Lotus 1-2-3

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Lotus 1-2-3
Lotus 1-2-3 9.8 icon.png
Lotus 1-2-3 9.8 Windows.png
Developer(s) IBM
Initial release 1983; 32 years ago (1983)
Stable release 9.8.2 / 2002; 13 years ago (2002)
Development status Discontinued
Operating system MS-DOS, Microsoft Windows, OS/2, Mac OS
Type Spreadsheet
License Proprietary
Website www.ibm.com/software/lotus/products/123/

Lotus 1-2-3 is a spreadsheet program from Lotus Software (now part of IBM). It was the IBM PC's first "killer application", was hugely popular in the 1980s and contributed significantly to the success of the IBM PC.[1]

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 in spite of the greatly expanded hardware capabilities. Lotus' solution was marketed as a three-in-one, integrated solution, which handled spreadsheet calculations, database functionality, and graphical charts. Thus the name "1-2-3", though how much database capability was debatable given Lotus' spare memory. 1-2-3 quickly overtook VisiCalc, as well as Multiplan and SuperCalc, two VisiCalc competitors.

1-2-3 was the spreadsheet standard throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s, part of a suite of three 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 to supplement their DOS offerings, and so they responded slowly to Microsoft's own graphical based products, Excel and Word. Lotus was passed by Microsoft in the early 1990s and never recovered. IBM purchased Lotus and continued to sell Lotus offerings, only officially ending sales in 2013.[2]



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's to run the program.[3] 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.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed]


Lotus 1-2-3 Release 3.0 for MS-DOS.

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.[4][5] To aid its growth, in the UK, and possibly elsewhere, Lotus 1-2-3 was the very first computer software to use television consumer advertising.[6]

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 and 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[7]) and wrote directly to video memory rather than use the slow DOS and/or BIOS text output functions.[citation needed]

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, with Microsoft Flight Simulator, for true 100% compatibility when PC clones appeared in the early 1980s.[8][9][10][11][12][13] 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.[14]

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.'"[15] PC clones' advertising did often prominently state that they were compatible with 1-2-3.[14] An Apple II software company promised that its spreadsheet had "the power of 1-2-3".[16] 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 case against Mosaic Software. However, when they sued Borland over its Quattro Pro spreadsheet in Lotus v. Borland, the courts ruled that it was not a copyright violation to merely have a compatible command menu or language. 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.


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' stranglehold on spreadsheet sales. However, Lotus suffered technical setbacks in this period. Version 3 of Lotus 1-2-3, fully rewritten from its original macro assembler into 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 was well on its way to breaking through Lotus' 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' 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."[17]
IBM wasn't granted OEM rights for Windows 95 until 15 minutes prior to the release of Windows 95, 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.[18]

On 11 June 2013, IBM announced it would withdraw the Lotus brand: IBM Lotus 123 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 September 30, 2014. No service extensions will be offered. There will be no replacement programs." [19]

User features[edit]

The name "1-2-3" stemmed from the product's integration of three main capabilities. Along with being a spreadsheet, it 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".[20] In version 2.0, the extension changed first to "WK1",[21] then "WK2".[22] This later became "WK3" for version 3.0[23] and "WK4" for version 4.0.[24]

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).[citation needed]

PC Version History[edit]


Real Mode (8088+)[edit]

These editions of 1-2-3 for DOS were primarily written in x86 assembly language.

  • Release 1 was the first release for DOS-based PCs. Introduced in 1983.[25]
  • Release 2 brought add-in support, better memory management and expanded memory support, and supported x87 math coprocessors. Introduced in 1985.[25]
  • Release 2.2 brought improved speed, automated macro tools, and presentation-quality graphics. Introduced in 1989.[26]
  • Release 2.3 brought WYSIWYG editing to the 2.x line. Introduced in 1991.[27]
  • Release 2.4 added icons and additional tools, and was the last release supporting 2D (only) spreadsheets. Introduced in 1992.[28]

Protected Mode (80286+)[edit]

These editions of 1-2-3 for DOS were primarily written in C.

  • Release 3.0 introduced the concept of 3D spreadsheets, utilized extended memory, supported having multiple files open simultaneously, and required an 80286-based PC or higher. Introduced in 1989.[25][26]
  • Release 3.1 added WYSIWYG capabilities, the ability to swap to disk allowing for larger files, and could be run as a DOS program under Windows 3.0. Introduced in 1990.[29]
  • Release 3.4 added icons, improved performance, and enhanced graph capabilities, making it functionally similar to Release 2.4. Introduced in 1992.[30]
  • Release 4 was the last release for DOS, containing an improved interface and supporting 2D and 3D spreadsheets. Introduced in 1994.[31]


  • Release 1.1. Introduced in 1991.[32]
  • Release 2. Introduced in 1992.[33]
  • Release 2.1. Introduced in 1994.[33]


  • Release 1 was the first release for Windows, requiring Windows 3.0 or higher, and was functionally equivalent to Release 3.x for DOS. Introduced in 1991.[25]
  • Release 4 was an extensive improvement that added groupware capabilities, improved integration with Lotus Notes, advanced graphics, context-sensitive menus and icons, and in-cell editing. Introduced in 1993.[34]
  • Release 5 added additional groupware capabilities, chart maps, and improved database access. This was the last 16-bit version for Windows 3.1x, and was available as part of SmartSuite 3.1, 4, and 4.5. Introduced in 1994.[35][36]
  • 97 Edition was the first 32-bit version, requiring Windows 95 or Windows NT 4.0, and had a changed interface and support for LotusScript. Introduced in 1997.[25]
  • Millennium Edition 9.8 contained new functions, improved Y2K support, Internet support, and better Excel compatibility. This is the last version of 1-2-3 for any platform, and has received maintenance releases through Fixpack 2. Introduced in 2002.[25]

Other operating systems[edit]

  • DeskMate — "Lotus Spreadsheet for DeskMate", which was not officially called "1-2-3", supported 1-2-3 2.x files, and used windows, on-screen symbols, pull-down menus, dialog boxes and other graphical tools similar to Microsoft Windows. However, it did not support add-ins, macros, or expanded memory. Introduced in 1989.[26]
  • Unix — A single version for Unix System V/386 was released. It was certified for SCO Xenix 2.3 and SCO Unix 3.2.0, but also expected to work on AT&T's plain System V and on ISC's 386/ix. Introduced in 1990.[37]
  • HP MS-DOS Pocket PCs — A joint collaboration between Hewlett Packard and Lotus, the HP 95LX and its successors (1991-1994) had ports of 1-2-3 embedded in ROM.
  • Apple Macintosh — Lotus' first truly WYSIWYG spreadsheet, taking full advantage of the Mac OS, had two releases: Release 1.0-introduced in 1991,[38] and Release 1.1-introduced in 1992.[39]


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".[40] 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.[41]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Darrow, Barbara (1 February 2002), "Whatever Happened To Lotus 1-2-3?", CRN, retrieved 31 October 2007 .
  2. ^ Power, D.J. (30 August 2004). "A Brief History of Spreadsheets". DSSResources.com 3.6. 
  3. ^ McMullen, Barbara E.; McMullen, John F. (21 February 1984). "Apple Charts the Course for IBM". PC Magazine 3 (3): 122–129. Retrieved 11 January 2015. 
  4. ^ "The History of Notes and Domino", Developer Works, IBM, 14 November 2007, retrieved 20 December 2005 
  5. ^ Campbell-Kelly, Martin (7 May 2004), Oral history interview with Jonathan Sachs, Charles Babbage Institute, University of Minnesota .
  6. ^ "ComputerWorld, Page 24", Micro Software TV Ads Play to Mixed Review, ComputerWorld, 26 November 1984 
  7. ^ Lewis, Peter H (13 March 1988). "The Executive computer; Lotus 1-2-3 Faces Up to the Upstarts". The New York Times. Retrieved 14 October 2012. Release 3.0 is being written in the computer language known as C, to provide easy transportability among PCs, Macs and mainframes. 
  8. ^ Lockwood, Russ (September 1985). "Zenith Z-151; choice of U.S. Air Force and Navy". Creative Computing. p. 50. Retrieved 26 February 2013. 
  9. ^ Alsop, Stewart (31 January 1994). "A public Windows pane to make compatibility clearer". InfoWorld. p. 102. Retrieved 28 February 2011. 
  10. ^ Dvorak, John C (12 May 1986). "Springtime In Atlanta Beats Fall In Las Vegas". InfoWorld. p. 66. Retrieved 28 February 2011. 
  11. ^ Satchell, Stephen (27 January 1986). "The Corona ATP Is Faster Than The IBM PC AT, But It Has Flaws". InfoWorld. pp. 47, 50. Retrieved 28 February 2011. 
  12. ^ Mace, Scott; Sorensen, Karen (5 May 1986). "Amiga, Atari Ready PC Emulators". InfoWorld. p. 5. Retrieved 28 February 2011. 
  13. ^ Satchell, Stephen (14 January 1985). "AT&T 6300 Personal Computer". InfoWorld. pp. 49, 53–54. Retrieved 28 February 2011. 
  14. ^ a b Trivette, Donald B. (April 1985). "Lotus 1-2-3 For IBM PCjr". Compute!. p. 63. Retrieved 6 October 2013. 
  15. ^ Clapp, Doug (27 February 1984). "PC compatibility". InfoWorld. p. 22. Retrieved 18 January 2015. 
  16. ^ "VIP Professional". inCider (advertisement). December 1986. p. 171. Retrieved 4 February 2015. 
  17. ^ "Full text of Judge Jackson's findings of fact". CNet. , Sec. 116. January 2007
  18. ^ "Full text of Judge Jackson's findings of fact". CNet. , Sec. 125. January 2007
  19. ^ Goodbye, Lotus 1-2-3 | ZDNet
  20. ^ "WKS File Extension – Open .WKS files", File info .
  21. ^ "WK1 File Extension – Open .WK1 files", File info .
  22. ^ "WK2 File Extension – Open .WK2 files", File info .
  23. ^ "WK3 File Extension – Open .WK3 files", File info .
  24. ^ "WK4 File Extension – Open .WK4 files", File info .
  25. ^ a b c d e f "Lotus 1-2-3". University of Maryland. Retrieved 29 October 2014. 
  26. ^ a b c Lewis, Peter H. (13 August 1989). "THE EXECUTIVE COMPUTER; Sorting Out Lotus's New 1-2-3's". The New York Times. Retrieved 11 January 2015. 
  27. ^ "Lotus 1-2-3 Version Information". EMS Professional Software. Retrieved 29 October 2014. 
  28. ^ Walkenbach, John (1 June 1992). "Lotus Dresses Up 1-2-3 with Smart Icons". InfoWorld 14 (22): 73, 76. Retrieved 23 October 2014. 
  29. ^ Walkenbach, John (15 October 1990). "Lotus 1-2-3, Release 3.1 Has Publishing-Quality Output". InfoWorld 12 (42): 91–92, 96. Retrieved 12 January 2015. 
  30. ^ Walkenbach, John (15 February 1993). "Lotus updates, accelerates 1-2-3 for DOS". InfoWorld 15 (7): 57, 60–61. Retrieved 29 October 2014. 
  31. ^ Singh, Jai (16 May 1994). "Lotus Readies 1-2-3 Upgrade". InfoWorld 16 (20): 10. Retrieved 23 October 2014. 
  32. ^ "1-2-3/G for OS/2, Release 1.1". Lotus Museum. Retrieved 29 October 2014. 
  33. ^ a b "Splashes 1-2-3". Graphical User Interface Gallery Guidebook. Retrieved 29 October 2014. 
  34. ^ Strehlo, Kevin (24 May 1993). "Lotus significantly improves usability in 1-2-3, Release 4". InfoWorld 15 (21): 172. Retrieved 24 January 2015. 
  35. ^ Conatser, Kelly (3 October 1994). "Lotus navigates steady course with 1-2-3". InfoWorld 16 (40): 85–86, 88, 90. Retrieved 24 January 2015. 
  36. ^ Rose, Daniel. "Windows® 1.x, 2.x, 3.x - Lotus SmartSuite Release 3.1". Daniel's Legacy Computer Collections. Retrieved 11 January 2015. 
  37. ^ Lotus to Ship One 1-2-3 For Unix V/386 Systems. InfoWorld. 18 June 1990. p. 45. ISSN 0199-6649. 
  38. ^ "1-2-3 for Macintosh, Release 1.0". Lotus Museum. Retrieved 11 January 2015. 
  39. ^ "1-2-3 for Macintosh, Release 1.1". Lotus Museum. Retrieved 11 January 2015. 
  40. ^ Williams, Gregg (December 1982). "Lotus Development Corporation's 1-2-3". BYTE. p. 182. Retrieved 19 October 2013. 
  41. ^ Derfler, Frank J. Jr. (March 1983). "A Program You Can Count On". PC Magazine. p. 187. Retrieved 21 October 2013. 

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