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?


1 Answer 1


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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