The UNIX version of Lotus 1-2-3 (the ‘Excel of the 80s’) was lost for 32 years: this is how it reappeared and managed to run on Linux


Lotus 1-2-3 was the king of spreadsheets when Microsoft Excel didn’t yet exist. And even then, Bill Gates’ company still had to wait for Excel 4.0 to take the throne from him. And this was only possible due to the delay of its developers when landing on Windows, satisfied with their comfortable position of leadership in MS-DOS.

Nevertheless, Lotus also released a version of 1-2-3 for the UNIX operating system in 1990.… a version that had little impact on the market (here too I was lateand its rival SCO had released its own suite) and was written off for many years…

…Apparently, no one at his development company had deemed it necessary to keep a copy… “he was one of the big names in software at the time!” —they thought— “How could all the copies of some of its versions disappear?”

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In any case, she remained lost until Tavis Ormandy, an absolute fan of Lotus 1-2-3 (develops a driver to allow the current use of its version for DOS), found a person who had served as SysOp (today we would say ‘administrator’) of a BBS in the early 90s and who kept the files on tape.

Actually, Ormandy was not looking for the UNIX version of this software, but a Lotus software development kit that at the time allowed (previous payment of almost 400 dollars) to create ‘plug-ins’ for the original software. Nevertheless, checking the BBS archives…there it was!.

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And Ormandy, of course, it was proposed, nothing less, to be able to run Lotus 1-2-3 natively on Linux systems. That presented some problems: First, the installer contained a bunch of TD0 files, a deprecated compressed disk file format, which he had to investigate converting to another format.

The second problem was obvious: the old Unix systems are very similar to Linux… but not identical, and in this case the binary format (COFF, instead of ELF) was not suitable. More than understandable, because in 1990 Linux didn’t even exist yet. But Ormandy developed code that ‘translated’ the system calls from the Unix binary on the fly so that they could be translated into those from the Linux system.

Finally, there was the issue of ‘anti-copy’ measures: The UNIX version of Lotus 1-2-3 included a license checker to make sure no 1990 users were passing copies to their office friends, so Ormandy had to ‘hack’ the system to achieve that it work According to an account on his website (full of interesting technical details), he feels justified in doing so because Lotus 1-2-3 for UNIX has been abandonware for 32 years… and because he himself still keeps a box of the program with the license key.

So, well, Lotus 1-2-3 can now be run on Linux without the need for emulatorsand the code that makes it possible is available on Github.

Via | Hackaday


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