There is nothing new under the sun…turn, turn, turn

Changes at Lotus, 1982 – 2012

One of the things that I want to examine at tymshft is the way that individual companies have evolved over the years. When someone starts a company, the business environment has certain characteristics, and the technological environment has certain characteristics. But 15 years later, or 30 years later, or 100 years later, things could change dramatically.

Take Lotus. When Lotus Development Corporation was founded in 1982, the key word was “integration.” When Byte Magazine reviewed the not-yet-released Lotus 1-2-3 in its December 1982 edition, the word was prominent:

Lotus’s 1-2-3 is modestly revolutionary because it synergetically combines three packages….

Integration is a very important characteristic of 1-2-3. Because the spreadsheet, database, and graphing programs are in the computer simultaneously (1-2-3 does not use overlays to bring in sections of code when called), you are more likely to use them. I for one am always annoyed when I have to wait for UCSD Pascal to load another part of the language system whenever I go, say, from the Filer to the Editor. I would be less apt to experiment with graphing different sets of data with Visicorp’s Visicalc and Visiplot, which would involve saving my data to disk, exchanging disks, starting up the Visiplot program, exchanging disks again, reading in the data, and, finally, plotting the data. I would do a similar sequence of disk and program switching to get back to Visicalc and adjust my data. How much experimentation does that rigamarole encourage?

Even when hard disks became more common (eliminating the floppy-switching), the very idea of not having to start up separate programs was, at the time, mind-boggling. A couple of years after Lotus 1-2-3 was released, I was working for a company that offered a word processor, spreadsheet, and other packages for the THEOS operating system. At a trade show I ran into a guy who was specifically looking for “integrated” software. Lotus 1-2-3 had made an impact.

Thirty years have passed, and a lot has happened on the technology front – people eventually forgot about Lotus 1-2-3 (although Windows users can still purchase it today) and concentrated on Lotus Notes. And of course, a lot happened on the business front also – today, if you want Lotus products, you’re paying money to IBM. And if you go to the Lotus section on IBM’s website today, you won’t run across integration – you’ll run across collaboration.

IBM Lotus Software delivers robust collaboration software that empowers people to connect, collaborate, and innovate while optimizing the way they work. With Lotus you can drive better business outcomes through smarter collaboration.

Collaboration wasn’t all that important in 1982-1983. At that time, the pendulum had swung from centralized computing to distributed computing, and people were all creating individual spreadsheets and storing them on their own floppy disks.

But collaboration is clearly important today, and Lotus – I mean IBM – has shifted its focus.


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