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 …
Re: I always thought...
I thought it was so named because using it was as easy as 1-2-3 - hence the shareware equivalent "As-Easy-As".
I used to teach Symphony on IBM XTs in the early 90s and still have the scars to prove it...
Afaik the name came from being able to perform 3 main tasks; you could process values (spreadsheet), you could create graphics from those values and you could use it as some form of database.
Re: @Thad Do you remember....
How Quattro Pro got it's name?
I used to work with/for a former Ashton Tate/Borland employee/refugee and he told me it was a pun on "1-2-3", by using Spanish... Uno, Dos, Tres... Quatro, but they used two "t"s in the name. What a witty/comical use of a pun in a product name. Pity not many people caught on to the joke/pun without help.... Anyway, it was envisaged that Quattro Pro would decimate or supplant 1-2-3. History tells us...
Re: I always thought...
It was called 1-2-3 because it could be used as:-
A spreadsheet (OK, that is why most people bought it);
A database (Shudder, I still find people with thousands of rows of business critical information stuffed into a spreadsheet);
A wordprocessor (Yes, really. I had several colleagues who used it to write letters).
Re: @Thad Do you remember....
" used to work with/for a former Ashton Tate/Borland employee/refugee and he told me it was a pun on "1-2-3", by using Spanish... Uno, Dos, Tres... Quatro, but they used two "t"s in the name."
I always thought it was Italian, which does have two "t"s. Audi also made the Quattro spelling well known.
I really liked Ami Pro but for me the Windows version of 1-2-3 was the first spreadsheet I had ever used and it kind of sat there like a dumb thing without giving me any hints how to drive it. Fine for existing users, not so good for a novice IMHO.
In contrast Quattro Pro did give me hints how to drive it, especially with the way right click produced context sensitive menus, It remained my favourite spreadsheet for a decade.
The last version of 1-2-3 I worked with was in 1996 and someone somewhere had decided that table pivoting was a job to delegate to Approach. It was truly painful to watch an animated graphic displaying "connecting to database" (client server architecture being the latest buzz phrase then) and then see it fall over in a heap. After an hour struggling with that I slipped the data onto a floppy, took it home and did the job in 15 minutes flat on my home system using Quattro Pro.
Re: Data on a floppy and took it home
Those must have been the in the days when people could take data home without leaving it in the pub on the way.
(Although, seriously, I don't approve of taking data home. Actually, I don't approve of taking work home!)
The impressive part was the cooperation IMO
I lived and enjoyed Lotus 1-2-3 like so many others. And quite frankly I have to grin when thinking back about the huge sheet sections I made; totally filled with macro's in order to automate several steps; you could basically write an entire program with that. It didn't run too fast but oh well.
No, but the really impressive part in my opinion was the cooperation between the leading companies back then. Instead of what we see happening now, where the only thing they seem to do is slapping each other in the face with patents, they actually cooperated and allowed other vendors to access their stuff too.
I could make a table in WordPerfect; but I could also create a link with a Lotus 1-2-3 sheet; both programs could work together (sort off). The same applied to dBase III; Lotus could be used as a database (and also a database to contain your addressee's for example) but it was often easier to write such a program using dBase (or Clipper). And then the same thing applied: WordPerfect had no issues accessing said data either.
IIRC (not fully sure anymore) the same applied between Lotus 1-2-3 and dBase.
And all of that in a time where we had no such thing as Open Document Standards and the likes.
"...For comparison purposes, just two years later Bill Gates was selling Windows 1.0 for $1 a copy..."
It's always been ridiculously over-priced then?
Back then you didn't buy Windows so much as you bought a software package that used it. It was more of a development environment that got bundled into the product. Like Ventura Publisher was the primary way Digital Research's GEM got on to PCs. You could buy GEM separately but since Ventura Publisher was the main reason to have it, why bother?
The typical PC was so lacking resources back then that it was nuts to go into the GUI for anything less than a strongly visual app that needed it.
What happened to Lotus?
`I had gotten earlier this year the spec for "protected mode " back doors in Windows .. I also have a promise to receive an update from them "in April" .. This update has not come'
Saw a copy of this in a charity shop, on 1.4mb floppies for £30... the problem was, this was 4 years ago! :O
Visicalc on Apple and Supercalc on CP/M. 1980
I don't think you could buy an IBM PC in UK before 1981
Supercalc IMO was superior to Visicalc. Surprised the Article and Comments didn't mention it.
The last command line Spreadsheet I used was "Cracker" in 1988 to 1991 on PCW CP./M along with Wordstar Clone NewWord.
The last command line spreadsheet I used was "sc" on Slackware. 10 minutes ago. Works like vi, even over a slow modem link from our place in the wilds of Mendocino County. Handy.
It works for our various businesses today, just as it did for my household expenses when I first ran across it in the early 1980s, as "vc". Why change what works?
Glitter doesn't get work done, unless you're in the entertainment business.
As a side-note, you couldn't buy an IBM PC anywhere, before August 1981 ... I can't remember when we got our first test units at Bigger Blue. Probably March-ish 1981. It was raining when I signed the delivery receipt, of course.
 9600 baud on a good day, usually more like 2400. Cracked & dusty cable plant makes for a bad signal/noise ratio in a salt-fog environment.
How did I not know about this?
Thank you. I was going to say that entry was a bit tedious, but with sc -n to enable quick numeric entry mode it's a handy calculator when Alt-F2 =<expression> isn't enough. Definitely faster than waiting for a LibreOffice Calc to load.
My first significant use of spreadsheets was on 1-2-3. Did an NVQ Level III in Spreadsheets and created a simple Invoice app using macros. You could watch the cursor move through the cells as it executed each step of the macro.
Re: sc, tyvm
"with sc -n to enable quick numeric entry mode"
$ xcalc & ... depending on what you're doing.
I use bc (dc) near daily ... mostly with scripts.
I also use sliderules & an abacus on a daily basis ... it ain't about the tool in question, it's all about the user knowing which tool to use for any given job.
Lotus 1-2-3 was my first introduction to the world of spreadsheets. I used it to automate a quarterly task that took ten man days every quarter to do via 'back of fag packet' calculation & was never right. I'm still really proud of what I created - self taught with only the manual to help me. I'll always have a soft spot for 1-2-3 as I guess it started me down the slippery techy slope...
Multiplan and C64
Although I liked PaperClip on the C64, it was MultiPlan that made me sit up and go "OH. WOW."
A word processor was still like a typewriter with improvements, but automagically calculating numbers was just amazing, and I could see how far reaching that could be.
And yeah, WP 5.1 still rules.
First, 1-2-3 lacked a word processor,
WordPerfect filled that void, but never mind, Microsoft screwed them both royally anyway.
Interesting account - however you seem to have wiped the Commodore Pet, which also ran Visicalc, out of history, although it was rather more significant for business users than the Apple ever was. Agree Supercalc was much better than Visicalc.
For me it was Visicalc > Supercalc > Quattro Pro for Windows - which my former employers were still using up to a year ago. (I still use it occasionally for personal use). I don't agree that Quattro failed to make the transition to windows. It wasn't the first spreadsheet to have tabbed pages with straightforward internal links but it was the first usable implementation of them, and it was the first windows spreadsheet to have them. It was also the first windows spreadsheet with contextual menus. (And in my opinion its original macro scripting language was a lot easier to get to grips with than its rivals or the Perfectscript (ugh) which Novell introduced). All irrelevant ultimately since Excel adopted its rivals innovations and overtook them. Well except in one regard - I've never warmed to the basic design of the Excel GUI in the way I did Quattro's.
Personally I have been always much more fond of the stuff Borland cooked up than what Microsoft brought out, and I think that started when a Borland compiled version of Windows beat the living daylights re. speed out of one compiled by Microsoft. I dabbled a bit in Turbo Pascal (every language they had was "Turbo" because it compiled and ran faster and tighter than Microsoft's own version), but work meant I mainly ended up running Quattro Pro for spreadsheet work and was hacking lots of Paradox code in BRIEF, which was not Borland's, but had an option to directly support Paradox coding.
I think it's because of BRIEF I had a deja vu feeling when encountering emacs on Unix, but I chickened out, and picked up enough vi to get to a point where I could install pico (and later nano) :).
What staggered me was the lack of international capabilities of Excel. Until very recently it was impossible to take a spreadsheet in one language and use it in another language because macros were not tokenised. Really, my jaw dropped when I found out. A German version, for instance, would have "=SUMME(A3:A5)" in a cell, and when you opened that up in an English version it would not understand that that meant "=SUM(A3:A5)" in English. Honestly, we were past the year 2000 when I discovered this. To me, that was a WTF on the same scale as Vista..
... hacking lots of Paradox code in BRIEF, which was not Borland's, but had an option to directly support Paradox coding.
Borland did eventually buy BRIEF ... and that was the end of BRIEF.
Lotus had chances even past 1989 and 1-2-3 Releases 2.2 and 3.0. They came out with Notes in the early 1990s, and it was huge. The article says hated, but my own opinion differs.
What killed Lotus was Jim Manzi's lack of vision and his focus on lawsuits against clone makers Mosaic and Paperback Software and later Borland. [I continue to believe Paperback Software's VP-Planner scared the crap out of Lotus because in 1985 it provided database functionality (OK, working with dBase files) similar to what it took Lotus another 4 years to produce in 1-2-3 Release 3, as well as a multidimensional database which provided a little of the functionality of Lotus Improv, along with a near perfect copy of 1-2-3's menu for 1/5 the price of 1-2-3.] So much concern over protecting the character mode menu in the late 1980s and early 1990s that when Lotus came out with its first Windows version, 1-2-3 for Windows 1.0, it REALLY SUCKED! MSFT came out with Excel 4 shortly afterwards, and then Excel 5 with VBA before Lotus came out with 1-2-3 Release 4 for Windows. That was game over.
Lotus wasn't unique in delivering a really poor first attempt at a Windows version. WordPerfect's first attempt was even worse. Neither company could believe customers actually wanted to use Windows until Windows was on more than half of new PCs sold.
Credit where due: the most innovative spreadsheet in its own time was WingZ, which defaulted to a 32K by 32K grid of cells which could be rearranged into grids with more rows/fewer columns or vice versa. And the most innovative modeling tool was Javelin Plus.
"1-2-3 wasn’t the first spreadsheet for the PC - that honour went to VisiCalc on Apple’s Mac II"
VisiCalc lived on Apple ][s and ][+s, years before the Mac II existed! I remember _using_ it!
<exit, stage left, mumbling about the youth of today...>
One of the Holy Trinity
I took a strange route into technology, and have a very soft spot for the three things that got me there:
1. 1-2-3 for DOS. My first job was cataloging every last piece of hardware in a large business using 123. The '/' key is burned into my brain. Luckily, Excel supports '/' as a proxy for Alt, so it gets to be useful: if your hand is on the right side of the keyboard it's quicker to do slash-<key> than Alt-<key> as you don't have to move your thumb from over the space bar. (No doubt I'll be downvoted for being a bad typist...)
2. WordPerfect 5.1 for DOS. How I hated the first three months with this beast. And how sad I was to give it up after years of use.
3. SunOS 4. I loved my little pizza box with the screen the size of a small washing machine. <Sniff.>
Whew, I feel old
The article pretty accurately describes the situation as lived through in those heady days. 123 V3 was so slow and demanded such huge resources at time when we put huge effort into scrambling for every byte of memory andf it felt as though the writing was on the wall. The financial services company I was with at the time lived and breathed 123, but when Windows 3 came along we felt the need to have a good long strategic look at the way things were developing. Up to then, you sort of just went with the flow, but PCs were now core to the business in the same way as the minis in the computer room.
So we went to talk to LDC and Microsoft. (You could in those days.) We came away with the conviction that LDC really didn't know what to do next, and had no clear plans, while Microsoft (it pains me to say this with hindsight of the monopoly we helped build) really were determined to provide a tools as good as 123 (and Multimate, the other standard of the day.) Based on their road map, which we could see they were achieving, we went wholeheartedly with Microsoft and Excel, a difficult process with the more conservative in the business.
The other memory at the time was running "As Easy As," a spreadsheet compatible with Lotus .wks files. It was shareware,. but uncrippled,. and unlike123, did charts without expensive add-ons. A bonus was that it used less memory and was even faster than 123's best offering, version 2.1. That experience made me realise in a fledgeling state that it didn't need huge corporations to develop excellent software, so that when I started noticing Linux and Free Software around 96 or 97, my acceptance of Free Software was eased.
Symphony had some die-hard users in those older days too. I was all for standardising on all-in-one options like Symphony or MS Works, spending extra money for those whose work demanded it, as some people were battling with MS Write and so on, but that was too egalitarian for the top dogs for whom technology was part of the ability to dish out sweeties to the favoured.
The quite bizzare situation is...
...that 1-2-3 in its last version from 1998 is still better than Excel in its newest version.
Anyone remember Ability Plus?
That was a *great* bit of software. Spreadsheet, database, word processor, and comms all in a single executable, with a really good file-manager screen thrown in.
The spreadsheet, database, and word processor were all properly integrated. For example, you could write a document in the word processor, and include fields/columns/rows from a spreadsheet, and tables/queries from the database. If you changed the data in your spreadsheet, or your database, the word document changed. It was all live and real-time. All in DOS.
What a great bit of software that was. I really liked it!
Re: Ability Plus?
Still going, AND the last DOS version, 3, is available for download here - http://www.ability.com/support/dos/ab3.php
Re: Ability Plus?
I had a summer job as a lifeguard and the beach inspectors used that to keep track of all the beach hut problems.
Good Thing It Wasn't Apple
If Apple themselves could lay claim to an early spreadsheet, then rectangles with numbers, text, or anything else, in them would probably be one of their "patents." They'd be suing graph-paper printers.
Re: Good Thing It Wasn't Apple
Surely the cells of an Apple spreadsheet would be comprised of rounded rectangles, no?
By the way, loving these old war stories - Reg, do more oldskool business like this please, makes a good read for us young'uns who wern't even born when half this shit went down!
Paris because she loves a bit of the old DOS
Just me then?
Re: Lotus Improv?
Improv was great, just too much of a paradigm shift for most people to cope with.
The very idea of a spreadsheet that started with just one cell put off a lot of people I know, but it was the best financial modelling tool I ever used.
Reg, how about a series about plucky failures to run alongside these reminisences?
I had visicalc on my artari 800 in 1981.
1-2-3 For Ever!
I still use Lotus 1-2-3 (for DOS) at home for all my personal spreadsheet work. My household and personal finance spreadsheets have been lovingly crafted and honed to perfection over the years, and I’m damned if I’m going to ‘convert’ them to nasty old Excel!
My first encounter with 1-2-3 was at work, in 1987. We had it running on a couple of IBM PCs, and a beefy Toshiba laptop with a funky orange gas plasma screen.
At home, I first used version 2 for DOS on my Acorn Archimedes, via Acorn’s nifty PC Emulator.
After that, version 3 for DOS came along for the ride as I transitioned through several laptops, running Windows 95, 98, XP, and now Windows 7. It now lives in an XP virtual machine on my Win7 laptop. I should be able to keep it running indefinitely, provided I can continue running an XP virtual machine on whatever host OS comes along (I’m seriously considering moving over to Linux after Win7 has run its course).
But why, you may ask, am I still using quaint old 1-2-3?
1) It’s retro. Retro is good. Plus it looks really cool running full screen on a black background.
2) It’s rock solid. It doesn’t crash.
3) It doesn’t create temp files. This has certain security benefits.
4) You can ‘draw’ lines and borders by putting extended ASCII characters in the cells via their alt codes.
5) The default font is white – you can make the text green by formatting the cell as protected. Two colours – neat!
A big thank you to Mitch Kapor and Jonathan Sachs for creating such a fantastic piece of software.
What really sunk 1-2-3 was a shoddy initial port to Windows and OS/2, as they were putting all their money into the (decidedly old-fashioned) DOS version. Meanwhile Microsoft kept cranking out new versions of Excel and 1-2-3 simply got left behind...
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