Technologizer

Lotus: Farewell to a Once-Great Tech Brand

The company which brought us 1-2-3 in the 1980s has been a part of IBM since 1995. And now Big Blue appears to be ready to retire the brand.

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GUIdebook

A Lotus 1-2-3 screenshot, from back in the golden age of DOS software

Wolfgang Gruener of Tom’s Hardware alerted me to a bit of news that, while minor, has left me in a wistful mood. IBM is planning to remove the Lotus branding from its Notes and Domino workgroup products. It’s the apparent end of Lotus, a brand which was launched in 1982 with the 1-2-3 spreadsheet, the most important productivity application of its era.

It’s tough to remember now, but in the period before Microsoft Office came along, it was Lotus, not Microsoft, that was synonymous with office software. Lotus Development Corporation, which Mitch Kapor founded in Cambridge, Massachusetts, had a ginormous cash cow in 1-2-3, a product which was so popular that companies bought fleets of IBM PCs just to run it.

Lotus cranked out (and sometimes acquired) an array of apps: Approach, cc:Mail, Hal, Improv, Jazz, Manuscript, Magellan, Organizer, Symphony and many more. They weren’t always successful — in fact, many of them came and went rather quickly — but the company had a really good track record when it came to releasing stuff that was inventive and interesting.

I cheerfully confess to having a pro-Lotus bias. I lived in Boston during the brand’s boom years in the 1980s, an era in which the Boston area was as important to the PC revolution as Silicon Valley was — and Lotus was the single most significant Boston-based tech company. Then in 1994 and 1995, I was an editor at PC World Lotus Edition, a special version of PC World with extra pages devoted entirely to Lotus products, amounting to a magazine-within-the-magazine.

By the mid-1990s, it was reasonably obvious that Microsoft Office was going to slaughter the famous stand-alone productivity packages of the DOS days — not just 1-2-3, but also dBASE, Harvard Graphics, WordPerfect and others. Lotus was smart enough to get into another, nascent business: workgroup software. Notes turned out to be a big deal, and led to IBM buying the company in 1995 for $3.5 billion. And Notes is still with us today, even though Microsoft ended up dominating that market too, with Outlook and Exchange.

But you know what? I worked at a company that was standardized on Notes for years, and never thought it lived up to the hallowed Lotus name. It was a fabulous product if you were an IT person, but so poorly designed from a productivity standpoint that I came to loathe it. When I left it behind, I swear that my blood pressure improved.

So the Lotus which is now on its way out is a dim reflection of its former self. It isn’t the great Lotus, or my Lotus. Truth to tell, I wasn’t even positive it was still extant. Even so, I’m sorry to think about the mighty brand disappearing altogether.

Then again, maybe it won’t — it’s hard to snuff all the life out of a once-powerful name, no matter how far it’s fallen. IBM hasn’t updated 1-2-3 in well over a decade, but it’ll sell you a copy today. The wonderfully archaic-sounding Lotus 1-2-3 Millennium Edition 9.8 goes for a mere $342. I wonder if anyone ever buys it, and if so, why?

14 comments
bdean
bdean

I was the leader of the team which developed the Lotus Smart Suite. In a move to own the desktop at HP in the late 80's. As the Western Regional Manager of Samna Corp., the folks who brought us Ami Pro word processing, There was a corporate  tendency to cherry pick the best  of various windows software at that time. To seal the deal, Lotus during the Samna acquisition, created the Smart Suite- First of the suites- then Bill meet my match at California's PG&E and offered the all their nascent windows software for FREE, if PG&E would continue to buy DOS at gold disk prices of $75 each- Hard to compete at that level. But we eventually used the suite model to kick MS for a few more years.-

Cheers!

DavidLeedy
DavidLeedy

The name "Lotus" doesn't really matter.  What matters is the Domino Server and Notes Client products.  Those are going strong.  Contrary to other comments I think the Domino server is very easy to administer.  It's 1 server that can run on multiple platforms and even lower end hardware.  Upgrading is typically installing the new fixpack or even full version right on top or it. The Notes email client keeps getting better.  There's a really good web client and it integrates extremely well with iOS and Android devices.

And the new Development tools, called XPages, which is based on Java Server Faces, allows Rapid Application Web Development build on the NoSQL Notes Database is awesome.  The development client could be better but the capability you get is amazing.  High security..  Good languages for building applications/web sites.- HTML, CSS, Client and Server JavaScript, and Java... Scheduled Agents.  Easy deployment.  

When used right Notes and Domino is hard to beat.

No I don't work for IBM.  I'm just a customer who's current and previous company depended on Notes and Domino and people actually like it and the business solutions it provided.

somlor
somlor

i believe david allen, productivity guru and author of "getting things done" still uses lotus notes.

AS147
AS147

@KSEC I couldn't agree with you more. I have barely ever had a need to use it and have recently started at IBM where it is still being used and it is the most hateful piece of software ever forced on anyone. At least with browsers you have a choice but you HAVE to use the corporate email system.

Unfortunately they aren't getting rid of it. They are just rebranding it. Lipstick on a pig!!

Mulciber
Mulciber

Ami Pro was the first word processor built from the ground up for Windows, and it was magnificent.

IsaacRabinovitch
IsaacRabinovitch

Who buys 1-2-3? People whose office workflow is based on it, and don't want to start over from scratch with Excel. Not a huge market, and I'l bet it doesn't even include IBM.

TINYVOX
TINYVOX

A toast to Lotus, who along with Kodak just bring a tear to my eye to see go, "for some reason".  I used 1-2-3 but I was a kid so it was mostly DisplayWriter2.  I remember when Symphony came out and was like "well, you lost me."  Now that, in retrospect, is too bad :P  RIP LOTUS

Ksec
Ksec

Lotus Notes as an email client is absolutely the worst piece of software in human history... ( Um.. no that awards should belongs to IE 6 ) but anyway i am hoping my company will move on to something better and modern.

demiller
demiller

If you believe that Lotus Notes/Domino was a fantastic product from the IT perspective, then you've never had to administer a Notes/Domino environment.  That may have been true over a decade ago, not so much in recent memory!  

HenriNigro
HenriNigro

I did that graphic of 1-2-3 completely with an ascii 219 character! 

lahoof
lahoof

Feels like I just opened a time capsule; loading up Lotus123 from a floppy disk (then rushing home to my Commadore64 to play Manic Miner). 

 Those were the days of propa computing... bloody heck... I'm ancient.!!...

TimEllis
TimEllis

@bdean As a current Approach user - yes, still, daily - even in 2014 ! I find I really sad that Lotus then IBM gave up with such a great product. Actually, most of the rest of Millennium edition was showing it's age, so it seems acceptable that it was put out to pasture.... But Approach - That was the remaining jewel in the crown. From time to time I seek out a comparable replacement - and still - all these year later - I haven't found one. And boy-oh-boy have I tried a few ! There are sooooo many features that it contained that other, supposedly 'modern' database apps have not even contemplated......! Where do we sign up for someone to pick it up and develop it further i.e. bring it up to current specs ?

sandifjm
sandifjm

@Ksec I used to work for a company that was acquired by IBM, and post-acquisition we were all forced to use Lotus Notes. As an email client, it was indeed one of the worst pieces of software in human history. I hope I never have to deal with that ever again.

harrymccracken
harrymccracken moderator

@demiller It's true, what Domino knowledge I have dates from that era. If I were an IT person, I certainly wouldn't advocate for it today.