I am grateful for Wired Magazine jogging my memory about today’s ‘birthday’. It was today in 1983 that a revolutionary new piece of software Lotus 123 hit the store shelves.

The IBM PC had hit the road in 1981, grossly underpowered, grossly over hyped, and grossly over priced, large companies had fallen in love with it. The oil company that I worked for was no exception, as I recall the initial order was for 50 of the stupid things. There was absolutely no useful software for it, in fact you could not even easily share information from the ‘behind locked doors’ IBM mainframe that every large company owned.

There was a huge waiting list of ‘wheels’ in the company that wanted one on their desk, even though the reality was that the gizmo would be nothing more than a status symbol. None of these managers, VP’s and other assorted luminaries had a single good reason to use the unit.

I decided that I wanted one, I certainly wasn’t a wheel, but I was deeply embedded in the technology aspect of the company, I held the lofty title of Senior Systems Programmer, in other words I was a geek.  I was also bound and determined to get my hands on one of these critters, my solution was to grab a brand new unit and take the cover off, as long as the cover was off everyone assumed that the unit was in for some kind if maintenance, I kept this ruse running for several years, and several iterations of the PC.

Under the guise of research I managed to push through Purchase Orders to obtain the best software of the day, Visicalc and Wordstar, one was a crude spreadsheet the other a word processor that was more of an electric typewriter than anything else. They were amateurish in design, they were hobby products developed by hobbyists late at night in their basements. In fact that pretty much described the entire IBM PC. I had cut my teeth in IBM development labs, I knew how they worked, and the PC went against everything I knew!

In 1983 the PC world finally started to move in a useful direction, a company named Lotus hit the press, and their spreadsheet called Lotus 123 was destined to rule the hearts of accountants and book keepers for the next decade. The original version of 123 looks crude by todays standards, but finally here was a product that could make this PC perform a useful task.

Happy birthday Lotus. Lotus lost their hold in the spreadsheet world to Microsoft, and their Excel product, although Wired report that this happened in 1989, I am not so sure. I would put the date in 1995, and the release of Windows 95.

Lotus is still around, and is part of IBM, a suiting suitor in any ones analysis, 123 maybe just a fond memory, but it was a pivotal innovation.

Simon Barrett


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