Ever since it was introduced in January, 1983, Lotus 1-2-3 has been at the top of the software best-seller list. But that doesn't mean that it's the best software on the market.
Only one of 1-2-3's three functions, the spreadsheet, is strong by current standards. Its two other functions, database and graphics, pale in comparison to the offerings of Lotus' competitors.
Lotus Development and other software publishers plan to introduce improved integrated spreadsheets, software packages that perform a variety of tasks. In the meantime, however, 1-2-3 continues to be a hot item.
Why does 1-2-3 still sell so well? For the most part, it's because 1-2-3's initial popularity created a momentum--and an industry--of its own. Entrepreneurs now offer hundreds of products and services that enhance the program's performance.
Take, for example, pre-written templates, which are 1-2-3 worksheets that already have been set up for computer users. Creating a 1-2-3 worksheet can be anywhere from extremely simple, taking only a few minutes, to very complex, requiring sophisticated programming that can take months or even years to complete. Templates make the job easier.
A number of companies market accounting templates for 1-2-3 to be used for such tasks as payroll, accounts receivable and accounts payable. One popular set of accounting templates, called Ready-to-Run, comes from Manusoft of Los Angeles.
Another kind of 1-2-3 enhancement is the pre-written macro. A macro is equivalent to a simple program that reduces the number of keystrokes the computer must receive to perform a task. It enables computer users to perform complex tasks without having to remember a series of commands.
Macropac International of Cupertino, Calif., makes a product called 101 Macros for Lotus 1-2-3. The software strings together commands that enable 1-2-3 to perform tasks that otherwise would require too many keystrokes to be practical. The disk includes macros for word processing features, special graphics, controlling the printer and a pop-up calendar.
The 1-2-3 aftermarket also includes so-called front-end products that change the way you communicate with the basic program. One such product sold by Lotus, Hal, allows the user to communicate in plain English instead of the more cryptic 1-2-3 commands.
Other products give 1-2-3 additional functions such as word processing, while still others improve the existing functions already built into the program. Several products, for example, are designed to enhance the quality of 1-2-3's business graphics.
Symantec's Turner Hall software division is the most prolific of the 1-2-3 aftermarket companies. The Cupertino-based company makes six 1-2-3 aftermarket products. Sqz Plus, its most popular product, reduces the amount of disk space required to store a 1-2-3 worksheet up to 95%.
If you use a lot of 1-2-3 files, buying Sqz Plus can have the same effect as buying a larger disk drive for a fraction of the cost. The company says about 250,000 people have bought the $99 program.
Turner Hall's other Lotus products include 4Views, which greatly improves 1-2-3's database management functions. Database management has never been one of 1-2-3's strong points, yet a lot of people use it to manage lists of information. 4Views makes data management easier to use and offers more ways to look at and print out the data.
Turner Hall's 4Word allows 1-2-3 users to write notes, memos and letters without leaving the spreadsheet. This can be handy for an executive or others who use spreadsheets to perform financial calculations and who need some word processing capacity. There is even an optional spelling checker called Spellin that checks all words in the spreadsheet. Not a bad idea, considering that some spreadsheets end up as proposals and presentations.
For the combined cost of 4Word and Spellin, a 1-2-3 user could buy a regular word processing program with a built-in spell checker. But using that software would require quitting 1-2-3. For some users, that's blasphemy.
Thousands of heavy-duty number crunchers start up 1-2-3 in the morning and leave it running all day. They couldn't imagine being without it, even for a moment.
While some companies make products that enhance 1-2-3, others have developed competitive software to take a bite out of Lotus' market. Some of these offer more features, better graphics, lower prices and better performance.
The programs to watch include Quatro from Borland International, Surpass from Surpass Software Systems of Novato, Calif., VP Planner from Paperback Software and Excel, the recently released IBM PC version of Microsoft's popular Macintosh spreadsheet program.
In the meantime, Lotus isn't resting on 1-2-3's laurels. The company reportedly is working on two new versions of 1-2-3.
One version, 1-2-3/G, will have a graphic user interface that will enable IBM PCs to tackle spreadsheets much the way the Apple Macintosh does. The other, 1-2-3 Release 3.0, which is scheduled for shipment in mid-1988, will have a number of features that now come only with aftermarket products. But the program still will have the capacity to work with add-on programs, assuring a continuing market for entrepreneurs anxious to cash in on both the success and limitations of America's favorite computer program.
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LOTUS 1-2-3 ENHANCEMENT SOFTWARE
Software Publisher Function Sqz Plus Turner Hall Reduces disk storage space Sideways Funk Software Continuous spreadsheet printing at any width Lotus Hal Lotus Development Allows use of plain English instead of cryptic commands 101 Macros Macropac Provides a library of macros for Lotus International to reduce keystrokes 1-2-3 WideView Spies Labs Shrinks on-screen characters to allow users to view more of the spreadsheet What's Best! General Lets users compare alternate Optimization results SOS Goldata Computer Automatically saves 1-2-3 Services spreadsheets to the disk Note It Plus Turner Hall Allows adding notes to any part of spreadsheet
Software List Price Sqz Plus $100 Sideways $70 Lotus Hal $150 101 Macros $70 for Lotus 1-2-3 WideView $80 What's Best! $149- 995 SOS $60 Note It Plus $80
Source: The Consortium Inc.