It's been quite a while since I bought Lotus 1-2-3 version 2.0 for OS/2. I must say I wasn't very impressed with it. My spreadsheet needs are pretty modest and I have been quite content with the IBM Works spreadsheet that comes in the BonusPak. However, the latest edition of 1-2-3 is quite nice and has lots of useful features.
Getting Started, 1-2-3 uses "SmartMasters" to help you with commonly encountered needs. The SmartMasters supply formulas and scripts to make certain tasks almost effortless. The ones that come with 1-2-3 are
You can, of course, create a new spreadsheet without using a SmartMaster. Doing so brings up the main window (GIF, 18K). There is nothing surprising about the interface. It has the well-known gridded interface with tabs for jumping quickly from one spreadsheet to another. Toolbars provide quick access to commonly used features and bubble help pops up when you place the cursor over a button. Properties for selected cells such as font, color, number format, alignment, etc. can be easily changed using the status bar at the bottom of the window. You can also bring up the InfoBox (GIF, 5K), a tabbed notebook which lets you change the properties of a selected range or object. The toolbar itself is configurable using the SmartIcons Setup window (GIF, 17K).
1-2-3 comes with a slew of built-in functions that make it almost trivial to perform complex calculations. I was mildly surprised to see even the various Bessel functions, of interest mainly to physicists, included in the program. A button on the toolbar provides quick access to the functions so that you need not worry about remembering how a particular function is spelled or what its parameters are. All you have to do is click on the function you want, select the range of data that you want the function applied to, and 1-2-3 does the rest.
Even with all of the built-in functions, sometimes you have something that requires writing your own. 1-2-3 uses the BASIC-like LotusScript for writing scripts and customizing the program. Programming scripts is facilitated by the interactive development environment (GIF, 16K). The documentation, in the form of Adobe Acrobat files, is extensive. There is also a LotusScript-Rexx interface if you prefer not to learn another scripting language. It isn't as convenient as having Rexx be the native scripting language, but it does at least allow you to use external Rexx scripts and libraries. If you need to do a lot of scripting though, you'll probably end up learning LotusScript.
Interesting and powerful is the ability to link the cells of two spreadsheets together, so that when the value of one cell is changed, it simultaneously changes in the other. I imagine this would be valuable to those putting together a budget, where the final calculated salary of an employee from one sheet can be inserted into the company budget that's managed on another. Give the employee a raise and the change is reflected in the budget without having to copy-and-paste manually.
Spreadsheets, being just columns and rows of numbers, usually are not very exciting to look at, but 1-2-3 has some features that can really spruce up the appearance of your spreadsheet when it comes time to make a presentation. There are a number of nice styles that you can select from and apply to ranges of a spreadsheet. Experimenting with these styles, I ran across two issues though. One is that some of the styles take an inordinately long time to apply. I had a three column by two hundred row range selected and applied the 'Chisel2' style. It took about a minute for the style to be applied, which revealed a second problem: the update was running in the program's main thread. This meant that I was watching the clock cursor the whole time instead of being able to switch back to EPM and immediately begin complaining about how slow the update was. This is something that I see all too often and is unacceptable in a product for a multithreaded operating system.
Charts are a powerful way of seeing relationships in columns of numbers. 1-2-3 provides twelve different chart types such as scatter plots, bar graphs, pie charts, and line graphs. You can also create charts with a 3D appearance which can be very helpful with bar graphs. As always, the InfoBox can be pulled up to adjust the settings of things like fonts and colors. One thing that I found annoying was the inability to change the size of the marker in a scatter plot and the possible marker types did not include a dot. In scatter plots with hundreds of points or more, the large size of the markers tends to make the plot look messy. It would be much better if you could change the size of the markers. Even better would be the ability to create your own marker types. Scientists like myself will probably find themselves using more specialized tools for creating plots since things like error bars are completely foreign to most spreadsheet programs, which are usually targeted for business applications. So if your graphing needs are business oriented or if you just need a quick and dirty look at some data, 1-2-3 works pretty well.
True to this business focus, 1-2-3 has the ability to plot data on maps. You can create maps, for example, that might indicate sales in each of the 50 U.S. states. Other included maps are Canada by Province, Western Europe, and the world as a whole.
Internet integration is the latest fad in office suites and 1-2-3 has the ability to save files to a remote machine and open them from a remote machine using FTP. You can also load files from a web site. I encountered no problems loading or saving files, but the dialog window seemed a little slow in responding to input.
Sooner or later you'll need to exchange files with someone who doesn't use SmartSuite. Using tactics that the U.S. Department of Justice has filed suit over, Microsoft has managed to make MS Office the standard for office suites. So you're sure to get someone handing you an Excel file at some point. The documentation claims to support Excel .xls files up through Excel version 7.0 and I had no problem opening a file saved in Excel version 7.0 (Office 95), but I got an error on a file saved with Excel from Office 97. So Gates and Gang still have you on the file-format-of-the-month merry-go-round.
Since I have a number of spreadsheets saved in the IBM Works format, I was curious to see how easily they could be imported into 1-2-3. Not surprisingly, there is no support for importing them directly but IBM Works will save spreadsheets in the older 1-2-3 version 2 format. These files can then be read by 1-2-3.
Lotus 1-2-3 is a pretty good spreadsheet application for the most part. It has a few annoying problems, but it is solid and does have some very useful features, especially for business users. If you're looking for a well-integrated office suite, 1-2-3 does a good job of filling the spreadsheet part of SmartSuite.
Dr. Dirk Terrell is an astronomer at the University of Florida specializing in interacting binary stars. His hobbies include cave diving, martial arts, painting and writing OS/2 software such as HTML Wizard.
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