Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 127 / MARCH 1991 / PAGE 28

Lotus 1-2-3 release 3.1: graphic displays, WYSIWYG, and improved memory management make Lotus 1-2-3 release 3.1 a substantial improvement. (evaluation)
by Howard Millman

Now there's a Lotus spreadsheet you can enjoy working with at home. Lotus 1-2-3 release 3.1 puts on a new face so effectively that you will hardly recognize what's underneath the facelift. But the appeal of 1-2-3's WYSIWYG screen goes far beyond the surface.

Building a spreadsheet within a graphical environment is much easier because you directly manipulate the work sheet's segments. For instance, you can define ranges by pointing with a mouse. You can also use the mouse to set the point size of text and move cell margins by dragging them to new locations. With WYSIWYG, you see the effects of your changes immediately. By comparison, in text-based spreadsheets you deal with the structural components at arm's length.

Simplified spreadsheet styling along with eye-catching graphics may be reason enough to migrate to a graphical-environment spreadsheet. But WYSIWYG's true raison d'etre is to streamline the ordinarily time-consuming and error-fraught transition from computer screen to professional-quality output.

In a previous life, what Lotus now calls WYSIWYG was named Impress and marketed by PC Publishing as a popular 1-2-3 add-in. Lotus liked Impress's ability to transform 1-2-3's blank character-based displays into striking spreadsheet art. The company acquired Impress, reworked its menus, and now bundles it with 3.1. In practice, WYSIWYG unquestionably imbues Lotus's flagship application with pizazz. Lotus hopes that will help revive 1-2-3's flagging sales.

As as add-in, WYSIWYG loads after you start 1-2-3. You can load it manually or set it up to load automatically every time 1-2-3 executes. After WYSIWYG loads, both the familiar slash (/) command menu and an additional graphical menu set prefixed by a colon (:) control all spreadsheet operations. The combination of these two menus gives you access to the full arsenal of 1-2-3's functions, commands, and features.

The slash commands provide the functions necessary to create a work sheet, such as entering formulas, composing macros, and accessing file-handling functions. The graphical menu mainly provides access to commands that control the appearance of the work sheet such as colors, type sizes, fonts, and text attributes.

The advantages of working within the WYSIWYG environment are so numerous that over time users may forever abandon 1-2-3's traditional text-based display. Row width and column height are infinitely adjustable, graphics and text can be mixed in any combination of colors and sizes, and onscreen text can be any of the 224 colors in the palette. WYSIWYG accurately portrays fonts onscreen in a wide range of sizes up to an inch high.

Displayable font attributes include bold, italic, underline, and color. In addition to Courier (the default), Swiss, and Dutch fonts, 200 additional fonts are available at extra cost from Bitstream.

Release 3.1 moves one step closer to integrating word processing and spreadsheet functions. Using 3.1's elementary yet functional text editor, you can include short memos or other documentation right in your spreadsheet. The text editor includes automatic word wrap, justified text, and the ability to manage multiple fonts within a selected range of text.

The timesaving global formatting codes in Release 3.1 enable you to name as many as eight format styles that include specifications of font, size, shading, colors, and such attributes as bold, italic, underline, and superscript. These names styles can be applied to an entire work sheet, a range of cells, or a single cell. Cell ranges can be highlighted with boxes, various borders, and drop shadows.

You'll find yourself using the mouse to open vertical or horizontal windows, select cell ranges, make menu selections, and scroll within a work sheet or between as may as 256 stacked work sheets. Although you can enter commands with the keyboard, a mouse (or trackball) is easier and certainly more natural.

In addition to dynamic onscreen updates of the work sheet's text and data, WYSIWYG enormously simplifies creating graphs. There's no limit to the graphs you can incorporate in a work sheet, and the graphs are dynamic, immediately reflecting changes made to the data in the spreadsheet.

As in Lotus 1-2-3 release 3.0, the work sheet's data still controls the relative proportions between a graph's components (bar length, line height, and so forth). You cannot alter this relationship directly with the graphic editor. As an alternative to using the work sheet's data to create a graph, you can import. CGM metafile and .PIC graphic files. Imported graphics can be readily enhanced with text, geometric shapes, and symbols.

Use the mouse to drag structural elements into the correct orientation and position. You can directly edit individual components or the entire graph until it's perfect.

Release 3.1 queries and imports data from external databases via DataLens drivers. The default driver shipped with 3.1 can query dBase III and dBase III PLUS. Additional DataLens drivers will soon be available for Paradox, Oracle, and Novell's Netware Structured Query Language.

Other behind-the-scenes improvements to 1-2-3 include the promised release of an enhanced Add-In Toolkit. Lotus designs these toolkits to help small third-party software publishers create slick add-ins. To date, more than 200 updated add-ins have been rereleased for 3.1. With the new Toolkit now available, you can expect many more in the near future.

Ironically, despite the ease with which 3.1 creates professional-looking copy onscreen, it provides comparatively few printer drivers to translate those work sheets into high-quality output. Supported printers include Hewlet-Packard, Epson, and IBM printers. Users of other printers may need to use emulation modes which often limit access to some of their printer's advanced features.

Just how important is it that 3.1 is not fully compatible with Windows? Windows' drop-down menus would prove somewhat easier to use than 1-2-3's horizontal menus, if menu orientation were a crucial issue (it isn't). Lotus 1-2-3 release 3.1 runs full-screen under Windows as a DOS application, but you have to run it in text mode, and you can't resize 3.1's windows unless you load an alternate CGA video driver within Lotus 1-2-3.

Release 3.1 makes limited use of Windows features. In 386/Enhanced mode, 3.1 exchanges data with other Windows applications via the Clipboard, and it will task-switch and multitask.

One benefit of 3.1's tenuous affiliation with Windows was that it induced Lotus to answer a longtime criticism of 1-2-3 with an improved memory-management system. Now, when creating large spreadsheets, 1-2-3 will store data in extended or expanded memory and swap data to the hard disk to free up system memory.

It's a truism in the computer industry that software sells hardware. Lotus 1-2-3 release 3.1 requires a 286 or better system with a minimum of 1MB or RAM (640K base plus 384K extended). If you have a number of large work sheets open, 1MB of RAM may prove inadequate. Also, since graphic screens require longer to refresh than text-based displays, a fast CPU (20-MHz or better) will eliminate frustrating delays in graphics mode.

With determination and time, anyone can eventually learn to use this latest release. Exactly how much time will depend on your prior familiarity with 1-2-3. Users trading up from 3.0 need to familiarize themselves with the graphical menu's commands. Those upgrading from 2.2 need to learn about 3-D spreadsheets as well as the graphical commands - sort of like double jeopardy.

First-time 1-2-3 users face some rough riding. They may feel that release 3.1 requires them to assimilate to much too soon. They should consider making release 2.2 their first stop and trade up to 3.1 when ready.

Release 3.0 introduced the concept of 3-D spreadsheets, and 3.1's graphical interface makes them easier to use. However, unless you need 3-D capability, consider release 2.2 with its milder requirements for processor ability and reduced appetite for RAM.

Release 3.1's comprehensive instructions include multiple manuals, easy-to-use context-sensitive help, and linked on-disk and printed tutorials. Additionally, Lotus's seven-day-a-week, 24-hours technical-support group remains ready to answer any question on its toll-free support line. The support personnel proved courteous and knowledgeable when answering routine questions. Release 3.1 includes six months of free technical support. After six months, continued support costs $79 per year.

Lotus's unique in-store upgrade policy makes it easy to trade up. To upgrade to either release 2.2 or 3.1, bring the original title page of the manual of an older release of 1-2-3 to any Egghead, Computerland, or soft Warehouse store, and the store will immediately furnish the new version. Upgrage costs range from $35 (for recent 3.1's list price for versions prior to release 2.2.

Release 3.1's list price of $595 and street prices ranging from $410 to $450 average about 25-percent higher that the price of competing Excel and Quattro Pro. Currently, that 25 percent premium buys features not offered by the competition. But stay tuned because shortly microsoft and Borland are certain to rise to the challenge and roll out their own reworked models.

Until then, however, Lotus 1-2-3 release 3.1's WYSIWYG graphics and 3-D capability entitle Lotus to wear the winner's crown.