For many businesses, the question of which application suite they want their business IT support partners to install onto new computers, as well as their cloud servers, is often one with a very simple choice.

Companies will generally choose between Microsoft 365 (formerly known as Microsoft Office) or Google Workspace, with the final decision ultimately coming down to personal preference and comfort with each application suite’s interfaces and foibles.

Ultimately, familiarity has won out for nearly four decades, as some form of Microsoft Office has dominated business computing since the company’s applications were bundled together as a suite.

Whilst hindsight would see this as inevitable, especially since after the downfall of Lotus SmartSuite it would take seven years for a new competitor to be developed and another decade for it to actually be serious competition, but the shape of the business world could have been very different.

The success of Microsoft Office was not guaranteed and can be credited not only to the benefits of integration but also to the failures of its biggest competitors. Of this competition, none failed harder than Lotus Jazz.


In the 1980s, Lotus were one of the biggest productivity software developers in the world, and their revolutionary killer app spreadsheet 1-2-3 was part of an unofficial office suite trilogy alongside WordPerfect and dBase.

Lotus 1-2-3 was so popular and ahead of its time that the reason why business computers are still made the way they are is because the spreadsheet popularised IBM PCs and later PC-compatibles in the office, with other computers by companies such as Apple and Commodore failing to compete.

However, whilst this was successful, they had much grander plans in store for the business world, putting a lot of time, effort and money towards an integrated application suite, consisting not only of a spreadsheet but a word processor, database, graphics designer and what was nebulously advertised as “communications” software.

This sounds very much like Microsoft Office, with Excel, Word, Access, Publisher and Outlook/Skype/Teams, but with a significant level of integration that allows for different types of files to be edited without starting another application.

The goal was to do for the then-new and highly innovative Apple Macintosh what Lotus 1-2-3 had done for the IBM PC, making the new type of computer highly appealing to business customers, particularly those who were intimidated by the steep learning code of command-line interfaces like IBM’s PC-DOS.

Lotus were highly invested in the concept, going so far as to pay for expensive television advertising that claimed the office suite was what Macintosh was made for.

The Jazz name was not only intended to feel comforting, relaxing and human but also to evoke the idea of a group that was greater than the sum of its parts. 

More specifically, choosing Lotus Jazz at a cost of $595 (£1400 in 2024 money) over an a-la-carte set of software was claimed to be beneficial by saving money overall, saving time by only requiring one program to be loaded at a time and allowing for extensive integration between file types.

Reviewers and customers could not agree less with this assertion, with even the kinder reviews such as the lengthy review in Macworld by Gordon McComb noting that there were several major weak points, missing features and excessive memory usage relative to the memory available to most Mac users.

John Anderson of Creative Computing called it “disappointingly weak” as well, aside from its “HotView” feature, which allowed for real-time updates to graphs and charts by simply updating the data in a spreadsheet.

Ultimately, Lotus Jazz sold only 20,000 copies, the result of an overly high price tag, copy protection that meant that business users could not create backups of their disks, not taking advantage of their existing brand identity as Lotus 1-2-3, a lack of compatibility with non-Jazz filetypes, and poor marketing.

In retrospect, this is a tremendous missed opportunity; application suites were already appealing to businesses and if Lotus Jazz had met the needs of business customers at the time, it could have been an already-established name in the office suite market by the time Microsoft Office arrived.

Instead, it was a highly public and particularly expensive flop. Lotus tried to make amends with Modern Jazz, a much-improved version of the concept, but this was cancelled in favour of a version of 1-2-3 designed for Macintosh.

Eventually, Lotus would find some brief success with Lotus SmartSuite, a bundle of office software sold at a significantly lower price than Microsoft Office, but this did not last either, and SmartSuite ceased development in 2000.