Second acts: Seven tech titans today

What ever happened to Philippe Kahn, Dan Bricklin, Marc Andreessen and other technology wunderkinds?

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Dan Bricklin

Dan Bricklin is famous for conceptualizing and co-creating VisiCalc, the world's first spreadsheet application. Originally designed for the Apple II, VisiCalc was the killer app that opened up corporate America's eyes to the relevance of the PC in a business environment. (Bricklin's Web site includes a great recap of his colleagues' reactions to the announcement of the IBM PC.)

According to legend, Bricklin's inspiration was a Harvard Business School lecture in which a professor kept having to erase and change numbers and equations on the chalkboard. After enduring this tedium, Bricklin realized he could use a computer to quickly incorporate and crunch numbers and variables.

Dan Bricklin

Dan Bricklin, photo by Betsy Devine, GNU FDL 1.2 and cc-by-sa-2.5 In 1979, Bricklin and his partner Bob Frankston founded Software Arts and released VisiCalc, which went on to sell an astonishing 700,000 copies over the course of six years during a time when very few personal computers were in homes and small offices in America.

Advised by a patent attorney that software programs like VisiCalc had little chance of receiving a patent, Software Arts didn't patent the spreadsheet, opening the door for a host of imitators, including SuperCalc, Lotus 1-2-3 and eventually Microsoft Excel. Each program improved upon VisiCalc without having to pay royalties to its creators.

In 1985, Bricklin left Software Arts to found Software Garden, a small company in Newton, Mass., with a focus on developing software tools such as the ListGarden RSS Feed Generator Program. The company also provides software consulting services to small businesses and corporations.

In 1990, Bricklin co-founded Slate Corp., which was dedicated to developing software for pen computers, and in 1995 he founded Trellix Corp., a provider of Web publishing technologies and services. Slate failed, but Trellix was bought by Interland Inc., where Bricklin served as chief technology officer before returning to Software Garden in 2004.

Earlier this year, Bricklin and Software Garden released wikiCalc, a free collaborative Web-based spreadsheet app. Bricklin still lives in the Greater Boston area.

Philippe Kahn

From the late 1980s through the early 1990s, Philippe Kahn was a mainstay on the pages of business tech magazines. At the time, the company Kahn founded, Borland Software, successfully kept pace with Microsoft, Lotus and other software service companies through the release of powerful applications such as Turbo Pascal and SideKick.

Kahn was lauded as one of the smartest visionaries in software technology and was frequently quoted in news and analysis stories. In the early '90s, Kahn theorized a formula that he, in typically grand fashion, named Philippe's Law. This theorem, which still holds up today, according to developers we polled, stated that the productivity of a software developer in a team of n size is diminished as the size of the team grows, and by dividing n by the cube root of n, you can determine the loss of productivity.

Phillipe Kahn

Philippe Kahn Kahn was also notorious (or misunderstood, depending on whom you ask) for having an outsized ego. As an example, a 1997 article in The New York Times recounts a moment toward the end of his tenure at Borland when he spent about $5,000 of the company's money distributing as holiday gifts copies of jazz albums on which he played flute.

After a board dispute, Kahn stepped down from his role as Borland president, CEO and chairman of the board in 1996. Since then, Kahn has been widely recognized for inventing the first camera phone in 1997. (Listen to his January 2007 interview with NPR for his thoughts on the impact of camera phones upon greater society.)

Kahn also co-founded Starfish Software, a developer of device synchronization technologies, in 1994, and picture-messaging company LightSurf Technologies in 1997. His current company is Fullpower Technologies, which he co-founded in 2004. The company's inference engine is the core technology behind an operating environment for the sensors found in pacemakers, insulin pumps, camera phones and other consumer electronic devices.

In his personal life, Philippe Kahn is a classically trained musician (he plays the flute semiprofessionally). He is also a devotee of sport sailing and has won numerous races, including the Transpacific Yacht Race, which runs from Los Angeles to Hawaii.

Kahn lives in northern California with his wife Sonia Lee (co-founder of Starfish, LightSurf and Fullpower), with whom he is raising four children. The two are heavily involved in humanitarian efforts and are active participants in the Lee-Kahn Foundation, which is dedicated to increasing public access to health care, education and the arts.

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