Lotus 1-2-3

Lotus 1-2-3
Developer(s) IBM
Initial release 26 January 1983 (1983-01-26)
Stable release
9.8.2 / 2002 (2002)
Development status Discontinued
Operating system DOS, Windows, OS/2, "classic" Mac OS
Type Spreadsheet
License Proprietary
Website www.ibm.com/software/lotus/products/123/

Lotus 1-2-3 is a discontinued spreadsheet program from Lotus Software (later 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, hence the name "1-2-3", though how much database capability was debatable given Lotus' sparse 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 machines 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.

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.


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]

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 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.

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 while the latter did not support 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.

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.[8][9][10][11][12][13][14] 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.[15]

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.'"[16] PC clones' advertising did often prominently state that they were compatible with 1-2-3.[15] An Apple II software company promised that its spreadsheet had "the power of 1-2-3".[17] 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 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 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."[18] 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.[19]

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 30 September 2014. No service extensions will be offered. There will be no replacement programs."[20]

User features

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".[21] In version 2.0, the extension changed first to "WK1",[22] then "WK2".[23] This later became "WK3" for version 3.0[24] and "WK4" for version 4.0.[25]

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).

PC version history


Real Mode (8088+)

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

Protected Mode (80286+)

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



Win16 (Windows 3.x)

Win32 (Windows 9x/NT)

Other operating systems


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".[49] 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.[50]

See also


  1. Darrow, Barbara (2002-02-01), "Whatever Happened To Lotus 1-2-3?", CRN, retrieved 2007-10-31.
  2. Power, D. J. (2004-08-30). "A Brief History of Spreadsheets". DSSResources.com. 3.6.
  3. McMullen, Barbara E.; McMullen, John F. (1984-02-21). "Apple Charts the Course for IBM". PC Magazine. 3 (3): 122–129. Retrieved 2015-01-11.
  4. "The History of Notes and Domino", Developer Works, IBM, 2007-11-14, retrieved 2005-12-20
  5. Campbell-Kelly, Martin (2004-05-07), Oral history interview with Jonathan Sachs, Charles Babbage Institute, University of Minnesota.
  6. "ComputerWorld", Micro Software TV Ads Play to Mixed Review, ComputerWorld, 1984-11-26, p. 24
  7. Lewis, Peter H. (1988-03-13). "The Executive computer; Lotus 1-2-3 Faces Up to the Upstarts". The New York Times. Retrieved 2012-10-14. Release 3.0 is being written in the computer language known as C, to provide easy transportability among PCs, Macs and mainframes.
  8. Springer, P. Gregory (1985-06-03). "Tandy's Magnificent Concession". InfoWorld. p. 72. Retrieved 2014-07-19.
  9. Lockwood, Russ (September 1985). "Zenith Z-151; choice of U.S. Air Force and Navy". Creative Computing. p. 50. Retrieved 2013-02-26.
  10. Alsop, Stewart (1994-01-31). "A public Windows pane to make compatibility clearer". InfoWorld. p. 102. Retrieved 2011-02-28.
  11. Dvorak, John C. (1986-05-12). "Springtime In Atlanta Beats Fall In Las Vegas". InfoWorld. p. 66. Retrieved 2011-02-28.
  12. Satchell, Stephen (1986-01-27). "The Corona ATP Is Faster Than The IBM PC AT, But It Has Flaws". InfoWorld. pp. 47, 50. Retrieved 2011-02-28.
  13. Mace, Scott; Sorensen, Karen (1986-05-05). "Amiga, Atari Ready PC Emulators". InfoWorld. p. 5. Retrieved 2011-02-28.
  14. Satchell, Stephen (1985-01-14). "AT&T 6300 Personal Computer". InfoWorld. pp. 49, 53–54. Retrieved 2011-02-28.
  15. 1 2 Trivette, Donald B. (April 1985). "Lotus 1-2-3 For IBM PCjr". Compute!. p. 63. Retrieved 2013-10-06.
  16. Clapp, Doug (1984-02-27). "PC compatibility". InfoWorld. p. 22. Retrieved 2015-01-18.
  17. "VIP Professional". inCider (advertisement). December 1986. p. 171. Retrieved 2015-02-04.
  18. "Full text of Judge Jackson's findings of fact". CNet. January 2007. Section 116.
  19. "Full text of Judge Jackson's findings of fact". CNet. January 2007. Section 125.
  20. Goodbye, Lotus 1-2-3 | ZDNet
  21. "WKS File Extension – Open .WKS files", File info.
  22. "WK1 File Extension – Open .WK1 files", File info.
  23. "WK2 File Extension – Open .WK2 files", File info.
  24. "WK3 File Extension – Open .WK3 files", File info.
  25. "WK4 File Extension – Open .WK4 files", File info.
  26. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Walkenbach, John (2007). "Chapter One: Excel 2007: Where It Came From". Excel 2007 Power Programming with VBA. John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. ISBN 978-0-470-04401-8. Archived from the original on 2016-11-29. Retrieved 2016-11-29.
  27. 1 2 3 4 5 6 "Lotus 1-2-3". University of Maryland. Retrieved 2014-10-29.
  28. 1 2 Attia, Zayn 'Utbah (2015-03-11). "ASCII graphic characters, range names". Computer Tips. Archived from the original on 2016-11-29. Retrieved 2016-11-29. […] 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. […]
  29. 1 2 3 Schemenaur, P. J. (1986-10-27). "Firm to Debut Clone Version of Lotus 1-2-3 - Program Offers 2.0 Compatibility". InfoWorld. Retrieved 2016-11-29. […] 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. […]
  30. 1 2 Cobb, Douglas; Cobb, Steven (1988-10-31). "Spreadsheet clinic: How to adjust SuperCalc's financial functions to analyze annuities due, create flashing screen messages in 1-2-3, and access upper-level ASCII characters in Quattro and 1-2-3.". PC Magazine: 411. Archived from the original on 2016-12-01. Retrieved 2016-12-01. […] 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 Dislay 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.)
  31. Lee, Yvonne (1993-05-03). "HP 100LX rolled out as successor to palmtop". InfoWorld: 27. Retrieved 2016-11-26.
  32. 1 2 3 Lewis, Peter H. (1989-08-13). "THE EXECUTIVE COMPUTER; Sorting Out Lotus's New 1-2-3's". The New York Times. Retrieved 2015-01-11.
  33. "Lotus 1-2-3 Version Information". EMS Professional Software. Retrieved 2014-10-29.
  34. Walkenbach, John (1992-06-01). "Lotus Dresses Up 1-2-3 with Smart Icons". InfoWorld. 14 (22): 73, 76. Retrieved 2014-10-23.
  35. 1 2 3 Balaban, Bob (2001). "Multi-Language Character Sets - What They Are, How To Use Them" (PDF). Looseleaf Software, Inc. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2016-11-25. Retrieved 2016-11-25.
  36. Walkenbach, John (1990-10-15). "Lotus 1-2-3, Release 3.1 Has Publishing-Quality Output". InfoWorld. 12 (42): 91–92, 96. Retrieved 2015-01-12.
  37. Walkenbach, John (1993-02-15). "Lotus updates, accelerates 1-2-3 for DOS". InfoWorld. 15 (7): 57, 60–61. Retrieved 2014-10-29.
  38. Singh, Jai (1994-05-16). "Lotus Readies 1-2-3 Upgrade". InfoWorld. 16 (20): 10. Retrieved 2014-10-23.
  39. "1-2-3/G for OS/2, Release 1.1". Lotus Museum. Retrieved 2014-10-29.
  40. 1 2 "Splashes 1-2-3". Graphical User Interface Gallery Guidebook. Retrieved 2014-10-29.
  41. Strehlo, Kevin (1993-05-24). "Lotus significantly improves usability in 1-2-3, Release 4". InfoWorld. 15 (21): 172. Retrieved 2015-01-24.
  42. Conatser, Kelly (1994-10-03). "Lotus navigates steady course with 1-2-3". InfoWorld. 16 (40): 85–86, 88, 90. Retrieved 2015-01-24.
  43. Rose, Daniel. "Windows® 1.x, 2.x, 3.x - Lotus SmartSuite Release 3.1". Daniel's Legacy Computer Collections. Retrieved 2015-01-11.
  44. Lotus to Ship One 1-2-3 For Unix V/386 Systems. InfoWorld. 1990-06-18. p. 45. ISSN 0199-6649.
  45. "New Lotus 1-2-3 Edition for SPARC systems supports real-time working". Computer Business Review. Retrieved 2016-02-06.
  46. "Novell and Spire Technologies Announce WordPerfect 5.1+ for OpenVMS/Alpha Systems". Novell press release. Retrieved 2016-07-27.
  47. "1-2-3 for Macintosh, Release 1.0". Lotus Museum. Retrieved 2015-01-11.
  48. "1-2-3 for Macintosh, Release 1.1". Lotus Museum. Retrieved 2015-01-11.
  49. Williams, Gregg (December 1982). "Lotus Development Corporation's 1-2-3". BYTE. p. 182. Retrieved 2013-10-19.
  50. Derfler, Frank J. Jr. (March 1983). "A Program You Can Count On". PC Magazine. p. 187. Retrieved 2013-10-21.

External links

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