|Initial release||26 January 1983|
9.8.2 / 2002
|Written in||x86 assembly language, C|
|Operating system||DOS, Windows, OS/2, classic Mac OS, MVS, VM/CMS, OpenVMS, Unix|
Lotus 1-2-3 is a discontinued spreadsheet program from Lotus Software (later part of IBM). It was the first killer application of the IBM PC, was hugely popular in the 1980s, and significantly contributed to the success of IBM PC-compatibles.
The first spreadsheet, VisiCalc, had helped launch the Apple II as one of the earliest personal computers in business use. With IBM's entry into the market, VisiCalc was slow to respond, and when they did, they launched what was essentially a straight port of their existing system despite the greatly expanded hardware capabilities. Lotus's solution was marketed as a three-in-one integrated solution: it handled spreadsheet calculations, database functionality, and graphical charts, hence the name "1-2-3", though how much database capability the product actually had was debatable, given the sparse memory left over after launching 1-2-3. It quickly overtook VisiCalc, as well as Multiplan and SuperCalc, the two VisiCalc competitors.
1-2-3 was the spreadsheet standard throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s, part of an unofficial set of three stand-alone office automation products that included dBase and WordPerfect, to build a complete business platform. With the acceptance of Windows 3.0, the market for desktop software grew even more. None of the major spreadsheet developers had seriously considered the graphical user interface (GUI) to supplement their DOS offerings, and so they responded slowly to Microsoft's own GUI-based products Excel and Word. Lotus was surpassed by Microsoft in the early 1990s, and never recovered. IBM purchased Lotus in 1995, and continued to sell Lotus offerings, only officially ending sales in 2013.
VisiCalc was launched in 1979 on the Apple II and immediately became a best-seller. Compared to earlier programs, VisiCalc allowed one to easily construct free-form calculation systems for practically any purpose, the limitations being primarily memory and speed related. The application was so compelling that there were numerous stories of people buying Apple II machines to run the program (see article Killer application). VisiCalc's runaway success on the Apple led to direct bug compatible ports to other platforms, including the Atari 8-bit family, Commodore PET and many others. This included the IBM PC when it launched in 1981, where it quickly became another best-seller, with an estimated 300,000 sales in the first six months on the market.
There were well known problems with VisiCalc, and several competitors appeared to address some of these issues. One early example was 1980's SuperCalc, which solved the problem of circular references, while a slightly later example was Microsoft Multiplan from 1981, which offered larger sheets and other improvements. In spite of these, and others, VisiCalc continued to outsell them all.
The Lotus Development Corporation was founded by Mitchell Kapor, a friend of the developers of VisiCalc. 1-2-3 was originally written by Jonathan Sachs, who had written two spreadsheet programs previously while working at Concentric Data Systems, Inc. To aid its growth both in the UK and possibly elsewhere, Lotus 1-2-3 became the very first computer software to use television consumer advertising.
Kapor was primarily a marketing guru. His ability to develop his product to appeal to non-technical users was one secret to its rapid success. Unlike far too many technologists, Kapor relied on focus group feedback to make his user instructions more user-friendly. One example: the instructions that came with the floppy disc read: "Remove the protective cover and insert disc into computer." A few focus groups participant's tried to rip-off the stiff plastic envelope of disc carrier! Kaor's recognition that techno-speak instructions needed to be translated to normative English was a strong contributor to the product's popularity outide the technologists' users.
Lotus 1-2-3 was released on 26 January 1983, and immediately overtook Visicalc in sales. Unlike Microsoft Multiplan, it stayed very close to the model of VisiCalc, including the "A1" letter and number cell notation, and slash-menu structure. It was cleanly programmed, relatively bug-free, gained speed from being written completely in x86 assembly language (this remained the case for all DOS versions until 3.0, when Lotus switched to C) and wrote directly to video memory rather than use the slow DOS and/or BIOS text output functions.
Among other novelties that Lotus introduced was a graph maker that could display several forms of graphs (including pie charts, bar graphics, or line charts) but required the user to have a graphics card. At this early stage, the only video boards available for the PC were IBM's Color/Graphics Adapter and Monochrome Display and Printer Adapter, the latter not supporting any graphics. However, because the two video boards used different RAM and port addresses, both could be installed in the same machine and so Lotus took advantage of this by supporting a "split" screen mode whereby the user could display the worksheet portion of 1-2-3 on the sharper monochrome video and the graphics on the CGA display.
The initial release of 1-2-3 supported only three video setups: CGA, MDA (in which case the graph maker was not available) or dual-monitor mode. However, a few months later support was added for Hercules Computer Technology's Hercules Graphics Adapter which was a clone of the MDA that allowed bitmap mode. The ability to have high-resolution text and graphics capabilities (at the expense of color) proved extremely popular and Lotus 1-2-3 is credited with popularizing the Hercules graphics card.
Subsequent releases of Lotus 1-2-3 supported more video standards as time went on, including EGA, AT&T/Olivetti, and VGA. Significantly, support for the PCjr/Tandy modes was never added and users of those machines were limited to CGA graphics.
The early versions of 1-2-3 also had a key disk copy protection. While the program was hard disk installable, the user had to insert the original floppy disk when starting 1-2-3 up. This protection scheme was easily cracked and a minor inconvenience for home users, but proved a serious nuisance in an office setting. Starting with Release 3.0, Lotus no longer used copy protection. However, it was then necessary to "initialize" the System disk with one's name and company name so as to customize the copy of the program. Release 2.2 and higher had this requirement. This was an irreversible process unless one had made an exact copy of the original disk so as to be able to change names to transfer the program to someone else.
The reliance on the specific hardware of the IBM PC led to 1-2-3 being utilized as one of the two stress test applications, along with Microsoft Flight Simulator, for true 100% compatibility when PC clones appeared in the early 1980s. 1-2-3 required two disk drives and at least 192K of memory, which made it incompatible with the IBM PCjr; Lotus produced a version for the PCjr that was on two cartridges but otherwise identical.
By early 1984 the software was a killer app for the IBM PC and compatibles, while hurting sales of computers that could not run it. "They're looking for 1-2-3. Boy, are they looking for 1-2-3!" InfoWorld wrote. Noting that computer purchasers did not want PC compatibility as much as compatibility with certain PC software, the magazine suggested "let's tell it like it is. Let's not say 'PC compatible,' or even 'MS-DOS compatible.' Instead, let's say '1-2-3 compatible.'" PC clones' advertising did often prominently state that they were compatible with 1-2-3. An Apple II software company promised that its spreadsheet had "the power of 1-2-3". Because spreadsheets use large amounts of memory, 1‐2‐3 helped popularize greater RAM capacities in PCs, and especially the advent of expanded memory, which allowed greater than 640k to be accessed.
Lotus 1-2-3 inspired imitators, the first of which was Mosaic Software's "The Twin", written in the fall of 1985 largely in the C language, followed by VP-Planner, which was backed by Adam Osborne. These were able to not only read 1-2-3 files, but also execute many or most macro programs by incorporating the same command structure. Copyright law had first been understood to only cover the source code of a program. After the success of lawsuits which claimed that the very "look and feel" of a program were covered, Lotus sought to ban any program which had a compatible command and menu structure. Program commands had not been considered to be covered before, but the commands of 1-2-3 were embedded in the words of the menu displayed on the screen. 1-2-3 won its 3-year long court battle against Paperback Software International and Mosaic Software Inc. in 1990. However, when it sued Borland over its Quattro Pro spreadsheet in Lotus v. Borland, a 6-year battle that ended at the Supreme Court in 1996, the final ruling appeared to support narrowing the applicability of copyright law to software; this is because the lower court's decision that it was not a copyright violation to merely have a compatible command menu or language was upheld, but only via stalemate. In 1995, the First Circuit found that command menus are an uncopyrightable "method of operation" under section 102(b) of the Copyright Act. The 1-2-3 menu structure (example, slash File Erase) was itself an advanced version of single letter menus introduced in VisiCalc. When the case came before the Supreme Court, the justices would end up deadlocked 4-4. This meant that Borland had emerged victorious, but the extent to which copyright law would be applicable to computer software went unaddressed and undefined.
Microsoft's early spreadsheet Multiplan eventually gave way to Excel, which debuted on the Macintosh in 1985. It arrived on PCs with the release of Windows 2.x in 1987, but as Windows was not yet popular, it posed no serious threat to Lotus's stranglehold on spreadsheet sales. However, Lotus suffered technical setbacks in this period. Version 3 of Lotus 1-2-3, fully converted from its original macro assembler to the more portable C language, was delayed by more than a year as the totally new 1-2-3 had to be made portable across platforms and fully compatible with existing macro sets and file formats. The inability to fit the larger code size of compiled C into lower-powered machines forced the company to split its spreadsheet offerings, with 1-2-3 release 3 only for higher-end machines, and a new version 2.2, based on the 2.01 assembler code base, available for PCs without extended memory. By the time these versions were released in 1989, Microsoft had eroded much of Lotus's market share.
During the early 1990s, Windows grew in popularity, and along with it, Excel, which gradually displaced Lotus from its leading position. A planned total revamp of 1-2-3 for Windows fell apart, and all that the company could manage, was a Windows adaptation of their existing spreadsheet with no changes except using a graphical interface. Additionally, several versions of 1-2-3 had different features and slightly different interfaces.
1-2-3's intended successor, Lotus Symphony, was Lotus's entry into the anticipated "integrated software" market. It intended to expand the rudimentary all-in-one 1-2-3 into a fully-fledged spreadsheet, graph, database and word processor for DOS, but none of the integrated packages ever really succeeded. 1-2-3 migrated to the Windows platform, as part of Lotus SmartSuite.
IBM's continued development and marketing of Lotus SmartSuite and OS/2 during the 1990s placed it in direct competition with Microsoft Office and Microsoft Windows, respectively. As a result, Microsoft "punished the IBM PC Company with higher prices, a late license for Windows 95, and the withholding of technical and marketing support." Microsoft did not grant IBM the OEM rights for Windows 95 until 15 minutes prior to the release of Windows 95 on 24 August 1995. Because of this uncertainty, IBM machines were sold without Windows 95, while Compaq, HP, and other companies sold machines with Windows 95 from day one.
On 11 June 2013, IBM announced it would withdraw the Lotus brand: IBM Lotus 1-2-3 Millennium Edition V9.x, IBM Lotus SmartSuite 9.x V9.8.0, and Organizer V6.1.0. IBM stated, "Customers will no longer be able to receive support for these offerings after 30 September 2014. No service extensions will be offered. There will be no replacement programs."
The name "1-2-3" stemmed from the product's integration of three main capabilities: along with its core spreadsheet functionality, 1-2-3 also offered integral charting/graphing and rudimentary database operations.
Data features included sorting data in any defined rectangle, by order of information in one or two columns in the rectangular area. Justifying text in a range into paragraphs allowed it to be used as a primitive word processor.
It had keyboard-driven pop-up menus as well as one-key commands, making it fast to operate. It was also user-friendly, introducing an early instance of context-sensitive help accessed by the F1 key.
Macros in version one and add-ins (introduced in version 2.0) contributed much to 1-2-3's popularity, allowing dozens of outside vendors to sell macro packages and add-ins ranging from dedicated financial worksheets like F9 to full-fledged word processors. In the single-tasking MS-DOS, 1-2-3 was sometimes used as a complete office suite. All major graphics standards were supported; initially CGA and Hercules, and later EGA, AT&T, and VGA. Early versions used the filename extension "WKS". In version 2.0, the extension changed first to "WK1", then "WK2". This later became "WK3" for version 3.0 and "WK4" for version 4.0.
Version 2 introduced macros with syntax and commands similar in complexity to an advanced BASIC interpreter, as well as string variable expressions. Later versions supported multiple worksheets and were written in C. The charting/graphing routines were written in Forth by Jeremy Sagan (son of Carl Sagan) and the printing routines by Paul Funk (founder of Funk Software).
These editions of 1-2-3 for DOS were primarily written in x86 assembly language.
These editions of 1-2-3 for DOS were primarily written in C.
After previewing 1-2-3 on the IBM PC in 1982, BYTE called it "modestly revolutionary" for elegantly combining spreadsheet, database, and graphing functions. It praised the application's speed and ease of use, stating that with the built-in help screens and tutorial, "1-2-3 is one of the few pieces of software that can literally be used by anybody. You can buy 1-2-3 and [an IBM PC] and be running the two together the same day".PC Magazine in 1983 called 1-2-3 "a powerful and impressive program ... as a spreadsheet, it's excellent", and attributed its very fast performance to being written in assembly language.
Release 3.0 is being written in the computer language known as C, to provide easy transportability among PCs, Macs and mainframes.
[…] Release 1A's capability to use extended graphics characters to dress up a screen was an undocumented feature. These characters allowed you to draw boxes and add special symbols on the screen. With Release 2, Lotus has assigned different meanings to these characters, the Lotus International Character Set, LICS. Any these extended characters must be erased or replaced with regular keyboard characters before the character can appear acceptable on an Release 2 screen. Release 2.01 offers an install option to use extended characters rather than LICS characters. […]
[…] Twin Release 2 keeps the IBM extended character set of Version 1A, rather than Release 2.0's Lotus International Character Set, which […] causes problems with commercial templates designed for Lotus 1-2-3, Release 1A. […]
[…] Unlike 1-2-3, Quattro uses the ASCII character set. By default, 1-2-3, Release 2.01, uses the Lotus International Character Set (LICS) — the same character set that Release 2.0 always uses […] you can command Release 2.01 to use the ASCII character set, just as Quattro does. […] load the install program, and select Advanced Options […] select TextDisplay […] choose Universal Text Display – ASCII-No LICS […] Now, when you load 1-2-3 using the modified driver set, the @CHAR function will produce upper-level ASCII characters […](NB. By "Upper-level ASCII", the authors actually meant the 8-bit OEM character set.)
Lotus 1-2-3M, the System/370 version of Lotus 1-2-3 Release 3, has been developed by Lotus Development Corporation to be exclusively marketed by IBM in the VM/CMS and MVS/TSO/E environments.
The Lotus Development Corporation today introduced a long-promised version of its popular 1-2-3 computer spreadsheet program for I.B.M. mainframe computers. The program, 1-2-3-M, allows personal computer users to pull data from a mainframe computer file and transfer it directly into the 1-2-3 spreadsheet... I.B.M. will be the sole marketer of the program, which is designed for use on I.B.M.'s System-370 computer line.
Edited: 2021-06-18 19:36:08