VisiCalc represented numbers in BCD to be able to handle decimals precisely. But how did it decide how many decimal places to display?

In some screenshots like https://www.researchgate.net/figure/A-Screen-Shot-of-the-First-Version-of-VisiCalc_fig1_255635232 and https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/history-spreadsheet-software-jayantkumar-joshi it looks like it's just always displaying two decimal places, even for integers.

But in other screenshots like the one down near the end of https://spreadsheet-day.com/blog/2019/02/25/visicalc-demo-by-dan-bricklin/ it looks like it is suppressing all trailing zeros, even when this causes numbers to not line up vertically.

What exactly did it do? Did the behavior change with different versions?


VisiCalc doesn’t “decide”, it does what the user asks it to. As far as displaying values, it supports a few different display formats:

  • general (the default), which displays however many significant digits the value contains, within the column limits (which result in rounding to the closest digit, e.g. π is shown as 3.141593 on the default PC display), without adding trailing zeroes after the decimal point;
  • integer, which rounds the value to the closest integer (0.5 up);
  • dollars and cents, which always displays two digits after the decimal point, and is commonly used for monetary values (as shown in the first two screenshots);
  • left- or right-justified (applied to the general format);
  • graph, which displays the truncated value as a “bar” formed using * symbols (so 3 is displayed as ***).

The format can be set for a given cell using /F followed by respectively G, I, $, L, R, or *. It can be reset with /FD, and the default can be configured per-window with /GF followed by the corresponding format key.

As far as I’m aware the behaviour didn’t change with different versions.

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