The name “1-2-3” stemmed from the product’s integration of three main capabilities. Along with being a spreadsheet, it also offered integral charting/graphing and rudimentary database operations.
Data features included sorting data in any defined rectangle, by order of information in one or two columns in the rectangular area. Justifying text in a range into paragraphs allowed it to be used as a primitive word processor.
It had keyboard-driven pop-up menus as well as one-key commands, making it fast to operate. It was also user-friendly, introducing an early instance of context-sensitive help accessed by the F1 key.
Macros in version one and add-ins (introduced in version 2.0) contributed much to 1-2-3’s popularity, allowing dozens of outside vendors to sell macro packages and add-ins ranging from dedicated financial worksheets like F9 to full-fledged word processors. (In the single-tasking MS-DOS, 1-2-3 was sometimes used as a complete office suite. All major graphics standards were supported; initially CGA and Hercules, and later EGA, AT&T, and VGA. Early versions used the filename extension “WKS”. In version 2.0, the extension changed first to “WK1”, then “WK2”. This later became “WK3” for version 3.0 and “WK4” for version 4.0.
Version 2 introduced macros with syntax and commands similar in complexity to an advanced BASIC interpreter, as well as string variable expressions. Later versions supported multiple worksheets and were written in C. The charting/graphing routines were written in Forth by Jeremy Sagan (son of Carl Sagan) and the printing routines by Paul Funk (founder of Funk Software).
There is also a version of 1-2-3 for the HP 200LX, a palmtop released by Hewlett-Packard, a port for Tandy’s Deskmate and for Apple’s Mac OS in 1991.