t Lotusphere 2002 this week, there was barely a mention of Lotus 1-2-3, the electronic spreadsheet that put Lotus Development on the map.
You would hardly know from this event that 1-2-3 was the killer app that helped build not only Lotus, but the entire PC software business in the decade after it rolled out at New York's World Trade Center in October 1982.
At Lotusphere, which revolves around Domino and Notes now and featured exactly zero sessions on 1-2-3, there were a few hints about the company's storied past. Comedian and former speechwriter Ben Stein reminisced that his father, the noted economist Herb Stein, used 1-2-3 religiously for his bond and stock yield comparisons.
Al Zollar, general manager of Lotus Software, now part of IBM, said the computer giant remains standardized on 1-2-3 (actually SmartSuite, a bundle of 1-2-3, WordPro, Freelance Graphics). "We're holdouts," he laughed. While IBM does not release specific figures, Zollar said SmartSuite users still number in the millions, so the company continues to support the component applications.
Those little islands of 1-2-3 enthusiasts are out there, although they may be few and far between.
Richard Cranford, a Cambridge, Mass.-based consultant who specialized in 1-2-3 macros and @ functions occasionally uses 1-2-3 Release 5, a Windows 3.1 version. "I still have some clients who have some old models that use that, he noted. And, for a while Cranford had a good business reverse engineering 1-2-3 models so they could be rewritten for Excel. Most people though, he admitted, have already made the move.
Still, theres something to be said for not fixing that which is not broken.
David Via, vice president of technology for the Wolcott Group, a Fairlawn, Ohio-based solution provider specializing in collaboration, set up some spreadsheets for his father's business nearly 20 years ago. "He runs his business on a set of 1-2-3 spreadsheets for DOS-Release 2 that I wrote in 1984 and have been too lazy to convert to anything else," said Via.
Jeff Matthews, general partner at RAM Partners, a Greenwich, Conn.-based hedge fund, still has 1-2-3 on one of his computers and uses it every once in a while. "It's like having an old bike in the garage, he said. Every once in a while you take it out for a ride."
But these stories are clearly exceptions to the rule considering that Microsoft Office--and its Excel spreadsheet--now have a virtual lock on the desktop productivity applications market.
Mitchell Kapor, who founded Lotus and is credited for building 1-2-3 into a powerhouse, did not want to comment for this story. Jim Manzi, who became Lotus CEO when Kapor left in 1984, did not respond to requests for comment. Then again, some at Lotus joked that he could ever use a spreadsheet anyway.
In an interview that appeared in the June 1992 issue of Lotus Magazine (yes, Lotus spawned its own publication), Kapor said his brainchild had to overcome not only technological but institutional hurdles.
"There was a lot of opposition [in the early 80s] to personal computers in the Fortune 500 and elsewhere as being disruptive and unnecessary, as creating problems," Kapor told the publication. "We just tried to go around those and not go through them. The early adopters were really very responsible for Lotus' success. They were our evangelists inside the corporations."
Now, there is little room for those who rely on often-incompatible document formats used by SmartSuite.
"My IBM rep sends me documents all the time, and I can't read them because they were in Freelance or AmiPro or WordPro or whatever that application is called," said one partner who requested anonymity. "Lotus 1-2-3? That product is 3-2-1-zero, gone!
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