Quattro Pro (by Borland)

At a recent seminar, the virtues of an i-Something-or-other was being extolled, for the purpose of presentations. My mind was drawn to an old product, Quattro Pro. This was a spreadsheet from long before the days of MS Office dominance.



This takes us back to the early 1990’s. The then leading spreadsheet was Lotus 1-2-3. 1-2-3 did some useful things but it wasn’t pretty. A market grew up for Lotus 1-2-3 add ons. These gave that market leading product a WYSIWYG style interface.

In those long gone days, XP wasn’t born and even Windows 95 was little more than a ‘look and feel’ glint in Gate’s eye. WIMP – Windows /Icon / Menu / Pointer – that was the direction of nerd-heaven. IBM compatibles ruled the roost powered by DR DOS, IBM DOS and MS DOS. Windows 3.1 and O/S 2 were recent market entrants for those who insisted on Mice, Pointers and a GUI experience. Yet Apple was dying on its feet – entrenched in an 8% market share of all things desktop.

Lotus 1-2-3 ran well in a standard 512 kb of RAM. It was lean and effective. Ah happy days, Upper Memory Blocks and then Extended memory and Expanded memory which took software beyond the one Megabyte limit.

I can still imagine that nameless IBM rocket-scientist: “We’ll set maximum memory at ONE MEGABYTE. That’s an incredible amount of RAM. No one will ever, ever want any more than that. And if they do, we’ll just hard code it in.” 🙂

Bet they didn’t smile then. Bet they were seriously po faced.

Back to Quattro Pro.



I started with Supercalc. It was actually Supercalc 3.1 – essentially Supercalc 2 with a macro-interpreter thrown in. At that time, macros were in the main, keystroke interpreters. Supercalc could export to Lotus 1-2-3, the group standard, but the results weren’t always reliable. I needed to get a more reliable product that didn’t break the bank (Lotus 1-2-3 would set you back £400-ish). I shopped around, coaxed by the urgings of the Company Secretary. Quattro came top.

The Group where I worked, ‘encouraged’ us to get a copy of Lotus 1-2-3 anyway, so I had plenty of opportunity to cross-check the credentials of the respective products.

Leaving that story aside, by 1992 I had a copy of Quattro Pro v4. Still have it. Its help system under ‘Help for Lotus 123 Converts’ had the following guidance:

Just a few Quattro Pro Features Not Available in 1-2-3
Graph Insertion Insert Graphs directly into the spreadsheet
Graph Annotation Use an Annotator to draw on the graph
Multiple Windows Open up to 32 windows at once (years before Win 95)
File Manager Use the File Manager to work with files on Hard Drive
Transcript Use the Transcript Utility to review, replay and make macros from actions
Graph Buttons Use Graph Buttons to navigate between topics in slide shows and to run macros
132 col display View more data at a time with 132 column display mode

Fighting talk to the likes of Jim Manzi, then boss of Lotus Development. The Look and Feel case dragged on for years and proved one thing; it’s possible to hire lawyers and other expert advice so compelling that you lose touch with your core business. Lotus lost touch with its, and succumbed to a hostile bid from IBM. By then, Philippe Kahn (head of Borland) had flogged Quattro Pro to Novell, and Microsoft used its monopoly power to leverage MS Office onto new PC’s. If you as a reseller wanted to offer Windows 95, you knew which way to jump.

Quattro Pro could read a number of file types. It’s hard to test every file type, but apart from Havard Graphics, which I never got my hands, I remember little problem in handling the table below (it’d be interesting to know how translation from CHT files went).

WQ1 default extension
DB Paradox
WKQ Quattro 1.x
CHT Havard Graphics 2.x
RXD Reflex 1
R2D Reflex 2
WKP Surpass
DIF Visicalc
ALL Allways*
FMT Impress*
SLK Multiplan
WK1 Lotus 1-2-3 2.01, 2.2
WKS Lotus 1-2-3 1A
WKE Lotus 1-2-3 Educ
WK3 Lotus 1-2-3 3.x
FM3 Lotus 1-2-3 3.x WYSIWYG add-in*
WR1 Symphony 2.0
WRK Symphony 1.2

File compression in Quattro Pro results in additional file extensions. It handles file compression for its own files, and those generated by Lotus 1-2-3, via a utility called SQZ!

File extension / type of file compressed
WQ! Quattro Pro File
WKZ Quattro Pro 1 File
WK$ WKS File
WK! WK1 File

SQZ! has options to change the way compression works. These are:
– Remove blanks
– Storage of Values (i.e. formulae or formulae + resulting values)
– Version (SQZ! and SQZ! Plus


(SQZ! was found in File-Manager)

Getting Quattro pro up and running was quite a grind. It turned out that my re-installation failed to generate screen font definition files – which meant that WYSISWYG mode crashed DOSbox.

That problem was fixed by copying the following files (from an earlier installation)


Method to launch is:

Open a DOS window (Run Command.com)

Run DOSbox (Mount c C:\Tools\Qpro [enter])

Run Qpro (q [enter])



A retrospect on the special features

Graph Insertion Quattro Pro manages graphs by naming them; in Excel, each insertion creates a new chart – it doesn’t use named charts;
Graph Annotation Chart tools
Multiple Windows Part of standard Windows functionality, noting that the recent Windows Tile is a bit retro.
File Manager Dealt with via Windows Explorer
Transcript Excel equivalent is Record a Macro
Graph Buttons Requires stand alone Presentation Software
132 col display Zoom – part of standard Windows functionality

Graph Buttons and Slide Shows

It’s worth having a further look at Graph Buttons. These allow a slide show to become a presentation – each button can become a hotlink to a different chart.
How does it work?
Define your charts.

Annotating a Chart

Annotating a Chart

Edit each chart: add buttons to link to the next chart.



Chart Headcount-Indirect

Chart Headcount-Indirect



Eventually your slide show is done and all your data to drive the charts is in the same spreadsheet. The Annotation module let you load, draw and save CLP files. Saved Text Boxes remember which graph they point to.  Here’s a mental map of my slide show.

Slide Show Schematic

Slide Show Schematic

Not in Excel

Other stuff
What else did I like back then?
The fact that it read my Reflex databases with no problem; it was fast and it made a fairly decent fist of cascading open spreadsheets.

Menu builder.

QPro: Menubuilder.

QPro: Menubuilder. This view is in character based mode

That was the thing that let you redesign the interface. Most products let you do that now. Quattro Pro came with a Lotus 1-2-3 compatible interface which meant that Lotus macros (which were keystroke driven) would also work in Quattro Pro. In addition, Quattro had a macro language that was independent of keystrokes.

Play sounds directly from the spreadsheet. Gimmicky 20 years ago. Achieved via macro syntax: {play name.SND} where SND was digitized sound from RealSound. SND files were small (about 7kb for 1 second).


Lotus Development v Borland
The Lawsuit.

SND files

About Terence Park

Board games, US Comic books, SF Paperbacks, Vinyl records; I've plenty of them all. I write SF (the serious sort). I also do spreadsheets.
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4 Responses to Quattro Pro (by Borland)

  1. Peter says:


    Question. How do you apply filters to data? If run qp5.6 in dosbox turbo om my blackberry q10 but I have not found the filtering option yet..



    • Terence Park says:

      Quattro Pro v 5 for DOS
      …didn’t have filters. There were a couple of ways to drill down into data, the first was to navigate through each row that matched your query (noting that non-matching rows remained visible); the second was to extract data via the self-same query.
      I never came across a version 5.6 but would assume it to be similar to version 5.5 for DOS. Version 5.5 for DOS supported multi-page spreadsheets; whereas version 5 had only one page per spreadsheet.

      Quattro Pro 5 for Windows
      …had a sub-program called ‘Data Modelling Desktop’ which offered Cross Tab functionality. The functionality was not dissimilar to Pivot Tables and Filters in Excel. In later versions, it was tweaked to make Quattro more like Excel, however, that functionality was not present in any DOS version I’ve used.


    • Terence Park says:

      Filters was a worthwhile incentive to transition from Lotus (or Quattro) to Excel. Going onto comparisons, the other worthwhile Excel feature, 20 years back, was the ability to assign a name to a formula.


    • Terence Park says:

      It was possible in Quattro Pro for DOS to devise data queries which, were a half-way house to filtering, i.e. set criteria, identify matching data, set an output rage, extract matching data to the output range.

      It was also possible to automate these queries via Quattro’s in-built programming language. This could be set up by defining range names for
      the Data table (e.g. Data1)
      the Criteria (e.g. Crit_1)
      the Output range (e.g. Output1
      and optionally running the process in drop-down menus (user-defined interface).

      On handling daat from queries, QPro for DOS didn’t support Sumif but did have an emulation of Lotus 1-2-3’s SumProduct – a thing that made the budgetting process a whole lot easier.
      VLookup and HLookup were useful for non-replicated results – e.g. Trial Balance expense codes.


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