,000 people bought a copy before the second owner (we sold the company to someone else) eventually phased it out in 1990. I still get emails from people who miss it, a testament to its power way before the hardware really caught up. One user kept old Macs around for 10 years just to run Trapeze, which was the basis of his business modeling practice.

So it's with gentle humor that I read the Apple marketing stuff and remembering how we said much of the same things with one glaring problem: in those days we couldn't import Excel files and have it fit into our block model, and thus many people couldn't get over that hurdle. Those who saw the power of Trapeze to build large interactive models and present them in one document were able to do amazing things not possible in any other spreadsheet. But Excel killed every spreadsheet program, not just ours. Such is life.

Our solution would have been to build a spreadsheet block, exactly like what Apple has done, except we were never able to invest the time, and eventually we worked on Deltagraph which made the publisher way more money. Trapeze faded into obscurity. Until today, sort of.

So congrats to Apple for reinventing the concept in a new modern package. Better 20 years late then never!