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Getting Started

Tavis Ormandy edited this page Mar 23, 2023 · 51 revisions

This page is a quick start guide for using Lotus 1-2-3 on Linux.


The first thing you need to know is the 1-2-3 menu is opened with /.

If you ever change your mind or choose the wrong menu option, just press Esc to go back one level.

From the menu you can navigate with and , or just press the first letter of the option you want.

Tip: The 1-2-3 menu is what allows advanced users to work so efficiently. You can perform complex operations with just a few keystrokes! For example, you can insert a new column with just /wicEnter.

Getting Help

You can get help at any time by pressing the F1 key. This works in most places, and will give you relevant information.

Tip: If you're entering a formula and press F1, you will get a reminder about function parameters!

If you make a mistake, you can Undo your last change with Ctrl+F4.

Moving around

The current highlighted cell is called the cell pointer, you can move it around with ,,,.

If you want to move to the next empty cell, press End and then the direction. For example End .

To move between open sheets, use Ctrl+PgUp and Ctrl+PgDn. Your current sheet is displayed in the top left, highlighted in the screenshot below.


Tip: If you want to add a new sheet use /Worksheet Insert Sheet.


A label is any text not being used in calculations, like notes and headings.

You can create or replace a label in the current cell just by typing some text and pressing Enter.

If you want to change the current cell rather than replace it, press F2.

Tip: Most editing commands (like and ) don't work while entering a label to make rapid data entry possible. If you do need to enable them, just press F2.

Formatting Labels

You can change how labels appear using the /Range Label menu, but it's much faster to use label prefixes. For example, if you wanted the word Heading to be centered, you would enter ^Heading.

Prefix Meaning
^ Centered
' Left justified
" Right justified text

Tip: If you're trying to make a border, use \- to fill the whole cell -- It works with any character!


If a column is too small, use /Worksheet Column Set-Width to adjust it. You can enter a width, or use and to adjust it interactively.

Tip: If a cell is too narrow to display the result of a calculation, Lotus will display it as *****. This is to make sure you don't see a truncated number and think it is the real result!

You can adjust the width of multiple columns simultaneously with /Worksheet Column Column-Range Set-Width.


Column Freezing

If you want to lock a row or column in place while moving around, use the /Worksheet Titles menu. This is often called freezing.

Values and Formulas

A value contains numbers, @functions and cell references and can be used in other calculations. You can also use the standard arithmetic operators like + and -.

Tip: If you want to enter a formula that begins with a cell reference, just prefix it with a +. For example, +A1*B2.

The primary difference between 1-2-3 formulas and any other spreadsheet you may have used is that functions begin with @.

Here is a table of the most common functions, press F1 and select @Function Index for a complete list.

Name Description
@SUM Adds the values in list.
@AVG Averages the values in list.
@COUNT Counts the number of nonblank cells in list of ranges.

Tip: Can't remember a function name? Type the @, then press F3 to select from a list!

Cell References

You can use the contents of other cells in your formulas, just enter the address of the cell, like A2, or select it interactively by moving the cell pointer to the cell you want and pressing Enter.


Many operations in 1-2-3 operate on more than one cell, such as calculating the sum or average. This is called a range.


To enter a range interactively, start typing the formula you want to use, for example @SUM(. Now use the ,,, keys to move to the top left corner of the range. To tell 1-2-3 that you're selecting a range and not a single cell, press ..

Now move to the lower right corner of the range, and press Enter. 1-2-3 will update the formula entry automatically for you. You can also just enter the cell addresses if you know them!

Absolute References

If you want 1-2-3 to always use the same cell, even if you copy the formula somewhere else, just prefix it with a $, like $A$2.

Formatting Values

There are many options for choosing how numbers are displayed (Currency, Scientific, Percentages, etc) and the level of precision you want. Select the format from the /Range Format menu.


The best way to enter dates in 1-2-3 is to use the @DATE function, the syntax is @DATE(Year, Month, Day). This will produce a date number, and you choose a formatting option in /Range Format Date.


You can also directly enter dates in the form 22-Jul-2022, which will be converted into a date number.

Tip: Want to create a heading for each month automatically? Use /Data Fill

If you are recording times, you can enter them in the format 11:32 (24hr), or 1:45 PM (12hr). These will be automatically converted on entry, just set the format option to view them.


Lotus 1-2-3 supports several chart types, with many configurable options. Try pressing F10 to see a sample graph of your data.

If it doesn't look right, or you want to configure axis, legends, labels, colors or more you can use the /Graph menu.

See Graphs for more information.


You can open and save files from the /File menu, /File Retrieve will open an existing file.

Tip: The default save location is configurable, you can change it with /Worksheet Global Default Dir.

Multiple Files

You can open multiple files simultaneously using the /File Open menu. This is useful if you want to compare two worksheets.

For example, you might want to open jan_sales.wk3 and feb_sales.wk3 and compare the figures.

To switch between all your open sheets, use Ctrl+PgUp and Ctrl+PgDn. When you reach the end of one file, you will move to the first sheet of the next file. To jump ahead to the next file immediately, hit Ctrl+End then Ctrl+PgUp.

You can also see a list of open files with /File List Active.

Tip: You can reference ranges from other files! Use the syntax <<>>, for example @SUM(<<filename.wk3>>A:A1..B:A2).


You can split the screen between multiple files, either Horizontally or Vertically using the /Worksheet Windows menu.

There are two main benefits of using split windows. The first is that 1-2-3 can synchronize scrolling between two files or sheets, allowing you to compare figures easily.


The second is that you can interactively select ranges from one window, and use them in the other!

To switch between active windows, press F6.

Perspective Mode

Perspective mode is a neat way to work with several sheets simultaneously.


If you have multiple sheets or files open, try /Worksheet Window Perspective to enable it. You can turn it off with /Worksheet Window Clear.


Lotus 1-2-3 supports keystroke macros, an easy way to automate repetitive tasks. As you navigate around worksheets and menus by pressing keys, you can save these keystrokes and play them back later.

Let's try a simple example, imagine that we want to duplicate a column of values.

Macro Example

The first step in creating a macro is to perform the operation you want to automate.

In this case, I want to copy some values, so I will enter the following keys:

  1. / C to select Copy from the menu.
  2. End Enter to select all cells to the next empty cell.
  3. Enter to copy them to the next column.

Here is how this should look.


Recording a macro

Lotus remembers the last few keystrokes you entered, and can recall them for you. Press Alt+F2 and Select Copy and Lotus will display the keystrokes it just saw.

Tip: In Lotus macros ~ means Enter, and the cursor keys are {U}, {D}, {L} and {R} for Up, Down, Left and Right.

Move the cursor to the first keystrokes you wanted to save, in our case / C, and press Tab.

Now move to the last keystroke we want to save, the ~ after the {R}, and press Enter. Lotus will prompt you to save your keystrokes some where. You can choose some empty space in your sheet for now.


Tip: I like to keep my macros in a separate sheet to keep my worksheets neat.

Playing a macro

Now that you've saved your keystrokes, we need to play them back.

Lotus uses named ranges to save macros, so choose /Range Name Create and give your macro a name, perhaps DUPLICATE.

Select all the cells in your macro, and then press Enter.

Now move the cell pointer to the top of a column you want to copy, and press Alt+F3. Choose DUPLICATE from the menu, and the column should be duplicated!


Macro Keys

Using the Run menu works for macros you don't use very often, but if you use them all the time you will want to use macro keys.

If you name your macro the special name, \A, the macro will be automatically run when you press Alt+A.

This works for any letter, you can bind up to 26 macros to keys, Alt+A - Alt+Z.

Autoexec macros

There is one more special macro name. If you name your macro \0, it is considered the AutoExec macro.

The AutoExec macro is automatically executed when you open your worksheet, it can perform tasks like update stock prices, for example.

Tip: AutoExec can be enabled or disabled from the /Worksheet Global Default Autoexec menu.


Lotus macros can be extended beyond keystroke macros with branching logic, subroutines, file I/O, external commands, interactive menus, and more. These features are beyond the scope of this introduction, but the full documentation is available here.

[^1]: Traditionally, Lotus uses Alt+F4 for Undo, but that can be hard to enter on modern systems.