Today marks the 30th anniversary of Lotus 1-2-3, the spreadsheet that propelled businesses large and small to buy and use PCs to deal with everyday financial operations.
Lotus 1-2-3 first went on sale on 26 January, 1983 and met with runaway success - not only for the software but also for the hardware required to run it. In many ways it was the spreadsheet in general, and 1-2-3 in particular, that was responsible for pulling the personal computer out of the hobby market and into the professional arena.
In an interview for The Register, Mitch Kapor, co-founder of Lotus Development Corporation and the person responsible for marketing 1-2-3 said:
“It was a product that really legitimized the PC worldwide as a general business tool for non-technical users.
It was the Google or Facebook of its time. The market size was orders of magnitude smaller but the magnitude was the same.”
Version 1 of 1-2-3 not only made full use of the IBM PC, it actually demanded that you buy more hardware. While the standard models of the time shipped with 64KBytes of RAM installed, 1-2-3 needed 256KBytes - a very high memory requirement for those days.
Lotus 1-2-3 wasn't the first spreadsheet - that honor goes to Visicalc, invented by Dan Bricklin and programmed by Bob Frankston which originally ran on the Apple II. Its TRS-80 version had been ported to run on the IBM, as had Microsoft's MAC-based spreadsheet Multiplan.
Although we tend to associate Mitch Kapor's name with Lotus 1-2-3 the person responsible for programming it was Jonathan Sachs who had already written a spreadsheet for Data General's DG minicomputers and had the rights to it. He approached Kapor who had the vision to choose the the PC, and more precisely on PC-DOS, one of its three operating systems, as the way of the future.
For more of the story, see Mitch Kapor and Lotus 1-2-3 in our History section.