Lotus Improv was the second, lesser-known spreadsheet developed by Lotus Corp.. The first was, of course, Lotus 1-2-3, the first "killer app" for the IBM PC.

Improv came a bit later. Lotus gave a group of developers the task of coming up with interface ideas to make spreadsheets easier to use. A next generation spreadsheet was created around their ideas. Improv version 1.0 was released exclusively for the NeXT platform in February of 1991. Just like the NeXT, Improv was a revolutionary reimplementation of an old concept.

Improv allowed users to name and catagorize the columns and rows of their spreadsheets. The formulas could use the meaningful names of the items like "= Income - Expenses", rather than arbitrary cell names like "= A1 - B2". You could also create multiple views of one set of data by dragging your catagories into new configurations. The ability to quickly see data from different perspectives was completely unique at the time, and it still outshines today's spreadsheet programs.

Improv won rave reviews throughout the press, even from the PC magazines that didn't usually touch non-PC hardware and software. But people weren't ready to shell out for a 10k NeXT system just to run this program. The Lotus marketing machine was also reluctant to allow this risky new program to cannibalize the 1-2-3 cash cow.

Improv 2.0 was eventually released, this time supporting Windows 3.1. But between being squeezed internally by 1-2-3, externally by Excel and Quattro Pro, and the general shakedown of office suite software, Improv was doomed to fade into obscurity.

As well as improv comedy, Improv was also a product from Lotus Software. Steve Jobs originally hailed it as the killer app for his NeXT computer or, as it later became, his NeXTStep operating system.

Lotus Improv was a 'next-generation spreadsheet', designed to make manipulation and analysis of multi-dimensional data really easy.

And if that's what you do with spreadsheets, then Lotus Improv is definitely the product for you.

When IBM decided to port it across to the Microsoft Windows 3.0, they even had the Microsoft Excel development team qualing in their boots. So they hurriedly added a facility called pivot tables into the product in an attempt to compete. (for details, go and read the JoelOnSoftware website).

As it turned out, most people use Excel for simple sums, and sorting single flat tables of information into alphabetical or numerical order.

Lotus Improv was complete overkill for this, and was not the Excel-killer that Lotus had hoped for. Consequently, they withdrew it from sale within about 12 months of the Windows 3.0 launch.

And this is unfortunate, because it was one of the best apps ever for manipulating multi-dimensional data - never bettered, often mourned.

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