Origin of row/column based database software

From: Fred Cisin <cisin_at_xenosoft.com>
Date: Wed Aug 18 15:21:39 2004

On Wed, 18 Aug 2004, Bob Lafleur wrote:
> I'm curious as to the origin of database software that allows display/edit
> of the data in a row/column format.

a name for it from forty years ago was "flat-file database". It was quite
common for simple data in the EAM ("electronic accounting machine"
(punchcard)) days. But it didn't have the "interactive" screen nature
that you want.

I remember in 1967, Wilson Price telling Ben Micallef that someday
all end user would have machines on their desks to do it on TV screens.
Micallef said, "May we live so long" (idiomatic for "no way") He did NOT
live to see it.

When VisiCalc came out, although it was "intended" for arithmetic
use, LOTS of people used it for keeping track of simple record/field

And, of course, all of the VisiClones, such as Lotus and Excel ended
up being used for it. I have Excel business database files that used to
be Lotus files that used to be Visicalc files. And somewhere,...
I should still have some that used to be punchcards (manually reentered
into Visicalc).

> All early PC based database software that I had exposure to layed out each
> record one at a time on the screen, as a "form". You could only view/edit
> one record at a time. Such programs for the Apple were pfs:FILE, CCA-DMS,
> and VisiFile.

It was traditional in Data Processing to have "data entry" completely
separate from interactive use of the data. And data entry is STILL
usually done by showing a single record at a time on the screen.

> In the summer of 1981 I wrote a replacement for the "maintenance" module of
> VisiFile that looked like a spreadsheet, and displayed all the data records
> as rows, and fields in columns. I had never seen any other software do this
> with a database, although to me it seemed like a natural thing to do, given
> the popularity of spreadsheets.

Yes, it WAS an obvious thing to do.

> Now, just about all database software displays data in the row/column
> metaphor. But was my program the first? I have to admit that my exposure to
> other database systems was pretty limited in that period - for example, I
> have never used any mainframe database systems at all.

No, your prograam was NOT the first. In the 1960s, with punchcards for
data storage, and using a 407 to print it out as rows and columns, I
maintained a few minor databases, such as name and address files.

I don't consider the 407 to be a computer. I consider it a
board programmable free-standing peripheral. (EAM machine!)
If we call the 407 a computer, then we'd also have to call
the duplicator and the interpreter computers.

> Out of curiosity, does anyone have any examples of DATABASE software that
> uses the row/column metaphor before the summer of 1981?

Hollerith 1890 ?

> It would be neat to think that my idea spurred what is now commonplace in
> databases, although I have to admit that it's a pretty easy mental jump from
> a spreadsheet to a row/column display of database idea, so it's more likely
> that others came to the same conclusion, and didn't copy my software!

Get a patent, and hold the entire world hostage!
Received on Wed Aug 18 2004 - 15:21:39 BST

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