Happy 30s, 1-2-3!

This post is a few days late – on jan 26, 1983 a program called Lotus 1-2-3 was released; the full story is told eloquently in this excellent article on mental_floss.

My own personal involvment with Lotus would start only 2 years later, on november 1985 when I was hired as Business Development Manager for Italy working out of the European HQ in Windsor, UK.

Funny enough, I was not assigned an IBM Personal Computer, but an Apple Macintosh (history repeats itself…), and I remember when a companywide announcement introduced this commercial which sadly we never had the money to run in Europe:

For the younger viewers, a little help to understand what you see:

  • The bulky appliance on the desk of employees was called a Personal Computer or, more technically speaking, an IBM 5150 Microcomputer, a device I had already the opportunity to celebrate on this blog.
  • The little black things that employees pass to each other were called “floppy disks” and were the main (and for a while ONLY) way to store information to and from a microcomputer. They were called floppy because, well, that’s what they were, flexible pieces of plastic containing a thin magnetic-oxide covered circular layer mounted on a central metallic hub. In their capacious 360kB space you would store programs, data, everything.
  • Why do they pass them around? Well, PCs for a while did NOT have a hard disk of any size; in fact, the first IBM 5150 shipped with dual floppy disks, and was perceived as a more business machine than my Mac, which only had a single floppy. My first ever PC was an Olivetti M24 which enjoyed the unmitigated luxury of a full 10MB hard disk!
  • Yes, you read it right. I wrote 360 kiloBytes! And Lotus 1-2-3 did fit in a single floppy disk, all of it! No wonder it was FAST – thanks to compact code and lots of assembler programming, software was never faster than in this time: Lotus 1-2-3′ performance on a computer that had a thousandth of the cycles you have in your wristwatch would probably rival that of a modern PC running Vista and Excel. No kidding !
  • No, the display of the PC isn’t broken: monitors were monochrome, green-on-black things. No fancy proportional fonts, IBM 3270 terminalthough a computer whiz could write code to display colors other than green on some more advanced displays. In fact, my first ever client assignment at IBM a few years earlier had been the programming of the “friendly” user interface for a payroll application – not on a PC, but on so-called “dumb” terminal, a gigantic device like the one you see here connected to a much bigger mainframe computer. Just for your information, screens were not called screens, but “maps” because you more or less had to figure out each pixel on the screen like in a map.
  • Many of these limitations did not apply to my Mac which had a white screen and a few proportional fonts, but at the price of a much lower overall speed – in fact for many years to come, Macintoshes lagged in peformance behind IBM PCs and their clones, explaining why corporations shunned them as “consumer” machines.
  • While we are at this, you may laugh at the keyboard, but anyone who had the pleasure of typing on an 80s IBM keyboard will confirm that no typing device ever conceived by man was more comfortable and offered better feedback than those bulky, ugly beige things – which also doubled as self-defense implements, given their mass…

4 thoughts on “Happy 30s, 1-2-3!

  1. Thanks Gianni for this fantastic post! I remember the 1-2-3 rock and roll video as well as our Lotus Italy beautiful old times!
    Paola Spagnolello

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