Borland resumes spreadsheet wars

PERSONAL COMPUTERS

August 30, 1993|By PETER H. LEWIS

For the self-styled barbarians at Borland International Inc. who have been besieged and bloodied all year by lawyers and disappointed stockholders, it may come as a relief to face some simple, brutal competition once again in the hotly contested Windows spreadsheet market.

Borland introduced a new version of its Quattro Pro for Windows spreadsheet last week, a few months after the introduction of the rival spreadsheet Lotus 1-2-3 Release 4.0, and a few months ahead of the next major update of Microsoft Excel. The three programs dominate the Windows spreadsheet category, with Excel the defending sales champion, Lotus a strong second and Borland trailing in third place.

To try to gain the competition, Borland has given Quattro Pro for Windows, which will be shipped in mid-September, an impressive array of new features and an aggressive introductory price of $49.95 -- one-tenth the $495 list price of Lotus 1-2-3 and Excel. The price gets better, $39.95, for users who are upgrading from earlier versions and for anyone switching from a rival program.

A version of Quattro Pro for use on local area networks costs $495 ($79.95 for upgrades from earlier Quattro Pro versions, and $99.95 for people upgrading from a competitive spreadsheet).

After Jan. 15, 1994, the price for the regular version doubles to $99.95. The pricing reflects the "barbarian" tactics of Borland's chieftain, Philippe Kahn, who has vowed to make his Scotts Valley, Calif., company lean and merciless as it battles its much-larger rivals.

Financial analysis tool

At less than $50 the software becomes an impulse purchase for most businesses. What customers will find is a fast, feature-rich financial analysis tool. Whether that price will entice corporate customers to abandon Excel or Lotus 1-2-3 remains to be seen.

The first generation of spreadsheets were the electronic equivalents of two-dimensional ledger books. The second generation added the ability to link multiple work sheets and to create so-called three-dimensional files, which allow users to work with numbers in more meaningful ways. They also added colorful graphics and tools for presenting the data attractively.

The third-generation spreadsheet facilitates taking those three-dimensional work sheets and analyzing the data in a variety of ways, giving a user a deeper understanding of it.

Lotus Improv was the first such financial analysis spreadsheet -- and remains the most powerful tool in its class, but it is separate from Lotus 1-2-3. Borland has capitalized on that schism by integrating the modeling tools directly into Quattro Pro for Windows 5.0.

Another of the keys to Quattro Pro's attractiveness is its

underlying code, which uses a technique called

object orientation, which has been used in earlier Borland products, but blossoms in this one. A click on a mouse brings up command menus, tutorials and help screens, along with a new "expert" feature that shows the user how to perform common spreadsheet tasks.

Object-oriented software

Object-oriented software pays off in ease of use and the speed of creating new applications, but is more complicated to create initially. Borland discovered painfully with this version of Quattro Pro, which was months late to market. The delays discouraged investors and Borland's stock has spiraled down in the last 18 months.

"I developed a program for rehabilitating the sewers in Houston," using an advance copy of Quattro Pro version 5.0, "and we cut the time it took from six days to eight hours," said Frank Austin, a computer consultant and president of the Frank E Austin Co.

Another tester, Alton M. Danks, a senior systems analyst for the General Motors Powertrain Division in Ypsilanti, Mich., said his department had been using Quattro Pro 2.0 even though his company had standardized on Microsoft Excel. He said the analysis features of Quattro Pro were a key point.

"Rather than just a simple report, we need the capability to do projections, maybe a reorganization of data using data modeling, cross-tabbing and that sort of thing," Danks said. "On the graphical side, we need to present and look at trends, and do graphical analysis."

Quattro Pro also works with data drawn from Lotus, Excel and other spreadsheets and data bases. Indeed, it was Borland's effort to make early versions of Quattro Pro work with Lotus 1-2-3 commands that led to a federal court ruling earlier this month that Borland had infringed on Lotus' copyrights. Borland plans to appeal, and it has dropped the offending code in this new version, but it still faces more than $100 million in potential damages.

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