How Lotus 1-2-3 Stands Against Excel

That Excel is the world’s premier spreadsheet is based solely on the fact that it has always and ever been marketed as a component of the Microsoft Office software package.  Anybody who wanted to use Word got Excel anyway.  But the truth is many companies (IBM among them), schools and government agencies are standardized on Lotus 1-2-3.  The natural question then becomes why does Excel boast a 70% to 90% market share at last count while pioneer Lotus 1-2-3 has fallen in popularity (Liebowitz, 2006; D’Agostino, 2005)?

The Microsoft offering has the edge in compatibility and built-in data analysis.  It is far easier to import tables into Word from Excel than from 1-2-3.  The results are cleaner and require less tweaking to look presentable in a document.  Secondly, Microsoft shut out Lotus programs and recently-worked files from the Programs and My Recent Documents menus, respectively.  And you could not import files created with the very latest versions of 1-2-3 into Excel.  These are inconveniences for casual spreadsheet users.

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Secondly, Excel strengthened the data analysis functionality sub-set.  Importing data was made easier.  And the Data menu was enriched with options that moderately serious analysts of financial, marketing research and employee performance data could use in lieu of more specialized or custom-made applications.  Lotus 1-2-3 had pioneered many of the data analysis functions (and Microsoft simply copied them in succeeding versions of Excel) but importing data into 1-2-3 nearly always required patient parsing, albeit you could do it right there on the main spreadsheet screen.

Many spreadsheet users need to convert their findings into more insightful charts and here is where Lotus had always understood the importance of visual clarity.  Recall that Lotus 1-2-3 was so named because it was the first electronic spreadsheet to add a rudimentary database and charting capability.  1-2-3 and the companion presentation program, Freelance, also offered many more ways to embellish charts.  In contrast, default chart formats in Excel offer up maroon and sky blue combinations (forgetting that primary colors offer more contrast) and the plot areas themselves are rendered in muddy gray.

Within the limits of the set length for this essay, one has space to cite one more important facet: Lotus 1-2-3 has always been faster and less demanding of PC resources.  1-2-3 was originally written in Assembly machine language, required less hard disk space and RAM to use.  In contrast, Excel has always demanded more and more hardware resources with every new version.  Today, running a 20,000 item what-if analysis in Excel 2007 with just four variables can bring even a P4 1.5 Mhz - How Lotus 1-2-3 Stands Against Excel introduction. desktop with 1Mb of RAM to its knees, spinning its wheels for an hour or more.


Liebowitz, S. (2006). Chapter 8: Major markets and spreadsheets.  Retrieved August 9, 2008, from

D’Agostino, D. (2005). Long live the digital spreadsheet; Twenty-five years later, the classic software still thrives. CIO Insight. 1(58) 1.


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