ISSUE 380: THE HIGH-TECH OFFICE--Alan
Time once again for the three software giants to
compete for your office suite dollars Feb 4 1997
The battle for your upgrade dollars has begun
again, as all three of the big office suite manufacturers have released
new versions in the past few months. And a serious battle it is--Microsoft
Office, for example, the best-selling of the three, provides its
maker with a full half of its revenue.
IBM/Lotus, with Smart Suite 97, and Ottawa's Corel,
with Corel Office Professional, are tackling Microsoft's seeming
stranglehold--the company has an estimated 80 per cent of the market
share. Each of the underdogs has had some good news to crow about.
Lotus, backed by IBM's muscle, has been able to get its product
preloaded on a growing number of new computers, while Corel's new
product, helped by aggressive price-cutting, beat out Microsoft Office
in retail sales this past fall and winter.
Suites are packaged to include the most often used
business software products--word processors, spreadsheets, presentation
graphics packages, and, in some cases, databases--all together, and for
the price of purchasing just two of the products separately. But by
locking users into a single manufacturer's products, the hope is for an
ongoing revenue stream, based on upgrades every two years or so.
The competition between these three companies has
produced a series of products that are, in many ways, more similar than
they are different. The 1997-generation office suites provide similar
collections of core applications. All have been rewritten as 32-bit
Windows programs; they will only run under Windows 95 or Windows NT.
Windows 3.1 users may as well get used to it--they're no longer seen as
a market for improved software. On the other hand, being off the
eternal upgrade loop may not be such a bad thing.
Non-Windows users are also out of the loop. Microsoft
Office is the only bundle of this sort for the Mac (though Corel has
bundled its well-regarded Mac version of WordPerfect along with the new
Mac release of Corel Draw). And even though IBM produces both Lotus
Smart Suite and the OS/2 operating system, the version of Smart Suite
for OS/2 is still incomplete--offering real OS/2 versions of only part
of the suite, with even these remaining a generation behind the Win95
The hardware demands are greater than ever--think
Pentium with at least 16 megs of RAM and several hundred megs of drive
space to install all the components of a suite. They've all added
features to produce more attractive output with less effort, to produce
documents for the Internet or for intranets, and to allow users to
share documents within a workgroup.
Competition among these companies is fierce. Corel,
having only recently purchased WordPerfect and the other suite
components, has to prove that it can make a go of it in this market, up
against vastly bigger Microsoft and IBM. Lotus/IBM, with the smallest
market share, needs to grow to keep from being perceived as completely
irrelevant. And Microsoft, of course, wants to hang onto the billions
of dollars of annual revenue it's currently collecting by dominating
the suite market.
With business office suites being the primary software
application on the majority of business computers, making the correct
decision is critical.
Do any of these suites provide features that you need?
Are these features compelling enough to justify switching from your
current standard to a competing product? Are they compelling enough to
justify upgrading your current hardware, even if you want the new
version of your current software? Is it worth the fuss of upgrading
from Windows 3.1 to Win95 or NT to run the newer software?
Or should you just ignore the hype and stick with
whatever you're using now?
It's an important enough question that I'm going to
look at the big-three office suites in more detail in the next couple
of High-Tech Office columns. We'll see what features each offers, and
at what cost, to help you decide whether you need to upgrade, and if
so, to which product. Stay tuned!*