The 1-2-3 Column: Find Help Fast for Lotus 1-2-3

Lotus 1-2-3 has thrived because it is powerful and flexible. This first in a continuing column describes sources of support available to 1-2-3 users.

By Carl Merkle

I have used 1-2-3 on nearly a daily basis for over 10 years. In the early 1980s 1-2-3 was the most sophisticated spreadsheet package available. Lotus 1-2-3 and word processors were the killer applications responsible in a large way for the success of the personal computer. For common day-to-day use, these two applications were able to handle 99% of most peoples computing needs. I've used a number of different word processors over the years, but Lotus 1-2-3 has been a solid constant in my computing life.

 The value of 1-2-3 increased when it migrated to the HP Palmtop. Running under System Manager, 1-2-3 gained Windows-like capabilities. You can use the built-in clipboard capabilities to copy and paste between 1-2-3 and other applications. And you can access Lotus fast with the Palmtops instant on feature.

 There are now more sophisticated spreadsheet programs with more bells and whistles, and nicer displays. However, the version 2.x series of 1-2-3 (including version 2.4 on the HP 100/200LX and version 2.3 on the 95LX)) has all the capabilities you're likely to need. Both these versions of Lotus save their spreadsheets in the .WK1 format. Since most other spreadsheet programs let you save and retrieve worksheets in the .WK1 format, data exchange between the Palmtop and other spreadsheet programs is easy.

 Lotus thrived because it was powerful and flexible

Lotus 1-2-3 thrived because it could help solve an incredible variety of business and analytical problems. Many people, including me, found uses for the product that were never intended. I describe some of my uses below, but it would be interesting to hear of your uses also. Hopefully, some of your ideas can be incorporated into future articles.

 Here are some of the ways I use Lotus 1-2-3 on the HP Palmtop:

1. As a formatter for MEMO.

A long time ago I stopped using the ToDo section of APPT because it was too slow. I now use a Memo Journal to track my months activities. I have a template set up in 1-2-3 that I use to format a Memo file for the next seven days of activity. Every Sunday I open the template in Lotus and use the Palmtops cut-and-paste to copy the template to a Memo file I use to track ToDo's, messages received, actions taken, accomplishments, etc. The resulting Memo file becomes a monthly diary which can be searched and reviewed quite easily. I save each months ToDo journal separately, naming by year and month (e.g., 94_DEC, 95_JAN, etc.). The example at the top of the next page shows how the first day of the template appears when copied over from 1-2-3 to the built-in Memo program.

I still use Appointment Book, but mostly for appointments I want to be reminded of by the alarm, and for matters I want to see in the monthly view.



07/02/95 - SUNDAY






* NOTES (i.e. News, Topic)

2. As a data gathering device.

I used to keep a paper log of gas and repairs to my car. I now keep a log in a spreadsheet that I update while at the gas pump. It automatically multiplies price per gallon by gallons purchased to tell me if the pumps total price is correct. It also calculates the miles per gallon my car is getting per tank and gives me an average for the year. Another section of the same spreadsheet tracks oil changes, and repairs. My Palmtop is always with me, making this kind of real-time data gathering possible.

3. As a financial analysis tool.

I have a simple stock portfolio/ trading spreadsheet that I use to track closed and open positions. The Palmtop helps me achieve excellent returns because it gives me the ability to calculate annualized returns and do what-if scenarios easily. In addition, worksheets can be created for loan amortizations, present value calculations, budgets, real estate pro formas, and so on. My list goes on and on.

4. As a sophisticated calculator.

Occasionally I have needed to do backsolving with some complex calculations. HP CALC combined with 1-2-3 has made this a snap.

5. As a simple calculator.

I can set up a spreadsheet to add up a column of numbers, and do sorts and subtotals on data I may want to check for input errors.

6. As a text outliner, or text reading device.

On some occasions I have used 1-2-3 to open and look at data files, reading a line or a number of characters at a time. (Open an empty spreadsheet, press (MENU) File Import Text, highlight the desired file and press (ENTER).) Ill also open a 1-2-3 file and start outlining thoughts. Its easy to sort and move entries in Lotus, and simple to copy and paste them to another application later. Since I always have Memo open with my diary loaded, I also use 1-2-3 to take meeting notes.

7. As a programming language.

1-2-3s macro command language can be seen as a limited, but reasonably sophisticated, programming language. Lotus macros let you create spreadsheets that will prompt you for input, carry out repetitive tasks, display results in numeric or graphical format and more. For a common user, the 1-2-3 macro command language is probably simpler to learn and easier to find mistakes than in true programming languages.

8. As a database reader, manipulator and scrubber.

In my work with financial institutions I have often downloaded loan databases, or we have created databases that later needed certain fields to be cleaned up (scrubbed) for consistency (e.g., records in a database City field may read L.A., LosAngeles, Los Angeles, etc., and we need them all to be Los Angeles for consistency). A 1-2-3 add-in product by the name of @base (which reads and writes dBase III files) has been extraordinarily useful for this and for doing cross tabulations on large databases that otherwise exceed 1-2-3 memory limits. This will be an advanced topic covered by a future article.

9. As a form or label generator.

1-2-3 can be used as a database to generate simple form letters or labels. This activity is really quite easy to do, however it is not initially very intuitive. A future article will explain how to do this.

The birth of this column reflects the need for 1-2-3 support

The above are just a few examples of how someone familiar with the basics of the program and supported by adequate documentation can accomplish a lot with 1-2-3. Unfortunately, documentation and support for 1-2-3 on the HP 100/200LX Palmtop, though available, is not easy to find. Many of the new users buying the HP Palmtop do not know 1-2-3. In addition, many work in companies that have Excel or some other spreadsheet as a corporate standard. The need for 1-2-3 support is real.

Unfortunately, it also turns out that books about the older DOS-based versions of 1-2-3 are disappearing from the shelves of bookstores, in favor of newer books on Windows versions. Without the proper information about 1-2-3, many Palmtop users don't understand and cannot utilize the power built into the Palmtop in the form of 1-2-3.

This need for support gave rise to the column you are now reading. This column, a regular feature in future issues, will focus on using 1-2-3 and integrating its capabilities with the other built-in applications.

Some of you are beginners and some are more sophisticated users. Hopefully, we can provide something for everyone. Feel free to let us know what you would like to see covered in this column. Lotus 1-2-3 is deceivingly simple to use for things like simple data entry, lists, and simple calculations. In addition, it has some sophisticated features that take a little longer to learn. However, once the finer points of Lotus are understood, the programs ability to make your business and personal life easier and more effective grows by leaps and bounds.

Where to get help

The first topic we need to cover in this column is where to get support for Lotus 1-2-3. Fortunately, support is available from a number of different sources. These include books; materials and assistance available via CompuServe, Internet, and other on-line bulletin boards or other electronic services; Lotus Technical Support by telephone; newsletters and magazines; users groups; and training centers and training videos.

One of the most important is the F1 Help key on your Palmtop.

1. Press (F1) for help!

One of the elements that made 1-2-3 so popular through the 1980s was its excellent context sensitive help built into the program. This means that when you are doing something in 1-2-3 and press (F1), 1-2-3 displays a help screen with information related to what you are doing.

For instance, lets say you want to write an @if formula in 1-2-3 and you do not remember the syntax for the formula. Type @if into a cell and then press (F1) to get the screen displayed at the top of the next column, showing the syntax of the command.

Context sensitive help is also available for 1-2-3 macro commands. For most experienced users, the syntax displayed on the HP Palmtop is sufficient to allow them to complete a formula or macro command.

Typical Lotus Help Screen: Graphic

 Although 1-2-3 on the HP Palmtop also contains context sensitive help, the amount of information available on the Palmtop is substantially reduced from the original version due to Palmtop memory constraints. For less experienced 1-2-3 users, the syntax may not be understandable without more explanation, and may need to be supplemented by more material. Even so, the F1 key should be the first place most 1-2-3 users go for information. It is very convenient, and is as portable as your HP Palmtop. (Note: If you have Lotus 1-2-3 or other spreadsheet programs on your desktop PC, their more extensive built-in help may be valuable.)

Another important resource available to many users may sit at the desk next to you at work.

2. Find an expert

Since spreadsheets are used within most organizations, there may be resources available where you work. Find someone who is comfortable with the subject, and piggyback off of their knowledge. Use that to become familiar with the spreadsheet environment and spreadsheet metaphor. Most good spreadsheet users will be familiar with one of the big three (1-2-3, Excel or QuatroPro). These spreadsheet programs have many similarities, and the experienced user may be able to provide you with the answer you need, even if they do not use 1-2-3 on the HP Palmtop.

If they can't help you, they may be able to send you to someone who can, or suggest a good book on Lotus 1-2-3.

3. Get a good Lotus 1-2-3 book

Search your local bookstores, computer stores, used book stores or garage sales for a reference or tutorial on 1-2-3. Just about any book on 1-2-3 releases 2.x, or even 3.x will do, so long as it has a complete description of the syntax for 1-2-3s @formulas, macro command key words, and a description of the command menu. If you do pick up a manual on a higher release, there may be a few elements that are not applicable, but many features are the same.

The following books are often mentioned as favorites. Contact information for these and additional 1-2-3 books are described in the sidebar on this page.

Using 1-2-3 (by Que)

Que has a reputation for publishing high quality books and has many titles covering the topic of 1-2-3 in varying depths of coverage. I have had excellent success with their products over the years, and strongly recommend this book as a must have reference book for the serious 1-2-3 user. At the time of writing this article, they still had about 3,000 copies of Using 1-2-3 Release 2.4 still available for sale, but out of print.

1-2-3 for Dummies

The new series of Dummies books have been best sellers because of their entertaining writing style and good technical coverage.

An Easy Course in Using Lotus 1-2-3

This is a friendly tutorial on 1-2-3 by the publisher of excellent tutorials on other HP calculator products. The book uses a learn-by-doing approach to take a user from novice to advanced proficiency.

4. Get assistance from an on-line bulletin board service

On-line BBS services provide excellent support from fellow users and Lotus experts.

CompuServe users can type GO LOTUSA to go to the Lotus Forum. There is a section for users of the 2.x versions, and there are libraries with a variety of templates available. CompuServe's HP HAND forum supports HP Palmtops and also has some 1-2-3 templates available in its libraries.

There are a variety of other vendors of publications that cater to 1-2-3 users which have a presence on CompuServe. Among these are PC World, which publishes a Lotus Edition of its magazine (type GO PWOFORUM), and ZiffNet which makes macros and templates from their publications, like the 1-2-3 Users Journal, available.

 Internet provides 1-2-3 information at

5. Lotus technical support by telephone

Lotus provides free technical support to new 1-2-3 users, but some complain about the length of time it takes them to answer a call. Lotus also offers paid support lines that are described as being more responsive.

[Editors Note: Our understanding is that HP Mobile Computing Support is responsible for Lotus 1-2-3 support for the HP Palmtops. Their number in the U.S. is 505-757-2004.]

You might try one of the following numbers:

6. Magazines and newsletters

PC World publishes the PC World Lotus Edition, which provides useful information on what is happening with Lotus products. Unfortunately, the Lotus Edition ends with this August's edition. Back issues are available while in stock.

The Cobb Group publishes the 1-2-3 Users Journal, which has a number of in-depth Tips and Techniques for getting the most out of 1-2-3. They note in the article which versions of Lotus the article is applicable to. From my perusal of fairly recent editions, the bulk of the material was applicable to all versions of 1-2-3, including 1-2-3 Release 2.x. It is a good journal for an intermediate to advanced user, hungry for knowledge.

7. Users groups

A variety of users groups meet periodically (typically once a month). They hold workshops, conduct tutorials and host product demonstrations from company representatives. The larger of these organizations also have special interest groups (SIGs) that focus on a particular product or type of product. Attending user groups is a good way to meet local spreadsheet experts who can assist you with your particular needs.

Call Lotus user group manager at 617-693-1606 to find out if there is a group near you.

8. Training centers and training videos

Lotus authorizes companies across the United States to conduct 1-2-3 training sessions. These companies must meet certain minimum requirements in order to become an authorized Lotus training center. For information about authorized training centers call Lotus at 617-693-1454. Or, call the Computer Professionals Network at 212-288-2800. This is a national referral, information and marketing service that matches independent trainers, programmers, and consultants with client organizations.

There are a number of training videos available. Call Lotus Selects at 800-635-6887 for more information on training videos.

9. Built-in help on desktop versions of Lotus 1-2-3

As mentioned earlier, desktop versions of 1-2-3 offer more extensive built-in help and contain tutorials which are very useful for getting an overview of the capabilities of a spreadsheet program. In fact, the most recent release of 1-2-3 comes on CD ROM and has no manual. However, its built-in help is more extensive than most manuals.

 Since many of the formulas and macros have the same syntax, help available on desktop versions of 1-2-3 can be very beneficial.

Lotus 1-2-3 Support Publications

Inexpensive easy-to-use 1-2-3 and DOS reference guides