Upon their release in the early 80’s Microsoft Excel and Lotus 1-2-3 offered similar products measured by both quality and efficiency. They each associated themselves with different systems which in turn determined their place in the market for the next two decades. It seems that we may be embarking on another turn of events with the availability of free web hosted applications such as Google Docs & Spreadsheets and Zoho Office.
Lotus was not the only spreadsheet program in the early 80’s but it was the most efficient. Following its release in 1983 Lotus was innovative in using television consumer advertising. Things looked great for Lotus for a number of years due to its speed and similarity to the model of VisiCalc, including the A1 number and letter cells, and slash-menu structure. It was virtually free of bugs and outperformed the slower DOS screen input/output functions. In addition to being a spreadsheet it also featured integral charting/graphing and database operations. Hence, its name 1-2-3 which references its three main capabilities.
Data was sorted in each defined rectangle within the order of data in one or two columns in the rectangular area. One could also justify text within a certain range into paragraphs which allowed it to act as a primitive word processor. It contained user friendly features such as keyboard driven pop-up menus and one-key-commands. Lotus’ most notable user friendly feature was a context sensitive help menu accessed by the F1 key.
Version 2.0 introduced macros and add-ins. This resulted in outside vendors being able to sell macro and add-ins packages which ranged form full fledged word processors to dedicated financial worksheets. Version 2.0 contained macros with syntax and commands as well as a string of variable expressions which were similar in complexity to an advanced BASIC interpreter. In versions to follow Lotus 1-2-3 also supported multiple worksheets. Lotus also created a version of 1-2-3 for the HP 200LX, a palmtop released by Hewlett-Packard.
Excel was offered first for Mac in 1985 and then for Windows in 1987. In comparison to Lotus, Excel’s introduction offered all the number crunching capabilities plus pull down menus and WYSIWYG formatting. These two features resulted in Excel being much easier to use. By 1988 Excel outsold 1-2-3 and began to solidify its place as the leading PC software developer. Microsoft proved to be an ambitious competitor, by maintaining a valuble product and releasing new versions approximately every two years. Excel has also kept up with its Mac releases. The current version for the Windows is Excel 12 or Microsoft Office Excel 2007. The current version for Mac OS X is Microsoft Excel 2008.
Looking back, it seems that in 1982 when Microsoft offered its spreadsheet program titled Multiplan it was popular with CP/M systems but MS-DOS systems favored Lotus 1-2-3. MS-DOS clearly prevailed as the more predominant system, thus, Lotus 1-2-3 as the more predominant spreadsheet program. In the late 80’s Microsoft put together Excel, an upstart spreadsheet for its Windows graphical interface. Lotus was focused on IBM OS/2. Windows use boomed with Windows 3.0 but Lotus had already lost its lead. Excel become the industry leader for spreadsheet computer software. IBM continues to sell 1-2-3 as part of the Lotus SmartSuite office suite.
The trends are shifting again with the availability of free web hosted applications such as Google Docs & Spreadsheets and Zoho Office. This is sure to provide a challenge for Excel to maintain its prestigious position however; it will not be a clear comparison as the online applications are a different product. They do not imitate Excel and 1-2-3 but expand on them. They use the power of the webs collaboration, instant feedback, mashups, live data and context searches. None the less it will be interesting to see Microsoft’s future maneuvers!