Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Large Spreadsheet Market Cause for Confrontation

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Large Spreadsheet Market Cause for Confrontation

Article excerpt

Personal computer users, get ready for the spreadsheet wars.

The Microsoft Corp. has slashed prices on its upstart spreadsheet program, Excel, hoping to expand its market share at the expense of the Lotus Development Corp., maker of the venerable 1-2-3 program.

Aggressive computer stores are selling Excel for as little as $209, or $286 below the suggested retail price.

Even with sharp discounts, 1-2-3 sells for at least $278.

Lotus is still the undisputed leader in spreadsheet programs, but it is scrambling to get its house in order and bring out the long-promised new version of 1-2-3, known as 1-2-3 Release 3.

Thousands of customers who have mastered the intricacies of 1-2-3 are patiently waiting for the more powerful version.

Spreadsheet programs, which are popular for analysis of numerical data, have become an indispensible tool for many business people.

So potentially large is the market that the spreadsheet struggle has turned into a high-risk confrontation for both companies.

Lotus, which originally planned to introduce Release 3 nearly a year ago, must bring its new software to market by the middle of this year or risk defections of customers, some of whom have been using 1-2-3 since it reached the market in 1983.

If Lotus is late yet again, or if Release 3's performance is a disappointment, Microsoft could grab large numbers of disaffected 1-2-3 users.

This is exactly what Microsoft is hoping will happen, and the deep discounts for Excel are meant to position the company to step in if Lotus stumbles again.

``We're chipping away at a very dominant competitor where market share means a lot,'' said Peter Higgins, a Microsoft product manager in charge of Excel.

After a calamitous 1988, when Lotus failed to bring any important new programs to market, the price of its stock fell.

The company, based in Cambridge, Mass., was sharply criticized in computer publications and by financial analysts.

In January, Microsoft, based in Redmond, Wash., began an aggressive advertising campaign targeted at Lotus. One ad tweaks Lotus for its lateness and calls the existing version of 1-2-3 obsolete.

The spreadsheet war is further complicated by several other players, who also want to chip away at Lotus.

Borland International last year brought out Quattro, a spreadsheet program cleverly designed to function exactly like 1-2-3, making it attractive to 1-2-3 users because they do not have to learn new commands.

Borland has sold 200,000 copies at a retail list price of $247.50.

It also recently bought Surpass Software Systems Inc., maker of an innovative spreadsheet, and is integrating that program into a new version of Quattro, which Borland is rushing to get into computer stores ahead of Lotus's Release 3.

As if that were not enough, Supercalc, from Computer Associates International, continues to capture about nearly 12 percent of the market without the benefit of high visibility and costly marketing approaches. …

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