Shopping for software? Now there are choices

HOME COMPUTING

June 28, 1993|By MICHAEL J. HIMOWITZ

If you're setting up a home or small business computer, chances are you'll need word processing software, along with spreadsheet, data base, graphics program or possibly all three.

A few years ago, you would have had two choices: an inexpensive, integrated program that provided basic functions in most of these categories but fell short for serious business use, or an expensive investment in heavy-duty software that might well have totaled over $1,000.

Thanks to the marketplace, you're much better off today. The explosion of IBM-compatible computers running Microsoft Windows has leveled the playing field for software makers, who find themselves trying to win the hearts and minds of users in a new graphical environment that has shaken old brand loyalties.

The major publishers are all offering bargain packages that include top-of-the-line products to rope you in while your mind is still open. They know that individuals and businesses are reluctant to switch once they or their employees have learned to

use a product, which gives them a future market for the regular upgrades that have become an increasingly important source of income. But they have to get you first.

The three major packages available today are Microsoft Office, Lotus SmartSuite and Borland Office. They're available for $350 to $500 list, and for as little as $300 on the street if you're "upgrading," which means you can show a dealer a disk or manual from any of therograms in the package, or any competitor.

Microsoft Office combines the giant software company's word processing and spreadsheet powerhouses -- Microsoft Word and the Excel -- with PowerPoint graphics and an electronic mail program. The last is important only if you're in a networked

environment.

Word and Excel have been leaders in the Windows market for years, and they're rock-solid, powerful programs. PowerPoint is also quite capable for producing specialized charts, graphs and illustrations for print or use as overheads, slides or desktop presentations.

Microsoft Office offers the advantages of the company's experience in the Windows market, which Microsoft invented. It's a particularly good buy if your work environment calls for exchanging files with users of Macintosh computers. Word and Excel are the most popular Mac products in their categories, and their files are generally compatible across the two platforms.

Missing from Microsoft Office is data base software, although fewer users need that kind of program. If you want to stick with Microsoft, you can pick up its new Access data base on the side for another $99 while the introductory price lasts.

Lotus SmartSuite includes the Windows version of its flagship 1-2-3 spreadsheet, its superb AmiPro word processor, Freelance Graphics, cc:Mail and Lotus Organizer, a little gem that manages your appointments, phone numbers and other personal information.

The main attraction of this program will undoubtedly be 1-2-3. Like other publishers of DOS programs with large installed bases, Lotus struggled mightily to keep its first Windows version compatible with the commands its DOS users knew. That made the initial Windows release something less than a triumph for those interested in taking advantage of the new graphical environment. But the program has improved steadily and is now a stable and capable product.

Biased in favor of AmiPro

I admit to a little bias about AmiPro, which Lotus acquired awhile back to get into the Windows market. I've had AmiPro for years and it's the finest single piece of software I've ever used. AmiPro makes it easy to do simple things and almost as easy to create complex documents with embedded graphics, charts and tables.

Like PowerPoint, Freelance is an excellent graphics program. Users of both would undoubtedly fight duels over which is better. Like Microsoft Office, SmartSuite does not include data base software.

The third package, Borland Office, is a venture between Borland International and WordPerfect. Neither has a full suite of Windows software, but between them, they've produced a solid bundle that should have considerable appeal -- WordPerfect for Windows, Paradox for Windows and Borland's Quattro Pro spreadsheet.

WordPerfect is the Tyrannosaurus Rex of the DOS word processing world, but like Lotus, WordPerfect stumbled a bit with its first Windows offering. While it offered full compatibility with its DOS counterpart, it was not a very good Windows word processor and lagged far behind Word and AmiPro in features and usability. The program has improved considerably, but unless you're wedded to WordPerfect because it's a company standard or you have to exchange files with other WordPerfect users, it's not a good reason to buy this package.

Data base software

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