Business in Vancouver: News that works for you

    Top-10 list of business software holds few surprises, shows little innovation

    by Alan Zisman (c) 1996 First published in Business in Vancouver ,  Issue #370 November 26, 1996   High Tech Office  column

    I like lists. Whether it's Letterman's Top 10 or BIV's current list of top Vancouver companies, I always find them to be an attractive way to get a lot of information fast.

    In each of its 500-plus-page bimonthly issues, PC Magazine includes a list of top 10 software sellers, highlighting a different category in each issue. As I write this, the current issue lists the 'Top Business Software.' What software makes it onto this top-10 list provides a few insights into how businesses are trying to use their computers. From the bottom up, we have:

    Numbers 10 and 9: Vertisoft's Remove-It 95 and MicroHelp's UnInstaller. Both products are designed to help users remove Windows applications that are no longer wanted. Such applications often leave files all over users' hard drives, with obscure settings in a variety of setup files. Windows 95 attempts to standardize program setup and removal, but this doesn't help users of older software.

    Numbers 8 and 7: Two versions of Cybermedia's First Aid. Again these are utilities, used in this case to check out a user's system, and make recommendations to help it run at its best. As the name First Aid suggests, they're designed to help with all those emergencies when your computer just won't start (inevitably when you need it to work right now!)

    Number 6: Netscape Navigator. This popular Internet Web browser isn't free software. We know that many millions of people are using Navigator, but it's interesting to see that enough people are buying it to propel it onto the best-seller list.

    Number 5: Microsoft's Plus! for Windows 95. Frankly, the popularity of this software mystifies me. I suspect that many people have somehow become convinced that it's a vital extension to the core Windows 95 product. A vital extension it's not: while it provides sets of clever sounds, icons, screen savers, and desktop wallpaper, only a few of the features are actually useful enhancements--the best, perhaps, being a System Agent, which automatically runs other utilities when the computer is idle.

    Numbers 4 and 3: A pair of antivirus programs--Symantec's Norton AntiVirus and McAfee's VirusScan. As I've mentioned in recent columns, there's been a big increase of viruses at business sites, particularly as a result of new forms of viruses that infect word-processor and spreadsheet documents. It's a good sign that business users are taking this seriously enough to put these two programs near the top of the list. The next step for users will be to actually use them regularly, and to get in the habit of obtaining the latest virus definitions (both companies provide free upgrades to deal with new viruses).

    Number 2: Corel's WordPerfect Suite Upgrade. Having purchased this venerable word processor from Novell (which in turn had purchased it from the original WordPerfect company), Corel has been very aggressive in updating and marketing it.

    Offering this new version at a very attractive price, Canadian upstart Corel has driven market leader Microsoft Office right off the top-10 list--but for how long? Office is Microsoft's most lucrative cash cow.

    Number 1: Microsoft's Windows 95 Upgrade package. In some ways, this is surprising. Despite the $100 million spent on the product launch last year, there have been reports that the reception of Win95 has been lukewarm. Companies like Symantec and Corel, both of which built their marketing plans around software designed for Windows 95, reported disappointing sales. Businesses, in particular, have been reported to be widely holding off on upgrading to Windows 95. And estimated sales of 40-plus million units this year had been assumed to be largely due to pre-installation on new machines. Still, the 95 version is a real improvement over 'classic Windows,' and seems to be entrenched firmly in PC Mag's number-one spot.

    Conclusions? Windows-based computers are still perceived as fragile, difficult beasts, needing help, and vulnerable to attack. Six of the top 10 products are utilities (seven if you count Microsoft Plus), providing help and protection that should have been built into the machines.

    Otherwise, there's not much new in the way of business-oriented software. A package combining a top-notch word processor and a spreadsheet (the Corel Suite) wouldn't have been out of place on a Top-10 list a decade ago. Has there really been so little innovation in business software? Only a single product, Netscape Navigator, suggests any impact from the Internet, for example--though the Corel Suite includes Internet hooks, and one could argue that the Internet is responsible for some of the increase in virus attacks.

Search WWW Search

Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan