Goodbye, Lotus 1-2-3

Goodbye, Lotus 1-2-3

Summary: IBM is shutting the doors on Lotus 1-2-3, the software program that made the IBM PC and Microsoft household names.


The first killer app was VisiCalc. This early spreadsheet turned the Apple II from a hobbyist toy to a business computer. VisiCalc came with room for improvement, though. In addition, a new architecture and operating system, the Intel-based IBM PC and MS-DOS, also needed a spreadsheet to be taken seriously. That spreadsheet, released in early 1983, would be Lotus 1-2-3, and it would change the world. It became the PC's killer app, and the world would never be the same.

On May 14, IBM quietly announced the end of the road for 1-2-3, along with Lotus Organizer and the Lotus SmartSuite office suite. Lotus 1-2-3's day is done.

Say goodbye to Lotus 1-2-3. Its day is finally done. (Image: Wikimedia)

Far faster than its competition, such as SuperCalc and Microsoft's first spreadsheet, MultiPlan, Lotus 1-2-3 would become both IBM's and Microsoft's first killer app. With the opening of the Intel architecture and MS-DOS to IBM PC clones, Lotus 1-2-3 became the essential application for the 1980s PC revolution.

Its dominance would be short lived. 1-2-3 would face competition from programs such as Excel and Quatro Pro that would weaken its hold on the marketplace by the late 1980s. By the early 1990s, 1-2-3 had fallen into third place in the eyes of spreadsheet users. It would never recover.

When Microsoft Excel took over clear first place, Lotus was acquired by IBM in a hostile takeover in 1995. While the expected culture war between the ultra-liberal Lotus and the buttoned-down IBM never happened, the acquisition didn't breath any new life into Lotus 1-2-3.

In 2012, IBM started retiring the Lotus brand. Now 1-2-3, the core product that brought Lotus its fame, takes its turn on the chopping block. IBM stated, "Effective on the dates listed below, [June 11, 2013] IBM will withdraw from marketing part numbers from the following product release(s) licensed under the IBM International Program License Agreement:" IBM Lotus 123 Millennium Edition V9.x, IBM Lotus SmartSuite 9.x V9.8.0, and Organizer V6.1.0.

Further, 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."

While Lotus' groupware client program Notes and its server component Domino will live on, IBM will no longer be offering any Lotus-branded programs. As for 1-2-3 itself, 30 years after it helped start the personal computing revolution, this essential PC program will be put out to pasture.

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Topics: Software, Enterprise Software, IBM, Microsoft

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  • I miss my Atari 800

    It had 48K of RAM,16 K of ROM, and I had two disk drives. I could display 256 colors onscreen at the same time, I could control sprites with its player missile graphics because my Atari 800 had the first dedicated graphics chip in a home PC, named "Fat Agnus".

    I programmed it in BASIC, and I in this revolutionary Pascal'ish language called Action!

    Now I have to use this crappy AMD 2.8Ghz PC with a 256MB Graphics card, go online with crappy 20+Mb Charter broadband, and the the painfully horrible Windows 7 OS.

    Ah, those were the days...
    • Fat Agnus = Commodore Amiga

      The old memory ain't what it used to be ;-)
      • Yeh...

        The Atari 800s graphics chips were the GTIA and Antic, if I recall.
        • CTIA came before GTIA.

          The CTIA chip was replaced with the GTIA chip, which, if I remember correctly, doubled the palette from 128 colors to 256 colors. There was a special 80x192 mode where you could use 16 shades of gray or 16 colors (unfortunately, they couldn't be just any 16 colors).
          Bill Cousert
      • I stand corrected

        Yes, it was my Amiga that had the Fat Agnus chip, my mistake. That said, my beloved Atari, may it rest in peace, did have the first of its kind "GPU", or sorts, GTIA.

        The years have taken their toll.
    • Reminiscence

      While I used 6502 assembly to program the Atari 800 for NASA Langley Research Center in the early 1980s, I used ACTION for a lot of my casual programming. It was a great little language - fast and concise.

      The Atari 800 was the last computer for which I understood every last bit, thanks to the De Re Atari book. Kinda miss that feeling of total control over the system.
    • Buy another one...

      If you really miss your Atari 800, buy another one on ebay and live back in the days... It's call nostalgie... after a couple days you will be back to the crappy windows 7/8. :)
      Jean-Claude Morin
      • Emulators

        There are several free emulators for The Atari and most other 8-bit computers. No need to buy hardware unless you want to start collecting it.
        Bill Cousert
    • and yet....

      at no time was a gun pointed to your head to buy what you have now....
  • That is sad

    My wife was a long time 123 user and fan and Smart Suite was what we were using when the family PC was running OS/2. We run Open/Libre Office nowadays (mostly on Linux), but there was a lot to like about Smart Suite (even if the AmiPro file format was an untranslatable mess).
    John L. Ries
    • Yes Sad

      I still use Lotus Smartsuite Millennium and Organiser. They do what you want them to do and are so straightforward that I avoid MS Office which wants you to do things Microsoft way or suffer. I still have MS Office 2003 to deal with stuff I get sent and Libre Office to handle .docx etc. I have recently bought a Win 8 Pro PC so that when my elderly Win XP PC dies I will be able to run XP as a second operating system on the new PC. This is cheaper than buying updates and replacements for Lotus and several other programs which do not run on Win 7 or 8. The saving matters to a retiree.
      • You might want to set up your spare XP system now!

        Microsoft will be ending support for XP in 2014 sometime so you should set up that new computer with XP as a guest OS now so that you can pass the XP activation page somehow. If not you'll not be able to activate the OS. The better solution maybe to get Win2K CD off Ebay and then find a con corrupted SP4 for it too. That OS can run 90% of XP programs including Office 2003 and you don't need to activate it over the net. Just a suggestion. You & Me (classic OS and program users) have to stick to together!
        Ultimate Nullifier
    • Sad, but overdue

      I wish they would kill Notes and Domino too. The client remains as clunky as ever. The server no longer has an edge over other products.

      There are just too many sins covered up in these old products. IBM never took the time to fix the underpinnings of the software, and they made some lousy decisions about Java and Eclipse.
      Schoolboy Bob
      • Re: Sad but overdue

        Has your company taken a look at the new Notes 9 Social Edition? There's a lot of work that went into refreshing the user interface, and there are several server-side improvements as well.
  • Lotus 123 was outclassed and defeated itself

    I remember the early days with Lotus when networks were just starting. Lotus refused to issue network licenses, so we had to buy a copy for every computer that might use it. From a management perspective, it was a royal pain in the ....!

    Then Windows 3.1 came along with a version of Excel that worked, was graphical, and had a network license. Where could we go wrong. Heck, when we moved to OS/2, it ran in the Windows Emulator quite nicely. Bye Bye Lotus 123.

    Then there were the IP suits over the "/" command sequence. You want to talk about a patent troll? Lotus was the original king.

    The Lotus office Suite was a joke as well. A spread sheet based word processor? What a joke. Microsoft beat the pants of Lotus with much better products. You know, a word processor that was based on a word processor! What a novel thought. Lotus never really understood.

    I didn't even know Lotus was still for sale, so killing it seems to be about 10 years late.

    IBM should have killed it long ago.
    • Disk modification

      They also used to modify the floppy disk in a way that made sectors unreadable, in order to mark it as registered and the same on the hard drive, they used undocumented methods to "encrypt" a part of the hard drive that many HD tools would then obliterate, rendering 123 useless, frustrating calls to Lotus and a new set of disks - usually for money.

      That said, it was a great program, for its time. We used it to prototype a sales analysis system, but we told the customer that the actual system would be written in C, because it was processing too much information for 123 to cope with and the programming was too complex.

      They told us to skip the C, they wanted the complete sales analysis system in 123. After a while, 123 started doing random things, it would work flawlessly in debug mode, but random errors and wrong data appeared when the macros ran alone. As it was never the same error twice, we went nuts trying to track it down.

      In the end, we contacted Lotus support and they wanted to see our macros (20 sheets and over 2MB of macro code and "forms" - at a time when a 40MB drive was BIG). They looked at it and their answer to our random bugs was "wow, 1-2-3 was never designed for anything like that!" :-D

      We managed to break out some of the subroutines into other sheets and it ran more reliably, but that was a hard couple of months work - I think I clocked up over 300 hours overtime in one month, then I slept for 2 days straight, once I was finished!
  • Lotus 1-2-3 reaches its end-of-life...

    ..say hello to my daisy wheel printer and green-screen monitor when you get to long-forgotten technology land.. Oh wait.. you already met them...

    This news has about as much impact on the world as would an announcement that Pauly Shore is retiring from acting...
    • Lotus 123 is a bit more than that

      It was the model for a whole generation of spreadsheets, including MS-Excel. It's also true that Lotus was once a major competitor in the ever shrinking proprietary software space (RMS really should thank Bill Gates for making his job easier).
      John L. Ries
  • the irresplacable / key

    Lotus 123 defined the spreadsheet genre. I remembered there was quite a lot of Lotus 123 clones ( such as LDW Power ) which uses the / key too. And the WKS file format was widely adopted and compatible. It doesn't matter which spreadsheet you use as long it supported lotus format

    Far cry from the current XLS format which is highly incompatible :(
  • My entry into programming

    I first learnt how to program (if you could call it that) on Lotus-1-2-3. Lotus macros and then steadily progressed to LotusScript. :-)
    Darko Gavrilovic