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back to article I watched Excel meet 1-2-3, and beat it fair and square

I remember Lotus 1-2-3 very well. It really was as widely used as all the history-of-Lotus stories claim it was. In fact, back around, say, 1984, when almost no software package had a monopoly, Lotus already had its particular niche locked up tightly. That’s right: WordPerfect was still a serious competitor to Microsoft Word …

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3-2-1.... Eadon.

No? Wow.

I like Excel, the only issue I have is with people using it as a feckin' database instead of using an actual DB. Having said that Access was\is horrible so I can see why this happened.

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(Written by Reg staff)

Re: 3-2-1.... Eadon.

g

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Re: 3-2-1.... Eadon.

"using it as a feckin' database "

You obviously haven't encountered people using Word tables in multiple documents as a relational database.

People learn one tool and try to apply it everywhere. Get training? No, a computer science education should be in the help file shouldn't it???

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Re: 3-2-1.... Eadon.

FunkeyGibbon, when mentioning "actual DB" you excluded Access already.

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Re: 3-2-1.... Eadon.

I like Excel, the only issue I have is with people using it as a feckin' database instead of using an actual DB.

Well said. Excel is great, but for some reason people turn it into a word processor, data base, project management chart, and much more bizarre home-grown applications rather than just using the right tool in the first place.

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Re: 3-2-1.... Eadon.

Having to use Excel as a test case management tool on multiple projects grinds my gears.

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FAIL

Re: "The only issue..."

The sad thing is that 20 years later Excel *STILL* can't cope with cells that contain dates or times and insists on formatting them into some monstrosity that in no way resembles the actual contents of the cell.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: "The only issue..."

"The sad thing is that 20 years later Excel *STILL* can't cope with cells that contain dates or times and insists on formatting them into some monstrosity that in no way resembles the actual contents of the cell."

Eh? I've used dates and times in cells in excel loads over the years ...

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Re: "The only issue..."

"The sad thing is that 20 years later Excel *STILL* can't cope with cells that contain dates or "

It's even sadder that that is trivial to address and you haven't worked out how in 20 years.

Security! Escort this cat off the forum.

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@PrivateCitizen

No word of a lie, I have seen someone use it to produce building layouts. The mind boggles.

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Re: "The only issue..."

Olader versions of access used to have some amusing americacentric ways of dealing with dates but I can't remember having that issue with excel.

Access isn't awesome, but it can do some serious work if you stick within its intended scope. Despite having oracle to play with, access was the easiest way to quickly put together a project before lunch. It was shocking if you wanted to support 80 people, but when you worked in an environment where you would need to finish 2-3 different projects a day modelling data from customer accounts it did the job well, on pretty standard desktops for not that much money. It may have been 'dirty' but it could be pretty quick. I'm probably biased though :-) I think people expected it to be able to be oracle+forms etc all in a neat package when in reality it's a baby database with a decent ide that if you are desperate you can tie into a real db backend.

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"People learn one tool and try to apply it everywhere."

Yes - and in the late 1980s, every accountant I met wrote all their letters and their CVs in Lotus123. Not a single one them used a wordprocessor. I don't anyone who took MS Word or Excel seriously for years - the MS products got their chance when the incumbents screwed up moves to 32 bit.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: "The only issue..."

Perhaps he's referring to the irritating habit of Excel formatting DateTime values from a SQL Server result set as just hh:mm:ss.

It's something I see often; you run a query, and want to quickly play about with it in Excel: Select All, Copy with Headers, into Excel, Paste, and every DateTime value from SQL is formatted as "Custom". You have to select the cells and change from the "Custom" format Excel has decided upon to a Long or Short Date or whatever.

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Re: 3-2-1.... Eadon.

You obviously haven't encountered people using Word tables in multiple documents as a relational database.

Geh, you're gonna bring back my nightmares. I was given one of those things that clocked in at 800 pages a few years back and told to 'fix' it. Yeah, they really do exist and yes they're every bit as bad as you'd expect them to be.

For the record, my fix ended up being a script that read the word docs into a proper database (MSSQL to be exact).

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Anonymous Coward

Re: "The only issue..."

I recently spoke to a gent who had gotten into the IT side of the... ahem... 'glamour' business. He does a website with lots of hits.

It's all working off a single Access database as a DB (with the filesystem for images).

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Anonymous Coward

Re: 3-2-1.... Eadon.

They are not as dangerous as those who use Excel to perform statistical analysis.

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Unhappy

Re: @PrivateCitizen

"No word of a lie, I have seen someone use it to produce building layouts. The mind boggles."

Bizarre.

Just bizarre.

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Re: 3-2-1.... Eadon.

"For the record, my fix ended up being a script that read the word docs into a proper database "

800 pages.

They had it coming.

This is well beyond a list of your DVD collection. Thumbs up for dragging you customer into using the tools they need to use for a job this size.

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Re: "The only issue..."

office 2003, Excel, OLE... have to format the cell as a date first in MM/DD/YYYY then insert your data in that format, then reset the format to DD/MM/YYYY or it fails.

Every. Damned. Time.

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@FunkeyGibbon

"I like Excel, the only issue I have is with people using it as a feckin' database instead of using an actual DB."

Well, I don't fully agree there because if a program provides a certain functionality then why shouldn't people use it?

But even so, I don't think you should blame the users over this but Microsoft instead. After all; for many years now a standard Office package consisted of Word, Excel and PowerPoint. SO what do you suggest Office users should use for a database instead?

I can't really think of any usable and logical alternatives to be honest.

And as I said, my personal opinion on this matter is "if it works...".

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Anonymous Coward

Re: "The only issue..."

Excel dates from a 3rd party data spreadsheet used as an import job.

If the cell is date format, it imports as something like 127994.

The cell needs to be in text format, which obviously cannot validate dates, which leads to things like dd-mm-yy vs dd/mm/yyyy or the day/month/year seperator left out.

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MS Excel's Statistical tools

There is one more problem with Excel, when using as CAS, or a stat tool. In particular, when relying on it too much with simulations and actuary analysis, which is unfortunately a pretty common practice.

In many cases it was shown to not calculate reliably. Unless MS has fixed that already. This is one of the paper to talk about some issues. Calculations done in MS Excel can be much less accurate than using Gnumeric (best of spreadsheets really utilizing R libraries), or even l(o)ocalc. For spreadsheet stuff, personally I'd go with the Emacs org-mode. Of course, proper CAS is to be used instead.

Some students of mine that once tried Excel for projects got a few things messed up with a chi-squared test, and few distributions, such as Bernoulli and even the Normal.

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This post has been deleted by its author

WTF?

Re: "The only issue..."

"It's even sadder that that is trivial to address and you haven't worked out how in 20 years."

I'll bite, troll.

What's the "trivial" way to fix it so that Excel never attempts to auto-guess that a cell is a date or time (because it always gets it wrong) when double-click a csv file (say, one attached to an email) to open it?

And don't say "save the file out of the email, open excel, file -> open, select file" because that isn't trivial when you're dealing with numerous auto-generated database exports on a daily basis.

P.S. 6 downvotes? I'm guessing most of you aren't actually using Excel as a quick way to pass around adhoc database extracts.

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Boffin

Re: "People learn one tool and try to apply it everywhere."

Sadly, I've actually saw my mom write a CV for my dad using 1-2-3 a long time ago. Yes, we do have a Word Processor program with that old 8086 clone (I believe it was called PFS Professional Write), but she just sees 1-2-3 as easier to use because her company actually sent her in for training in 1-2-3 and nothing else.

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Re: 3-2-1.... Eadon.

I'm at a company using Excel to generate SMT mounting data for an SMT mounter. (getting tiny parts onto circuit boards) Of course the code running there is duplicated inside of many undocumented Excel files.

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Re: @PrivateCitizen

I think id like to see the results of that. I do believe it would be highly amusing.

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Re: "The only issue..."

The problem is the other way: Excel corrupts data by autoformating something it believes is a date (DEC12, for example), when it is not a date. There are other examples of issues while pasting data as well.

remedies for that are nontrivial, as it isn't a setting you can turn off. The only fix is to preprocess your data before importing.

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Re: 3-2-1.... Eadon.

Completely agree, Excel is an accountants tool, and most accountants use bespoke databases or accountancy packages.

If you want to build a mathematical, scientific or engineering model, there are much better software like math-lab or my favorite was TKSolver.

For forms (something most people use word and excel) Infopath works really well (I have yet to find an alternative).

For a database, I liked Access 2003 to quickly build and work with data. Since Access 2007 though it has become a bit more difficult. The world could do with a simple database program for quick works with data, that is as easy to enter info as excel, but has the function of rational database. Naturally if you are talking about a multi-user system you really should be looking at a database server and a proper developer.

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@PrivateCitizen

I work in a bank's IT department, I used to work on an application doing massive amounts of recursive compound interest calculations. We had actuaries produce formulas for the calculations and had to take the upmost care in coding it to take account of number formats, decimal places, rounding, floating point approximations, etc. as it would all massively affect the results.

The testing department compared it all into an excel spreadsheet, knocked up by some monkey over a lunch hour, and refused to accept that when the output didn't match that the application could actually be right, and that their spreadsheet might be the issue.

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Re: @PrivateCitizen

No word of a lie, I have seen someone use it to produce building layouts. The mind boggles.

I used OpenOffice Calc to keep track of users, their desks, port numbers, coordinate location, date last seen etc.

I know that's delving into DB territory, but it made it really easy to implement, and coexist with the cartography software I was using to map the desk/floor layout.

And yes, I know that was overkill, but the entire process streamlined quite nicely together and produced a very usable product to find any person, on any phone extention, on any port, instantly.

And most importantly, it cost little in time, and cost no additional money - which kept the boss happy.

On the other hand, we had to support staff that were asking how to overcome the column limit in Excel because their yearly finance spreadsheet had run out of space for their years...

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Mushroom

Re: 3-2-1.... Eadon.

re "using Excel as a Database" . I completely agree . It is a crime against computanity , that I must confess I was once guilty of , with VBA macros to glue sheets together coz 65K lines wasn't enough. Please forgive, but also please down vote this post so that I can truly atone for my sins. I have sinned , but I have seen the light ! (beyond Excel Databases, which I don't suppose really counts for much, but it is a start )

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Re: 3-2-1.... Eadon.

They did exactly the same thing with with 1-2-3 !

There were spreadsheets with macros you could load that made 1-2-3 into a word processor - a rather poor word processor, more like a fancy notepad (lowercase n, it is not worthy of an uppercase n). Fixed width at 80 characters to match the printers at the time.

I also saw one spreadsheet that made it into a primitive project management tool with very simple Gannt charts.

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Re: @FunkeyGibbon

"But even so, I don't think you should blame the users over this but Microsoft instead. After all; for many years now a standard Office package consisted of Word, Excel and PowerPoint. SO what do you suggest Office users should use for a database instead?"

That would probably be the case yes. But you also find people using Word tables for this, not to mention a "presentation" made up of images on Word pages - or worse, and image per Excel tab. Now why didn't they go open PowerPoint?

As for me, I used 123 in the 80's ... for financial / engineering calculations. Yep, "what it was meant for". If I wanted to write a letter / specification / manual I started PFS:Write. For database I used R:Base and later for smaller DB's Q&A. But "upgraded" to Ability+ in the late 80's - combined all those into one (like Symphony should have been, only much earlier).

When the MS-GUI abominations happened with the slap-on Win3/3.1. I looked at it a few times and decided to give it a skip. W95 wasn't much better, but had a better UI and finally your programs could actually operate. Win NT 3.5 at least didn't crash on you (all the time) - put programs tended to "not work" on it if it wasn't written specifically for the platform. When NT 4 came out, that was it - MS should've stopped there, it only got worse after that.

BTW, in the mid 90's I used Excel/Word/PowerPoint/Access or that stupid Ms Works (which was a contradiction in terms) at university because that's what they gave us to use. At home I used Borland Office (including WordPerfect / Quattro Pro / Paradox) later editions also included Presentations. It was cheaper than MSO and had more capabilities without the hoops you had to jump through. Not to mention Paradox at the time was ahead of Access - and was highly integrated into their full DB InterBase if you wanted to work with large sets & a lot of concurrency. Quattro Pro was also a lot nicer and more fully designed than Excel, never had an issue with any date formatting / queries / CSV import-export. Used to look at Exceller's with a blank stare when they complained about this, I simply did the "real" work in QP.

But as the article states, MS's programs might not have been the "best" for the job at hand. They were the "best" marketed - be that some backhanded way or not. So they ended up on nearly every desktop there was. No wonder DOC/XLS is still the defacto standard when people send files to each other.

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Re: 3-2-1.... Eadon.

It is I.T's fault. You Microsoft fan boys take a user who says "I need to collect some info" from a one day LAMP web site form and turn it into a .net $100,000.00 fiasco. Of course the users are going to tell you to feck off and then resort to simply emailing excel sheets to people to "fill out".

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Anonymous Coward

Re: @PrivateCitizen

or floor tiling for a server room ... resizing the cells to match different types (heights) of tiles

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Re: "The only issue..."

Last time I had to do this, I used a perl script to manage the .csv's into whatever the right way to format a date value was so that excel could recognize it.

Not sure if that would work for you though.

This was 5 orso years ago, output to .csv -> perl script -> email -> excel 2003.

Took some fiddling, but after that the script worked fine.

Not sure what became of that script though. Couldnt find it , and cannot remember what the exact magic format was that made ezxcel get it right. Maybe just simply yyyy-mm-dd hh:mm:ss

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Complacency

"Lotus got complacent. They stopped innovating, or fiddled while Rome burned, or made stupid decisions. "

Not just complacent but the head of the company was IIRC the highest paid executive in corporate history while these stupid decisions were being made. The US$20M he was taking home as salary in the 80s would probably in one year be worth more than the max $200K pa that Bill Gates got as salary throughout his entire tenure. (I'm not counting stock options for either, just salary).

Not long after Ashton-Tate produced the enormous fail that was dbase IV, and Borland began funding Philippe Kahn to make vanity music discs. Not hard to see why I ended up skipping from Lotus 1-2-3 to dBase III to Paradox/Pascal and then on to Microsoft products. I loved each and every one of those other products until their managements started competing in a shark -jumping olympiad.

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IT Angle

Re: Complacency

@hitmouse So very true. Complacency every time - methinks its something to do with CEO's (once they hit the big time) surrounding themselves with sycophantic 'Boards who keep telling them how wonderful their (completely irrelevant) product/thinking was.

You could add WordStar to this time frame, just about ceding top slot to WordPerfect (Word was generally laughed at).

Yup. WordPerfect, Lotus & Dbase - top of the heap. In some cases worse, in some better but in every case the emerging product became the easier to use - a salutary lesson to people today who think their product will remain top dog because it's better engineered - ask Nokia

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couldn't do what Excel could

The large company I was once a part of tried standardizing across all sites on certain office programs.

To that end, the standard was set as MS Word for documents, Lotus 1-2-3 for spreadsheets and Groupwise for mail (and also I think whatever Lotus's then presentation offering was)

As our site was engaged in research work, we liked to make lots of graphs to show off our findings. And also use Excel's analytical add-in as well. WE did try - honestly - but unless it was a bar chart or a pie chart 1-2-3 was rubbish for graphing.

Upshot was that the site more or less got a blanket exemption from the diktat and Excel remained on the desktops.

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How I remember it as well

Got a new mouse for the boss - an MS one and got this 'Windows' with it free. He got a demo of excel from somewhere and that was that.

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I remember this particular period well, as I worked in IT training at the time.

All of the big boys who made the industry standards at the time - 1-2-3, WordPerfect and Paradox (ok, not a standard as such but still immensely popular) suffered greatly when porting from DOS to Windows. Anyone else remember WP5.2 for Windows? Yeuch.

By the time they'd got the glitches ironed out in basic functionality it was too late.

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Paradox worked rather well for Windows and had FAR better relational capabilities than Access, if only you could work them out... Seems the designers took the name to heart when it came to ease-of-use...

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Paradox worked rather well for Windows

True, but it took them ages to release a Windows version because Borland decided to replace the previous Paradox Application Language with an object-orientated model that wasn't backwards-compatible with previously-written Paradox for DOS apps.

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I can remember splashing out for Wordperfect for Amiga.

a real word processor on the Amiga although Digita's offering wasn't bad though a bit more graphics orientated.

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Amiga word processors

I used Protext. That was the business, did everything you needed etc.

There was a wysiwyg one called Final Writer (and a Final Calc) too, but even my mighty A4000 (EC30, natch) couldn't deal with it properly. So I went back to Protext.

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Unhappy

Paradox

Borland pretty well ruined Paradox, and dBASE IV as well. But, the lack of backward compatibility was something Microsoft did with Access as well. I recall being pretty well stuck in Israel and screaming at an MS support person when they said, "oh, you can't do that any more." I wanted to carry over unchanged values between records. Turned out you really can do it, but, it was no longer a trivial bit of code. In the first iteration or two the process was as simple as it was in dBASE. But with the third(? - around 2000) iteration the company decided to "help" all MS users by switching over to VB without fully implementing the capabilities of the system it was replacing. Paradox was and still is in many ways vastly superior, and for coding and quick apps, the dBASE-based languages (dBASE, Foxpro, Quicksilver, ..., were all way better).

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Excel > 1-2-3? Only at the beginning...

Excel gave Lotus 1-2-3 the kick up the backside it needed - a few years later, 1-2-3 was back to being far superior. However, by then it was the minority... I still have a copy of one of the last versions running on my desktop - it has many features that are even now more advanced than Excel! Just a shame it's missing some of the more basic things that we've come to expect from Office...

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Go

Excel < 1-2-3? Features!!?!

What features would that be and would you be willing to bribe the LibreOffice people to put them in?

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Re: Excel < 1-2-3? Features!!?!

Did it handle UTF-8 csv files properly? Excel still can't do that after all these years!

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