How Spreadsheets Changed the World: A Short History of the PC Era

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Apple II: The Story Begins

In 1978, my wife, Barbara McMullen, and I were in the process of leaving Morgan Stanley to form our own consulting business. We had 24 years' worth of experience with large computer systems between us, of which seventeen was with securities processing systems. Our plan, therefore, was to concentrate on working on large, "mainframe" brokerage systems, and we had already signed a small retainer agreement with a data processing services firm to begin our independent life.

While still with Morgan Stanley, we were about to get on the elevator to go to lunch one day when a coworker from another area of the firm, Seth Gersch, met us and said, "I understand you’re leaving". When we nodded in affirmation, he said, "Have you seen the computer up on Ben Rosen’s desk?"

"No," I said. (I couldn’t imagine a computer on a desk)

"Then you should go look at it," he said. "There might be something in it for you."

So, instead of going down in the elevator, we went up to our Research Deptartment. We had never met Ben, but we knew that he was the firm’s well-renowned electronics analyst. And, on his desk, we got our first look at the Apple II. (Read some background on Apple's product development in Creating the iWorld: A History of Apple.)

The computer had a modem connection to a Farmer’s Weather Service in Kentucky, a Dow Jones portfolio program and a game running off cassette tape. Not much there, but very intriguing all the same. I decided right then and there to buy one.

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Written by John F. McMullen
John F. McMullen lives with his wife, Barbara, in Jefferson Valley, New York, in a converted barn full of pets (dog, cats, and turtles) and books. He has been involved in technology for more than 40 years and has written more than 1,500 articles, columns and reviews about it for major publications. He is a professor at Purchase College and has previously taught at Monroe College, Marist College and the New School for Social Research. He is also a member of the American Academy of Poets, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Freelancer's Union, the Association for Computing Machinery, the American Academy for the Advancement of Science and the World Futurist Society.

His current non-technical writing includes a novel, "The Inwood Book" and "New & Collected Poems by johnmac the bard." Both are available on