Excel made its debut on the Macintosh in 1985 and has never lost its position as the most popular spreadsheet application in the Mac environment. In 1987, Excel was ported to the PC, running under Windows. It took many years for Excel to overtake Lotus 1-2-3, which was one of the most successful software systems in the history of computing at that time.
A number of spreadsheet applications enjoyed success prior to the release of the IBM PC in 1981. Among these were VisiCalc and Multiplan. VisiCalc started it all, but fell by the wayside early on. Multiplan was Microsoft's predecessor to Excel, using the R1C1 cell addressing which is still available as an option in Excel. But it was 1-2-3 that shot to stardom very soon after its release in 1982 and came to dominate the PC spreadsheet market.
1-2-3 was the first spreadsheet application to offer spreadsheet, charting, and database capabilities in one package. However, the main reason for its runaway success was its macro capability. Legend has it that the 1-2-3 developers set up macros as a debugging and testing mechanism for the product. It is said that they only realized the potential of macros at the last minute, and included them in the final release pretty much as an afterthought.
Whatever their origins, macros gave non-programmers a simple way to become programmers and automate their spreadsheets. They grabbed the opportunity and ran. At last they had a measure of independence from the computer ...