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back to article Lotus 1-2-3 turns 30: Mitch Kapor on the Google before Google

Before Apple and Google turned computing into a webified, personalised and mobile experience, there was Microsoft. It was Microsoft that set the computing paradigm with a layer of software called Windows, which made computing personal, powerful and affordable when married with Intel chips. But before all of them, there was Lotus …

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Preferred

Quattro Pro, its transition to windows was appalling though. Ended up using 1-2-3 more by default than choice.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Preferred

But even so 1-2-3 was always better than Excel. Excel's appalling inability to detect (for example) a formula, requires you to type = before every one. Over the product's life, this single act of laziness by the coders must have waste thousands of accumulated lifetimes. And Excel's functions, and charting whilst hugely capable, display a mastery of user-unfriendliness rarely seen in apps these days.

I have to use Excel because the company, and the rest of the world do, but I hate it with a passion.

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Re: Preferred

... and 9 years before that was Framework ... that just shows how old I am ...

Wikipedia: "Framework, launched in 1984, was the first office suite to run on the PC 8086 with DOS operating system. Framework could be considered a predecessor to the present GUI window metaphor as well as integrated interpreters. The spreadsheet program was superior in its day, offering true 3D capability, where spreadsheets could form outline which can be "opened" to reveal a separate spreadsheet as well as other frame types—a feat of sheer convenient function never again seen and further enhanced in much later versions".

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Re: Preferred

I loved Framework II. It worked even better when running on a 5mb HD rather than having to swap floppies when you wanted to switch between wp and spreadsheet.

So much out of so little. Those days were amazing!

Use these apps for your company and you could run an enterprise on a single server.

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Re: Preferred

Oh I dunno. Don't forget 123 for Windows was appalling. Excel made a far better job of implementing the spreadsheet under Windows. And then although Word for Windows was pretty ropey, no-one has ever really done a decent Windows word processor. And as soon as Windows 3 came out and you no longer had the support hell of separate printer drivers for every product the DOs packages were doomed.

But the genius stroke was Office. Bundling the excellent Excel and the adequate Word together with the frankly dreadful Powerpoint for the price of just Excel and Word meant that there was only one purchasing decsion to make and a competitor had to succeed with three products, not just one. And no-one ever succeeded in shipping three decent products in a way that was compelling for purchasers.

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Re: Preferred

Is the = hard for you to reach or something? Are you missing some fingers? Oh I know, you simply don't know how to type. Wacko.

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Re: Preferred

Back in the WIndows 3.0/3.1 era I made the transition from 1-2-3 to Excel once I learned the minor differences. I didn't take to Word for Windows and used Ami Pro instead because it had a feature new to word processing / desktop publishing and not yet present in Word for Windows - WYSIWYG editing. You had to print preview if you wanted to see layout/formatting in Word. Lack of WYSIWYG editing is another reason why I couldn't stand Wordperfect despite it being the DOS word processing standard, opting for Q&A 2.0 instead.

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Re: Preferred @JimC

The reason Excel did a better job on implementing spreadsheets on Windows was because Excel was born on the Macintosh instead of DOS. MS decided to ditch their Multiplan spreadsheet and start from zero with Excel on the Mac. That gave 'em the GUI looks that they could then use on Windows, while the rest of the spreadsheets had to transition from DOS to Windows. A lot of programs that made this transition were usually horrible as the devs would still embrace the DOS conventions instead of taking advantage of the new GUI features. An example: remember who created the ZIP file format? PKZIP. Which program is mostly used for opening/creating such files? WinZip. They aren't made from the same company: PKZIP for Windows sucked, so the competing WinZip took over the market.

I can't quite vouch for 1-2-3, as I mostly used the DOS version but didn't migrate to Windows. But I wouldn't be surprised it if were the same case....

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Re: Preferred The ONLY think I think I like about excel is...

The ability to edit the values in a cell simply by dragging a control point on a line chart. No other spreadsheet app I have used can do that. I wish 1-2-3 could do that.

I still use 1-2-3 as well. I also make heavvvvy use of Lotus Approach. I wish that Mitch Kapoor and Sue Sloan would team up and just take Approach off of IBMs hands, or cajole IBM into allowing them to fork it. If they could pull that off, and if Mitch still has any "startup mode" fire in him, I'd begggggggggggg him to do it. I have a screenplay app that I started building in 2006 and I am terrified to open it up to the public because it does a number of things that NONE of the other screenplay apps does. I would only trust opening that up to Julian Smart (of Anthemion Software, the writer developer of StoryLines, along with his wife Harriet), Sue Sloan, and Mitch. Too bad they are too busy, or I am a poor presenter, or have poor posting history and the like. If I knew how to program, or could win a lottery, I could just pay someone to mimic Approach and some of 1-2-3, then totally re-write my screenplay app and spin it out as OS-agnostic, Linux-Mac-Win friendly, no registry bullshit, but only proper app-and-user-folder-activation constraints with a distinc activation code based on installation hash results and user/licensee name (so the user could install it on multiple machines owned by him/her).

I am debating opening up my app this year, but I don't want to do it half-assed. The only way to non-half-ass it is if I had help from people such as the three I named, especially since if Approach were forked and made Linux-native, the existing and new users would all benefit from all the reasons Approach won awards in the 90s. The user forums (aside from bugs and workarounds) would still be highly useful to old and new users. And, a new and improved Approach, maybe borrowing bits of 1-2-3, would be like some of the earlier attempts of Lotus Symphony of the old days, where it was experimenting with what I called a spreadbase or datasheet -- except that such an endeavor would benefit from today's experience. (Would be nice for me if I could write wxWidgets...)

1-2-3 and Approach combined, however, make a very powerful database app, but asking users to install all of SmartSuite, or 1-2-3 and Approach would be too much, so, some things 1-2-3 would have offered had to be left out, and since I don't do Lotus Script, my Approach-based apps are all 100% Approach, but non-portable, no standalone executable, and so on.

Actually, around 2006, I think I wrote Mitch Kapoor, but without reviewing the email I cannot recall what, if any, response I got. I wrote Julian Smart, but, understandably, he was reluctant, as it is sometimes easy to be burned in collaborating with others, and he did not want to undergo that again. I have not directly asked Sue, but I think I was put off by the fact that IBM would not let her buy Approach and rejuvenate it. With IBM holding back, it seems the only way to bring the power AND simplicity of Approach out would be to clone it just shy of being sue-able by IBM. But, then it would still be great to tie in 1-2-3, since:

-- Approach text/data fields cannot handle italicized text

-- Approacch cannot handle Unicode, so, no Korean or Japanese characters (except Japanese in SuperBase, which is so localized to Japan it doesn't merit being called "Approach", hence SuperBase...)

-- Approach has no sliders on the detail tables/repeating panels

-- Approach fields or button controls cannot be collapsed or hidden except through LotusScript or tricky forms switching (sleight of hand, not elegant)

-- Approach lacks some 1-2-3 benefits

Sigh...

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Re: Preferred

1-2-3 required every formula to begin with either a numeric constant, a + or -, or @, the last being the necessary and unavoidable first character in all functions. If you wanted to enter decimal numeral as the first characters in a text label, you had to precede those entries with a label prefix ', ", or ^ or 1-2-3 would throw a syntax error because the entry wasn't a valid formula. All things considered, I think most people preferred Excel's approach of consistently and uniformy expecting a = at the beginning of all formulas. Besides, Excel provided and still provides 1-2-3-like formula entry, without initial =, as an option. 1-2-3 never provided such an option.

The worst failing in Excel, persisting to date, is lack of context-sensitive help. If you began typing a formula in 1-2-3 and had just typed @VLOOKUP( and pressed [F1], it'd display that function's syntax. Excel, OTOH, would just display the top-level help screen, and if you're foolish or inexperienced enough to turn off default web connection for the help facility, you'd be waiting a minute or two the first time you press [F1] in every Excel session.

1-2-3 may have wasted aggregate years of users' lives, but Excel has wasted aggregate millenia.

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@AC -- Re: Preferred

"But even so 1-2-3 was always better than Excel."

I agree. I base that on having used most of the biggies--1-2-3, Quattro, Supercalc, Visicalc etc. Goes back as far as Visicalc on my TRS80 and Supercalc on my Godbout S100.

As with VHS vs Betamax, being 'better' depends on marketing. And irrespective of what one thinks of its software, Microsoft is a superb marketing company. Moreover, the long delay in porting 1-2-3 to Windows did it much damage.

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MrT
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Psion Abacus...

...was pretty good, back in 1984 on the QL and derivatives ;-)

1-2-3 was in heavy use in the engineering practice where I worked in the late 80's, and really became useful with the '3D' version in about 1990 IIRC. It was that and not stuff like HevaCAD that drove the choice of hardware, until the office ditched ink and went for AutoCAD 12 or 13.

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Lazy coders

If you want to see the result of coding laziness, try looking at what Excel thinks is the day after 28 Feb 1900. This is a carry-over from 1-2-3, whose coders decided a leap year should happen every 4 years with no exceptions. It also shows Microsoft's obsession with backward-compatibility (at least at that time).

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Actually, Lotus did.

Lotus Word Pro was descended from Samna's Ami, the first full function Windows word processor. It was out a year before the first Windows version of Word. I first used it as Lotus Ami Pro on Win3.x, on a NEC laptop. Lotus had a very competent set of office apps but by that point couldn't sell eternal youth. IBM bought them almost entirely for Notes. Microsoft even gave one of its Windows Pioneer Awards to the main coder of Ami Pro, not just for the product but also for the excellent feedback he gave the Windows dev team.

My sister still loves Lotus Word Pro with a bizarre passion and goes to great lengths to keep using it. She was a typesetter in her earlier life and something about LWP resonates with her special form of brain damage.

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Re: Preferred @JimC

Lotus had a horrible time trying to wrap their heads around GUI. When the original 128K Mac launched they announced an integrated all-dancing all-singing package called Jazz that nearly wrecked the company. They poured huge resources into trying to do something truly new on a platform that simply couldn't support it. The 128K Mac simply wasn't a practical product for anything beyond short Mac Write docs and showing the potential of what GUI could become. It wasn't until the 512K model and upgrades appeared that anyone sane would try to run their business on a Mac. By then Lotus had already gone last past deadline learning how memory hungry a GUI environment is compared to something like DOS. Even character mapped pseudo-GUIs needed a lot more memory to deal with all of the needed buffering.

By the time most machines had adequate resources, too many of Lotus' developers had been reduced to mere shells of men, and the company never really got its footing in the GUI world, except for acquired crews like the Ami folks.

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Re: Preferred

>Is the = hard for you to reach or something? Are you missing some fingers? Oh I know, you simply don't know how to type. Wacko.

Do you still use a browser that insists you type 'www' in the address bar? : D

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WTF?

Erwin Hofman Posted Saturday 26th January 2013 12:42 GM

and Framework still did so much more than MS Office has managed to achieve :

1 Internally Consistent - all sub systems used exactly the same tools

2 Seamless switching from subsystem to subsystem - open a wp; find a spreadsheet; click and you're in the ss; find a cell with a dbase - on click you're in the dbase; find a wp (or a ss) in a dbase table -- yup; one click and you're in the next layer.

3 Indexes - because frame work was built up from frames (which may be any combination of wp; ss db) the hierarchy index just happened automatically with no pissing around with esoteric index building things that ONLY work in word - and you didn't need a completely different tool for writing presentations - why on earth would you ?

MS Office is appalling; - to call it an integrated suite is bordering on false advertising. And like the rest of the MS world any thought of internal consistency is an absolute joke :

for instance - open a word doc from explorer; now open another word doc from explorer --> two independent instances of doc.

Now open an xl sheet from explorer; then open a 2nd xl both open in the same instance

if they can't even get consistency at the basic level of just opening a file; it is not surprising the rest of the so called suite has the same constancy as you find in any other chaotic system

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Preferred

I've used 123 and Excel and I have to admit that Excel was more logical to use for my brain. Typing in = is not a major problem and there are obvious reasons for doing it that way. It's pointless and like arguing if French or German is a better language; they are just different, and that's that.

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Re: Preferred

JimC, that's absolutely spot on on all counts. I still have the muscle memory of 123, but 123 for Windows was an incredibly buggy, flaky bit of software. At the time, we used 123, DisplayWrite and dBase IV, and I can't remember what for presentations - with the switch to Windows, MS Office made absolute sense as it was less buggy than any of these, and more usable than the appalling DisplayWrite

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Re: Preferred

Good point...it's that kind lame thinking that wasted billions of user-years since 1990.

Speaking of which, I discovered Opera for browsing back around 2001. I've haven't typed "www" or ".com" for over a decade... ;)

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Re: Preferred

... yeah man ... 5 MB HD ... does were the days ... ha ha ha ...

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Flame

Re: Preferred

"I have to use Excel because the company, and the rest of the world do, but I hate it with a passion"

Same here, and the '2010 version is so f*ck*d up that I spend half my time battling with that b**** ribbon, and software that tells me the spreadsheet I'm trying to open might have come from an evil user, so no, I can't edit the f**** thing.

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Re: Lazy coders

Joel Spolsky has an anecdote about that particular bug:

http://www.joelonsoftware.com/items/2006/06/16.html

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fzz

Re: Lazy coders

There was a time strict 1-2-3 compatibility was necessary for Excel, and a few years later it wasn't feasible to correct this due to many existing workbooks relying upon/working around this error. Stupidity and/or ignorance on Lotus's part, intentional nose-holding and just doing it on MSFT's.

However, this is only an issue with the 1900 date system (epoch beginning 1 January 1900). The 1904 date system doesn't share this because its epoch starts on 1 January 1904. Also, FWIW, Excel's 1900 date system only fubars 1900. The formula ="2100-02-28"+1 formatted as an ISO date returns 2100-03-01.

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Great article...

if you are doing requests- can you do Ashton Tate next (same rags to riches to rags story)

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Happy

Re: Great article...

I fully agree, Visicalc was indeed something very new and surprising in its simplicity. One of the few software I would have allowed to be patented (even being against software patents, now). As far as I have understood they even thought about it but where adviced not to try it by some lawyer then. To day I suppose anything goes.

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Unhappy

AmiPro

I think AmiPro from Lotus was the nuts! I was an avid power-user of AmiPro through the 90s. It blew the arse off Word, Works and Wordperfect, and it was such a shame when IBM ruined it. I could write long, complex technical manuals in AmiPro in minutes. Styles control, and the ability to switch styles with the press of a Function key is sadly lacking in today's wordy-processors. They are all rather clunky and awkward to use by comparison.

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Holmes

Re: AmiPro

I fully agree.

IMO IBM (and Microsoft for that matter) have ruined pretty much every piece of software they've bought (or where they've bought the company, such as was the case with IBM's purchase of Lotus). Neither of these companies seem to have been passionate about the software they've acquired via these methods (especially not IBM). Their only passion would seem to involve taking out the opposition. Great big bloated* money-making bean-counter-ran machines.

* - Bloated just like all the software they've acquired, two or three years after acquisition.

<rant over/>

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Re: AmiPro

Word Pro is still pretty good. Of course, since so much time has passed that IBM/Lotus have done any justice to SmartSuite (aside from "maintenance mode" updates/patches/bug fixes), even OpenOffice.org's Write has some things I wish LWP had.

I love the default color scheme, and I love the tabs. Also, to me, the greatest feature of LWP is the ability to create "divisions", or in-file links or imports/embeds/inserts of external files. Having the tabs makes it a cinch to see what is going on. Also kewl is the ability to drag tabs (of other insterted documents that form "divisions") into other tabs. (To be honest, I have not made use of "Sections" becuase "Divisions" visually suit my workflow better, even though I know sections have a purpose... I just never quite wrapped my mind around Sections, and stuck with Divisions.)

As for WYSIWYG, in Lotus Approach and Lotus Word Pro, it is really nice to have not only WYSIWYG in the normal view, but in the various "Special Views" Word Pro offers: "PageWalker", "Panorama", "DocSkimmer", and "Zoomer". These helped make outstandingly excellent use of limited 14" displays of the earlier days, and are still even quite very useful for me on 17" and 22" displays. These views let the user drag and drop between panes and sychronize them. Not that that in itself is unique, but how it is done in LWP is slick and fun. More importantly that it being fun, it makes it vastly superior to most if not other word processing apps to see the page flow AND be able to read it without having to actually invoke print preview. That is a time saver.

A modern day update to that feature would include, to my mind, a left-or-right-side pane to do file overviews. Another would be to increase the lenght of text in the tabs. They should move or slide faster.

This making me angry.... I am fawning and waxing and waning over a product that deserves to be brought up to date in it's current form (mostly), and not transmogrified into Symphony. I realize and appreciate that the currrent Symphony may be IBM's/Lotus' backdoor way to give SmartSuite a rebirth and avoid patent litigation (purportedly, IBM and Lotus cannot "find" or "locate" the presumably still alive co-inventors of or rights-holders in SmartSuite, making it untenabler for IBM to release the code for updating.

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Not Mac

"that honour went to VisiCalc on Apple’s Mac II"

No, it was the Apple ][+

Lots of people bought an Apple ][ and the 80 column card addon just to run VisiCalc.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Not Mac

"Lots of people bought an Apple ][ and the 80 column card addon just to run VisiCalc."

Indeed. My memory says that the term "killer app" was first used for the way Visicalc had given Apple a big boost over the many other microcomputers available at the time. From then on any new system was judged by whether it could be differentiated by a "killer app" that would make it something people preferred over the competition.

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Re: Not Mac

WOW! That's got me laughing heartily for this day's start. I forgot all about the fact that people bought add-on cards JUST to get more columns. I am thinking that that is a separate issue from just getting more screen real estate. Am I recalling correctly?

Takes me back to the days of going to a BB to download the latesst Spider Graphics drivers. Ahh, the earlier days...

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Re: Not Mac

This is where internet hoaxes start, I was looking if the byline was Ronaiah Tuiasosopo.

The Apple ][ was not an expensive machine when it came out, especially considering what it could actually do. Yes, as today, you can say it was not buzzword compliant, or had the specs, but back them people who bought computers mostly knew what they were buying, and did not get bogged down in the specs or buzzwords. A machine pretty much was bought to accomplish a task.

That said, an IBM PC could set you back several thousand dollars. The Apple ][ was around $1,000 and up.

IBM was never who Apple had to compete with. When the Mac came out it was still a much cheaper machine than any IBM, the XT was well over $5,000. Apple was competing with Compaq, which released an inexpensive machine the prior year.

However, for the same reason people bought an Apple ][, many people opted for a Mac rather the similarly priced Compaq because the Mac had Excel. Excel offered features far beyond any other spreadsheet, like the ability to calculate across sheets, and the Mac had scripting abilities that allowed any repetitive task to be automated.

Not until kids began to build and sell computers from their homes did the computer fall to the now sub $1000 price point. IBM tried and failed to create a cheaper machine with the PC Jr. Apple stayed competitive with the Performa series, switching to an IDE interface. By the mid 90's laptops dominated the scene, and Apple again managed to build a competitive product. It is interesting to note that IBM exited the business.

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(Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

Re: Not "Mac II"

Whoops - the article was fixed asap.

C.

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Re: Not "Mac II"

No worries. Just signs of old age :)

(ducking quickly)

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The Apple ][ was not an expensive machine when it came out

The base 16k Apple ][+ was about $1,200 and over $2,000 with 48k. A 143k 5.25 floppy was $700, the 80 column card was almost $400. There was no IBM PC, or Mac at the time.

A typical setup with dual drives and green screen monitor, and 8 pin dot matrix would be around $4,500 before inflation so about 3x that in today's money.

The price dropped later as RAM prices dropped and 3rd party add-ons were released.

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Re: Not Mac

The Apple ][ was built to work on a TV as monitors were expensive so they were 40 columns (and upper case only). If you added an 80 column card you get 80 column, and upper/lower case but needed a composite monochrome monitor to read it.

The Apple //e was the first with 80 column built in.

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Re: Not Mac

Excel offered features far beyond any other spreadsheet, like the ability to calculate across sheets

My recollection is that this was possible with Supercalc*. Supercalc ran on CP/M, and was included in the free software bundle that came with the Osborne 1 (together with WordStar, DBase II, and quite a lot else) at a cost of about £1400.

It's astonishing how many of the big players in the DOS world screwed up the transition to Windows. The leading word processor of the time was arguably WordPerfect, but their unusable, buggy Windows version gifted the market to Word.

* I could be wrong about Supercalc. Calculating across files was certainly possible at the time with a spreadsheet program I installed on a PDP/11 under RT11 - I can remember the frantic flashing of disk lights when you recalculated.

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Happy

Multiplan and Word for MS-DOS

Multiplan and the first versions of Word shared a common interface; a menu system accessed by hitting escape and then typing single-letter commands to carry out tasks. Guess they developed them on Xenix using vi as an editor, then!

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I'm officially an old fart...

I grew up with Wordstar on CP/M machines and Framework on pre-windows PCs. I remember my shock at discovering DOS lacked both a usable text editor and a compiler out of the box...

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Anonymous Coward

Re: I'm officially an old fart...

I can still remember the Control Keys for Wordstar even now :)

Ran quite well on the Amstrad PCW if I recall.

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@Neil (was: Re: I'm officially an old fart... )

Admittedly, edlin sucked. But it got the job done. As did copy con for short text (.BAT) files. I wrote a simple screen editor for MS-DOS in assembler, based on the vi key bindings, starting when we were testing MS-DOS 0.96 on Pilot Build IBM-PCs. I kept it running through DOS 2.11 ... By that time, there were many "shareware" text editors ... and then I discovered Brief and Mark Williams C, which had an excellent editor :-)

It wasn't a compiler, but debug made a decent enough hex assembler. I wrote the vi work-alike using it, re-directing ("piping", in un*x parlance) a text file full of commands through it. No need for linking with .com files.

Primitive? Absolutely! But try to remember that DOS was tiny ... It ran from 160K floppies. Most early machines didn't have hard-drives, and if they did they were probably only 5 megs. It was mostly useless as a program loader, until ver. 3.1 enabled the networking hooks ... But it was a hell of a lot better than dragging card-decks to the glass house and waiting days for the result!

As a side-note, I had already been using un*x for several years (BSD on DEC, mostly) with a strong minor in SNA, when the IBM-PC came out. Those of us in the Glass House looked at each other & asked "What is IBM thinking? Thank gawd/ess it can't do networking!" ... the rest, as they say, is history :-)

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Re: I'm officially an old fart...

Those Wordstar Keystrokes got so burned into my skull that as soon as we started using Linux I seized on joe with cries of delight... No-one else in the oreganisation can understand why I insist on having it as part of the standard server build. What makes this so bizarre is that I was only really a Wordstar user for about the first two years of my career, and it was probably another twelve years before I started using Linux...

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Happy

Re: I'm officially an old fart...

I agree, joe is the first program I install on a new Linux install.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: I'm officially an old fart...

Editor? I used e.exe for ages but BRIEF gets my vote too (I used it a lot to code PARADOX code - I found I got better on with Borland's idea of databases than DBase :)

One of the MASSIVE benefits for people who starting computing around that time was the recognition that learning shortcut keys was important (usually Wordstar compatible, unless you were using WP). Oh, and memorising Epson printer codes - the main benefit of not working WYSIWYG was that you actually focused on content, not presentation, I personally consider that still the curse of the clueless. If you want decent design you ask designers - they have the education, usually the talent and use programs more suitable for layout.

Christ, I just realised that is decades ago. Where did the time go? Anyone remember DoubleDOS?

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Did it ever go away?

Still using it today, indeed it's often the first application that gets fired up in the morning. :gasp:

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Did it ever go away?

Me too - still use it for my home accounts.

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Anonymous Coward

I always thought...

It was called 1-2-3 because it was all about numbers! No?

No mention of the Unix (or xenix, at least, not sure now) version that ran on dumb terminals? Oh yes, I installed a few, and have the bruises from editing termcap/terminfo files but, just like the dumb-terminal version of Wordperfect, it worked.

You can never accuse me of being unduly nice about microsoft, but Excel is the one thing that, over the years, I liked and still do. As to its better integration with Windows, wasn't this the hayday of MS's monopoly building? They had the Wndows code; other developers, of course, did not; the result went without saying

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