SALES of bundled software "suites" - combined packages of word-processing, spreadsheet, presentation and database programs - are booming.
The statistics are remarkable: 60 per cent of Microsoft's UK software applications revenue now comes from suites, the company said last week. So do about half the sales of Lotus, its main rival.
Not surprisingly, a war looks set to take place between the software companies battling for a share of this burgeoning business. But are the bargains more apparent than real? Critics charge that suites are a con for two reasons.
First, the programs in them do not talk to each other any more than separately purchased programs would, they say. This was probably true a year or so ago, but newer releases are generally accepted to offer a greater degree of cross- program communication.
Should a user today wish to incorporate a spreadsheet in a graphics presentation slide, and then include that slide in a word-processed document, they can. More complex requirements can still be difficult.
Critics of suites also query the cost-effectiveness of paying for bundled software applications that the user might never need. Secretaries just need a word-processing program, the critics charge, not up to half a dozen other applications.
Oliver Roll, suite product manager at Microsoft, rejects this. Microsoft's research shows that 80 per cent of users do in fact use the presentation program included in the company's suite - and he adds that such criticism is precisely why Microsoft has two versions of its Office suite product, priced pounds 100 apart.
Only the higher-priced "professional" version includes its Access database product, which he accepts that the typical user might not need. And …