Whatever Happened to…
Lotus Jazz

by John C. Dvorak

In 1985, one of the great flopperoos in computing history occurred at the hands of then software powerhouse Lotus. By that year, the name Lotus immediately brought to mind spreadsheets, and the computing industry was abuzz with the news that the Mac world was to be overwhelmed by Lotus’ new Mac spreadsheet: Jazz.

Unfortunately, the popularity of Jazz peaked with the pre-announcement hype. From there, it skidded downhill faster than a beginning skier on a black diamond trail, as Lotus made every marketing blunder in the book. As MacUser Magazine said in 1985, “The only problem with Lotus Jazz was Lotus.”

In a nutshell, here’s what Lotus did wrong: First, they priced it too high. With a listed retail price of $595, even the lowest street price of $375 was too much for the penny-pinching early Mac users.

Second, Lotus copy-protected the disks. Not being able to back up an important and expensive business program was more than most users could handle. Unlike Jazz, 1-2-3 used a simple, easy-to-crack copy-protection scheme.

Third – the blunder of blunders, they named it Jazz instead of 1-2-3 for the Mac. This was a dubious decision based on differentiation nonsense.

Fourth, the product had poor import/export capabilities and assumed all users would only want to import or export to other Jazz users not to PC users.

Fifth, Lotus rolled out dopey ads showing spastic dancing executives “jazzing it up.” The association was ill-conceived.

It’s hard not to mention that Lotus wasn’t even smart enough to advertise Jazz in MacUser Magazine –at least from Jazz’s introduction until July 1986 (when I stopped looking). At the time this was where all the influential Mac buyers were concentrated.

To add idiocy to injury, most of the marketing fancy footwork concentrated on the elaborate and expensive packaging job done for Jazz. The original box and its contents, which included a vest pocket diskette holder, is a collector’s item today.

WHEN THE DUST CLEARED. Once things settled down, Lotus had sold about 20,000 copies of Jazz, compared to Microsoft’s early sales run of 200,000 copies of Excel.

Still, Lotus didn’t write off Jazz immediately. It went to work on a vastly improved version, originally codenamed Galaxy, to correct the deficiencies. In early 1988, Lotus distributed beta versions of this program–now renamed Modern Jazz. By this time, deep splits over whether or not to continue with the project developed. It sported the features that customers wanted, but lacked the “look and feel” of a Macintosh program.

To get things on track, Lotus hired Frank King as Senior VP of Software Products. King had recently resigned as VP of IBM’s Entry Systems Division, and was brought aboard to solve the product-development problems delaying 1-2-3 3.0 and Modern Jazz. With one quick stroke, he settled the internal bickering by pulling the plug on Modern Jazz and reassigning the programmers to a Mac 1-2-3 project.

An indication of the difficulty of the Mac 1-2-3 project was its codename: Houdini. Seemingly without a clue as to what the Mac was about, and without a successful Mac product to their credit, the Lotus team built in a DOS screen to allow DOS 1-2-3- users to use their familiar keystrokes.

While Mac aficionados cringe, Lotus’ need for a Macintosh version of 1-2-3 no longer has much to do with the Mac market. Everyone who needed a Mac spreadsheet presumably already had one – from someone else. The reason Lotus HAD to have a Mac 1-2-3 is that, corporately, you either cover all the platforms or you lose sales.

Jazz–the product–is long dead, but for years there remained some die-hard Jazz users. These abandoned souls were found in special-interest groups on CompuServe and as part of smallish SIGs in many user groups. As compelling reasons for still using Jazz, they cited the report generator, the HotView function (for dynamic changes between files within the program), and even its speed as attractions that neither Excel nor Works could match. I always figure these folks must have paid the full $595 retail and insist on denying their folly and getting their money’s worth. The product is now long-forgotten.

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