Lotus 1-2-3, now a part of Lotus SmartSuite, is a direct competitor with Microsoft Excel. Although it's really only a minor competitor today, Lotus 1-2-3 was once one of the most important pieces of software in personal computing (Darrow, 2002). The latest major version of Lotus SmartSuite was released in 2002. Updates to that release have been made available as recently as 2006 (Sloan, 2006). As you might expect, there are a lot of similarities between Lotus 1-2-3 and Microsoft Excel. In general, they both provide the major spreadsheet functions along with charts and database access. But that's where the major similarities end. After that, Microsoft Excel and Lotus 1-2-3 are different but similar enough to be stumbling for first time users.

A key difference is in terminology. Although Lotus 1-2-3 has equivalent terms, different words are used to mean the same thing. For example, a Function in Microsoft Excel is called an @Function in Lotus 1-2-3. Lotus 1-2-3 calls the "active cell" the "current cell." The list of these differences is extensive (Microsoft Corporation, 2008). These terminology differences are minor, but they can be a real stumbling block when users of Microsoft Excel try to use Lotus 1-2-3.

Similar to the terminology differences, Lotus 1-2-3 uses slightly different function names. Fortunately for users of Microsoft Excel, most common functions are available in the latest release of Lotus 1-2-3. Lotus functions begin with an "@" sign, which makes them slightly different. Once the user gets used to this, most functions share the same name with their Excel counterparts. For example, "@SUM" and "SUM" can both add the values in a range of cells. One major difference in function operation is that Excel operates differently when using functions against text rather than numbers (Microsoft Corporation, 2008).

Although Lotus 1-2-3 may be a valid alternative to Microsoft Excel, it's current lack of development make it a far less attractive option. A better option might be a product like OpenOffice.org which is actively developed and uses the OpenDocument file format. The OpenDocument standard has received wider acceptance as the document format of the future (Wheeler, 2006).


Darrow, B. (2002). Whatever happened to Lotus 1-2-3? Retrieved August 8, 2008.

Microsoft Corporation. (2008). Differences between Microsoft Excel and Lotus 1-2-3. Retrieved August 8, 2008.

Sloan, S. (2006). SmartSuite 9.8.4 Announced. Lotus SmartSuite Forum. Retrieved August 8, 2008.

Wheeler, D. (2006). Why OpenDocument won (and Microsoft Office Open XML didn't). Retrieved August 8, 2008.