Lotus 1-2-3 R. 4

by Alan Zisman (c) 1993. First published in Our Computer Player, June 18, 1993

Lotus 1-2-3 Release 4 for Windows
price-- $495(US); upgrade $129(US) for owners of 123, Excel,
or Quattro Pro

Windows 3.x,
about 14 meg hard drive space

Many people believe that spreadsheets made the personal computer a viable
commercial product. Sure, more people own word processing software. But in the
late 1970's, when word processors meant dedicated machines, probably built by Wang,
and personal computers tended to be built out of kits by
hobbyists working in the garage, VisiCalc (for Visible Calculator), the
first electronic spreadsheet, was created for the Apple 2.

Its uses were immediately obvious, and you had to have a personal
computer to use it... you couldn't run a spreadsheet on a dedicated word
processor, or from a mainframe terminal. And since you had to buy an
Apple 2 to run VisiCalc, Apple's fortunes were assured.

When, a few years later, IBM released its first PC, the big question was
"where's the spreadsheet". VisiCalc and Microsoft's MultiPlan were
ported over to the new platform, but newcomer Lotus turned out to be the
surprise winner. Their product, 1-2-3 was written in 8088 Assembly
language, meaning it was optimized for the PC. The other products were
designed to work on a variety of models, but the resulting compromises
slowed them down.

As well, 1-2-3 wasn't just a spreadsheet. As well as the core
spreadsheet capability ("1"), you could also do basic databasing ("2"),
and even business graphics-- charting ("3")... if you had a graphics
card. Not only did this sell a lot of PCs, but it also established
Hercules monochrome as a video adapter standard that could show those
graphs... something that IBM's Monochrome Display Adapter lacked.

1-2-3 and the IBM-PC quickly became the products to have. The IBM
personal computer standard swept the business market. And Lotus
quickly became the biggest software company for personal computers;
bigger than Microsoft, to Bill Gates' dismay, while VisiCalc simply
disappeared within a few years.

But while Lotus 1-2-3 ver 2.01 became the standard spreadsheet, Lotus
seemed unable to follow up on its success. It's Jazz for the MacIntosh
was a widely-publicized flop. And when it finally got around to
replacing version 2.01, several years too late, its strategy of having
two products, a version 2.1 for low-end users, and version 3.0 for the
heavy-hitters just seemed to confuse many potential buyers.

Meanwhile, they missed the big Windows 3.0 market entirely... perhaps
believing the hype of the late '80s that by 1991 everyone would be
running under OS/2, they produced an 1-2-3G (for Graphic), an innovative
product that hardly anyone purchased, since hardly anyone actually ran

Finally, once Lotus released a Windows spreadsheet, they were several
years late. Microsoft, which took over the MacIntosh spreadsheet market
with Excel after Lotus Jazz went no where, had successfully moved Excel over to
Windows. Upstart Borland, which had challenged Lotus in the DOS market
with Quattro-Pro (and been served with a lawsuit for their troubles),
had a solid Windows version as well.

1-2-3 for Windows, version 1 was widely viewed as slow and awkward, a
far cry from its speed-demon DOS roots. It also didn't do a very good
job of taking advantage of Windows' graphical environment. It did,
however, run macros and files produced with the DOS version, and if you
hit the '/' slash key, up popped a DOS menu... easing the transition to
the new Windows commands for DOS users.

Finally, a year and a half later, Lotus seems to have gotten its wind
back. 1-2-3 Release 4 for Windows is a product that can be compared
favorably to Excel or Quattro-Pro. (They jumped from version 1.2 for
Windows to Release 4... to suggest that this is a generation later than
version 3.x for DOS).

Ironically, it comes out on the heels of Lotus IMPROV, a 'next-
generation' spreadsheet, originally developed for the NeXT computer, and
recently released for Windows (see accompanying article).

Release 4 looks good, having taken much of its interface from Lotus's
Ami-Pro word processor. Like Ami-Pro, there is a row of SmartIcons along
the top, and a powerful status bar along the bottom. Both of these can
be customized by the user, and even removed entirely to add more display

Lotus has also been prepared to borrow good ideas from its competitors;
3-D sheets are managed using tabs, as in Quattro-Pro. This is much more
convenient than the multiple pages displayed at once in both the DOS and
Windows versions of 1-2-3. As in both Excel and Quattro-Pro, clicking on a
cell with the right mouse button pops up a Quick Menu of relevant commands.
Cells and ranges can be moved by dragging them to a new location with
the mouse. Columns and rows can be selected simply by clicking on the letter or
number along the top or the left.

This spreadsheet has some new interface features that are all its own, as well.
Users can edit cells and even charts directly in place... no need to
look up to the control panel, or to work with a separate chart window.
Charting is especially intelligent, picking up default titles, legends,
and axis-labels right from the spreadsheet. An @function Pull-down menu
makes it easy to find the right function, and pop it into a formula. The
user can easily customize the list so that most-often used @functions
are at the top. Finally, this version looks and feels like a graphically-oriented
Windows product, not just a quick and awkward port from the DOS version.

Release 4 is especially aimed at supporting workgroups; what you get
when more than one person is collaborating on a single file. Version
Manager helps deal with multiple versions of the same information. It
lets individuals or groups of users create alternative sets of values
for a cell or a range or even a set of ranges. These can be named: "Best
Case", "Worst Case", "In Between" for instance, and can include
annotations. Version Manager keeps track of the creation date, and the
name of the creator. Users can more easily use a single spreadsheet to
keep on top of changing conditions, or to forecast the effect of
multiple scenarios.

1-2-3 also has much more powerful database connections. Many users are
more comfortable with spreadsheets than with database programs. Release
4 supports them with new tools for querying data, whether its included
in a spreadsheet, or in an external database file. It supports both PC
and mainframe database formats, including dBase, Paradox, SQL, and ODBC.

As a spreadsheet, it's more powerful than ever, too. There are 110 new
@functions, including specialized engineering, financial, mathematical,
and statistical functions. There are 250 new macro commands, a Dialog Editor, and support
for Macro Buttons. There's even a spell checker (which it can share with
Ami-Pro) and a spreadsheet auditor. Combine these with 'designer frames'
(sounds like what you get at the opticians), and you can produce a more
powerful product that looks better.

In fact, you can draw or add text right on the worksheet or chart, and
can import graphics directly (CGM or Lotus PIC format only), or via the
Windows ClipBoard (any supported format). You can also compress columns,
rows, or both, in order to fit your desired output onto a single page.

Release 4 is designed to work together with other Lotus Windows
products; it shares a common look and feel with Ami-Pro and Freelance
Graphics. All Lotus products can share a single spell-checker
dictionary. The Send-Mail command will work with Lotus Notes and ccMail
(as well as other VIM or MAPI compliant mail packages) to send and receive
mail while working in the spreadsheet.

It interacts with other Windows software via all the current buzzwords.
It can send and receive data through the ClipBoard and DDE (Dynamic Data
Exchange). It works as both an OLE server and client, letting you embed
spreadsheet data in another application, or add objects such as sounds,
graphics, or videos into your 1-2-3 spreadsheet. As well, it supports
ODBC (Open Database Connectivity), a new Windows specification to
connect to external databases.

All these added features result in a new file format... WK4 worksheet
files. Release 4 can read worksheets from previous versions (DOS and
Windows) of 1-2-3. It read and saved my Excel worksheets without complaint.
(It doesn't support Quattro-Pro
format, however). Users can save in older file formats, but all features
may not be accessible using older programs.

Documentation is aimed at users of previous DOS and Windows versions of
1-2-3 who are upgrading. There is also an on-disk, 40-minute, animated Guided Tour
to help new spreadsheet users, and a set of eight interactive  lessons
available through the Help menu.

Registered users are entitled to three months of toll-free telephone
support, available 24-hours a day, seven days a week. For $129 a year, this can
be extended. As well, there is unlimited free support, both by phone or by FAX.

1-2-3 for Windows Release 4 is finally a program that Lotus users can be
proud of. It removes Lotus from the also-ran status among Windows spreadsheets,
and puts it back, if not as undisputed champion, among the contenters
for the crown.

(Note from the year 2003): The above article was originally published in 1993, as a review. A decade and more later, I've gotten a series of emails from 1-2-3 fans hoping that I could sell them a copy of this software or direct them to a place where it is still available. While I have reviewed software since 1991, I am not a vendor of r any products. I suggest to everyone looking for copies of older software to check at eBay or at OldSoftware.com.If you check on my Files webpages, you'll find links to a number of (mostly freeware) downloadable software, some of which may be good replacements for older programs.
-- AZ (September 15, 2003)

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan