Lotus position: IBM kills the name, but software and founders live on

Thirty-one years ago, Massachusetts-based software developers Mitch Kapor and Jonathan Sachs created a program — an electronic spreadsheet — that would change the world. A year later, on Jan. 26, 1983, Lotus Development Corp. released Lotus 1-2-3 for the IBM PC and grossed $53 million in sales. The following year, sales tripled to more than $150 million.

Many other Lotus products have come and gone through the years including Symphony, SmartSuite, and Lotus Works. But the greatest and most successful product was Lotus Notes (aka Domino/Notes), a new type of software program labeled "groupware," which was designed for several computer users to collaborate on projects from long-distance locations via a network.

Notes was founded and developed in 1984 by Ray Ozzie, Tim Halvorsen, and Len Kawell, with Steven Beckhardt soon to follow. The product did not launch until five years later. Sheldon Laube, the CIO of Price Waterhouse, contracted for 10,000 copies of Lotus Notes the day before it launched, which contributed significantly to the product's acceptance and initial success. The CIA also ordered 10,000 units for its agents and staff.

THEN AND NOW: Watch a slideshow of Lotus' main players

IBM bought Lotus in 1995 and kept the Notes product line alive. IBM announced in December that the newest release of Notes/Domino would drop the Lotus name. And the annual Lotusphere conference was conducted last week under the name Connect 2013.

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So, we decided to go back and talk to the original Lotus braintrust and see what they're up to these days.

MITCH KAPOR

Mitchell D. Kapor was 32 years old in April 1982, when he founded Lotus 1-2-3. He had previously developed two business programs for VisiCorp: VisiTrend (a statistics program) and VisiPlot (a program that generated business charts). He made $500,000 on the spreadsheet version, VisiCalc, before VisiCorp bought him out for $1.7 million. But Kapor wanted more — he wanted a spreadsheet that would translate digits into graphs and calculate numbers at lightning speed, so he partnered with Jonathan Sachs to develop Lotus 1-2-3.

I think 30 years was a really excellent run, and all things must pass.

— Mitch Kapor

Kapor raised $5 million (from investors) and, in January 1983, Lotus 1-2-3 became the number one software program on the planet, selling close to 110,000 copies in nine months at $495 per unit. By December 1983, Lotus was the second largest software company in the world (behind Microsoft) with sales of $53 million (which tripled) and a staff of 250 (which doubled) by 1984.

Today, Kapor has several projects in progress: www.kaporcapital.com, www.LPFI.org , and www.mkf.org, in addition to his main website at www.kapor.com. He's a partner at Kapor Capital, "an investment fund based in Oakland, CA that invests in seed stage information technology companies that aspire to generate economic value and positive social impact," including; for example, education, health, and consumer finance.

He's a board member at Level Playing Field Institute, a company that promotes innovative approaches to fairness in higher education and workplaces by removing barriers to full participation. "LPFI's Initiative for Diversity in Education and Leadership (IDEAL) assists exemplary underrepresented students at UC Berkeley to maximize their educational, service, and career opportunities," says Kapor.

According to Kapor, the Summer Math and Science Honors Academy (SMASH) is a three-year, summer math and science academy for high school students on the UC Berkeley campus that encourages students from under-represented communities to pursue studies and excel in science, technology, engineering, and/or math at top colleges and graduate schools.

In addition, he's the founder and trustee of the Mitchell Kapor Foundation, an organization that works to ensure fairness and equity, particularly for low-income communities of color. "We support organizations and activism that illuminate and mitigate the conditions and dynamics of inequality, which particularly impact vulnerable communities," says Kapor.

Asked about the demise of the Notes name, Kapor says, "I think 30 years was a really excellent run, and all things must pass.''

Jonathan Sachs

Jonathan Sachs was the co-creator of Lotus 1-2-3. He spent 10 months writing the program in Assembly for the IBM personal computer. He did such an excellent job, the program was almost completely bug-free. It was lightning fast and extremely efficient. Lotus introduced the onscreen, hierarchical, letter menus (accessed by typing the slash key prior to executing the commands), for example: keystrokes slash key, letter F, letter S means File Save. This user access design is still used in most Windows applications. Later versions of 1-2-3 were written in C, partially to accommodate the programs' growth and complexity and partially to make it easier for integration with other programs.

Sachs left Lotus in 1985. Currently, he owns a photo editing software program called Digital Light & Color. Based in Cambridge, Mass., Digital Light & Color's portfolio includes the advanced photo editing program Picture Window Pro 6.0; a color calibration tool called Profile Mechanic-Scanner; a plug-in program called Color Mechanic; and a post-production (frame and mat design) program called Frame Explorer.

"I am mostly retired now," he says, "But have been involved with Digital Light & Color since around 1993, a company that produces photo editing software for Windows."

Ray Ozzie

Ray Ozzie founded Iris Associates in December of 1984 to create Notes. Iris and Lotus had an agreement from 1984 until Lotus acquired Iris in 1994. Iris was responsible for all product development, and Lotus was responsible for everything else (marketing, sales, distribution, support, etc).

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According to Ozzie, the Lotus brand was, initially, all about desktop computing; it was about tools for personal empowerment and personal computing. With the advent of Notes, the Lotus brand grew to be inclusive of tools for interpersonal empowerment and collaborative work — things that today are regarded as "tools for social productivity."

"The post-PC world of today makes the 'desktop' attributes of the original Lotus brand far less relevant to today's offerings and, in that respect, it may have been a hindrance to IBM. Furthermore, IBM has itself evolved and expanded over the years from being a 'tools and technologies' company to being a 'solutions' company. And, over that period-driven, in large part, by the internet-social technologies have been woven into most every solution that they build," says Ozzie.

Today, Ozzie is the founder and CEO of an organization that concentrates on a new class of mobile-centric software and services. "Currently, I am focused on a new startup called Talko that's working on a new spin of my original passion — using technology to facilitate human interaction — but in a form that's designed for today's post-PC world of mobile devices and the web," says Ozzie.

He was at Microsoft from 2005 to 2010. He became the chief software architect in June 2006 — responsible for the company's overall technical strategy and product architecture — when Bill Gates retired to work at his foundation.

From 1997 to 2005, Ozzie founded Groove Networks "to create personally-empowering, secure, mobile, ad hoc, decentralized collaboration software for both individuals and enterprises." His co-founders were Ken Moore, Jack Ozzie, and Eric Patey. Microsoft purchased Groove Networks in April of 2005.

On IBM's decision to kill the Lotus name, Ozzie explains that to keep customers from being confused, IBM really only had two choices: to grow the use of Lotus as a "social ingredient brand" in all its relevant solution offerings, regardless of its technical heritage or to eliminate it and say "IBM itself means social."

"Either one of those conclusions would make sense, so the determination to retire the Lotus brand was likely a good one. It had a good run. I'm not surprised and it was a wise business decision," says Ozzie.

Tim Halvorsen

Iris Associates co-founder Tim Halvorsen recalls, "We were all friends from our college days, having all worked on the development team of a computer system at the University of Illinois called PLATO, a computer-based learning system. The PLATO system had a number of features that allowed people to interact; e.g., electronic mail, real-time chatting, and group discussions."

According to Halvorsen, the trio decided to use their experience to create ways for the new personal computers to easily communicate, which would then allow the users to easily and effectively communicate and collaborate with each other.

"We started out immediately designing and writing the first version of Lotus Notes to provide these features," says Halvorsen. "Ray and I worked on the low-level coding framework, as well as developing the Notes database (aka "NSF") implementation and the word processing component (the part that I am using right now to write this email). I also acted as the overall development Project Leader coordinating the work lists and tracking development schedules, plus coordinated the work of creating intermediate beta versions of the code for testing."

"Over the next 17 years, I continued to work on many other aspects of the code, my primary job title being chief technology officer, and also continued to coordinate development schedules and plan various releases of the product. Iris merged with Lotus in 1994 and Lotus merged with IBM in 1995. I finally retired from Iris in March 2002," Halvorsen says.

Since his retirement, Halvorsen has been involved at the board level with various startups and worked as a part-time software consultant. In 2003, he invested in a company that purchased the Fantastic Sam's hair-care salon franchise out of bankruptcy, then joined the company for several years as its chief technology officer.

"I have recently joined a new startup called "Clear Ballot Group" as CTO and the primary designer," says Halvorsen. "This company's product performs a fully-independent audit of 100% of the ballots cast in an election, and provides a visual system to allow anyone to verify its accuracy. It is the only system of its kind (that I know of) that can perform these functions."

Len Kawell

Len Kawell was the third co-founder, co-designer, co-developer of the Lotus Notes project, and vice president of Iris Associates, Inc. in Westford, Mass., from 1985 to 1998. He was responsible for the ongoing development of the Lotus Notes Mail client and the server software. In addition, he developed and co-designed the Internet and TCP/IP-based protocols for the integration of the Notes and Domino products.

"I was primarily responsible for creating the Notes user interface, mail, and security features," says Kawell. "And later, I led the teams that continued the development of the entire Notes client. I also engineered and managed the transition of the Notes client to supporting Internet and Web features in the early 90s. For 13 years, I co-managed and grew the development team from our original team of three people to over 300 developers."

According to Kawell, he has co-founded many, successful startup companies such as Iris Associates, Glassbook and Pepper Computer. He's also founded or has been involved with various corporate entrepreneurial teams such as Microsoft's Mobile Labs, Alchemy Ventures, and Digital Equipment's DECwest.

"I specialize in creating total user experiences that combine software, hardware, networking, collaboration, and digital media," says Kawell.

Steve Beckhardt

Steve Beckhardt worked on Notes/Domino for 15 years, from 1985 to 2000. He joined Iris Associates about three months after the company started. "I designed the original Notes Server (before it was renamed Domino)," says Beckhardt, "But I'm probably best known for designing the Notes replication system. I also worked on many other areas including encryption, networking, full text search, etc. After Ray Ozzie left in 1998, I took over as president of Iris Associates until I left to join IBM Life Sciences in 2000."

"I have worked on a number of very different products since leaving the Notes team," says Beckhardt. "I worked two years for the Life Sciences group at IBM where I became an IBM Distinguished Engineer. Then I worked at several different startups, two of them working with RFID technology. Currently, I work in the software development team at Sonos, Inc. Sonos develops a highly-acclaimed wireless HiFi system and it's great fun working in consumer electronics on a product that all my friends and family can enjoy."

Before Sonos, Beckhardt was the executive director of systems architecture at Tego, an architectural design and software development company for a high memory radio-frequency identification chip (RFID) and related applications for storing maintenance information on high value flyable parts for the aviation industry.

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