Moving on the suite track

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 30 June, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 30 June, 1996, 12:00am

Life's a suite as far as software companies are concerned.

Bundled software is all the rage in the industry, as Microsoft, Lotus, Corel (WordPerfect) and Claris slug it out for market share, particularly in Asia's growing consumer markets.

Each company is loading more and more unneeded 'accessories' to attract users.

But companies are beginning to tailor suites to a market that demands ever more ease-of-use, multimedia and Internet capabilities. The hot topic for the 1996 suites is Internet integration.

In the end, the differentiation between suites is minimal, and users' choices will come down to the fine tuning of what they like best, whether interface, Internet or brand. KEY TECHNOLOGIES: By next year, most suites will work across applications, within teams and over the Internet. At the moment, companies are playing up the strengths inherent in current versions.

Microsoft, which will launch a new Office package next year, is still flying high on its Office package opened in conjunction with the launch of Windows 95 last August.

The main claim in this software is OfficeLinks, Office Binder and Intellisense. OfficeLinks makes it easier to share information across applications, while Office Binder allows a project made up of various applications to open and print under one document. Intellisense capabilities are simply ease-of-use operations such as AnswerWizards and auto features like spell check.

Lotus highlights its team features. Team review, security, consolidation and mail are the key integration elements that allow department heads to control levels of access to documents.

This also aids security by defining which user has what level of access to certain documents.

Team consolidation takes single files and easily forms large documents. Team mail makes e-mail non-essential, but this feature will probably die as intranets take over.

Corel's key features include Perfect Script, a macro language that works across applications and allows the user to write macros that use different applications in the suite. QuickTasks are the company's answer to the Wizard, with more than 60 tasks already designed for the user.

Claris differentiates its technologies mainly in the language arena. With Worldscript technology, users can pick a language on the interface. Languages can also be transferred across a network and written on the same document, so newsletters can include all the different languages Claris offers.

INTERNET: Internet. Internet. Internet. Even Lotus, which remained staid because of its team features, has started integrating quickly.

Corel has the jump on in-the-box Internet integration, with quick clicking for the Web. Lotus also has an HTML editor. Claris does, too, but is depending more on FileMaker Pro programs to keep the Internet market alive.

Microsoft is vastly Internetless at purchase, but has the capability to incorporate free downloads off the Internet and sells a start-up package for only HK$99.

'Microsoft is number one in products in tune with the Internet,' Darwin Singson, consulting analyst from Dataquest, said.

'They have a really strong corporate initiative and their focus on the Internet issue affects all product lines.

'You don't see that type of intensity with WordPerfect. A year-and-a-half ago, Lotus said it wouldn't need the Internet, but are now positioning themselves with Notes as an Internet interface.'MARKETING: Corporate licensing is the area that sets off dollar signs in the eyes of suite salesmen. Companies are pushing for more and more corporate dollars to be spent on upgrades and compatibility features.

Microsoft, of course, has the formidable lead. Mr Singson thinks this big-time role will be hard for the rest to beat.

'Microsoft has about 70 to 80 per cent of the corporate market,' he said. 'Lotus is probably holding at about 12 per cent and WordPerfect has been losing quite a bit. With the sale between Novell and Corel (last January), users have not been too convinced and are becoming scared of the future.

'On a technical level, though, it appears that in many instances WordPerfect is even a lot better than Microsoft.' Lotus is plotting to bump up its market share to 20 per cent by aggressive advertising campaigns and allowing computer retailers to preload the program on PCs. The company hopes to have this happen in four million PCs by the end of this year.

Corel is concentrating on legacy WordPerfect users to stabilise what hope they have of keeping up with the market. The recently released suite is a catch-up item to Microsoft Office, aimed at Office's weaknesses because Corel had extra development time - the suite came out almost a year after Office. One of the main problems is the large amount of memory the suite takes up on the hard drive, almost double Office's space.

But no suite beats Claris in terms of price and memory space. Claris is by far the lowest-priced suite out there, mainly because, from a market perspective, it has recognised Microsoft's dominance and is ready to act as a tack-on suite for much less and in much less time.

Claris is different from the other suites in that its software is not originally from stand-alone programs. The other companies are all working off stand-alone products, such as word processing and spreadsheet software.

Lotus is using language as a marketing platform, promising to have English software available in simplified and traditional Chinese within 30 days of a launch. The company has language development shops throughout Asia.

WordPerfect is no longer being sold as a stand-alone product, but upgrades will continue to be available. Microsoft and Lotus still offer software outside of the suite, and both are working on new bundling tactics that eliminate some of the excess suite software for the common user.

Microsoft has to focus on strategies less than the rest, because market share is already there. 'In a sense, the proliferation of piracy has helped Microsoft,' Mr Singson said. 'Because Microsoft is pirated so heavily, more users catch on and its hard for a new user to learn a whole new software.

'I think the example is Beta versus VHS,' he added. 'Beta had a lot of better features, but VHS won because of marketing.

'This is not the exact case with Microsoft, but WordPerfect is much better in areas. Market share is dominated by the fact that most people want to go with the dominant software, mainly because of compatibility questions.' FUTURE TRENDS: The future of software is, simply put, ease-of-use and functionality. Microsoft is now talking focus on task not software, something Apple has purported for ages. But all the companies will be looking more at integration with a seamless interaction between applications.

Most programs will include voice technology, with computers some day transcribing meetings or taking memos through built-in microphones. This technology is already there with programs such as Verbex, but these have a way to go before they are actually applicable.

The Internet will not die away, and these suites will have to continually upgrade their capabilities or face certain doom. Java programming will probably play a roll, and as bandwidth increases multimedia applications on the desktop will have to improve.

More and more, the bundling of these suites will seek less to add tonnes of piddly programs and look more to customising for the personal computer. Microsoft is already steaming on to the Internet with Web-authoring programs, navigators and its latest market swing - intranets.

'Software will continue to move at a fast pace,' Mr Singson said. 'It's going to be an uphill battle for the less dominant players.'