New Microsoft-Wang partnership to add more functions to computers

April 17, 1995|By Seattle Times

SEATTLE -- Thanks to Microsoft's new alliance with Wang Laboratories, computer users soon will be able to edit and manipulate faxes or scanned images without buying separate software.

That development alone takes only one small step toward making computers more functional for consumers, but it signals a much more significant move in the software industry: the move to include basic office functions as built-in features of computers.

The Wang alliance, announced last week, underscores that Windows 95, the new Microsoft operating system due out in August, will do much more than provide the instructions a computer needs to operate.

The system, to be installed on millions of computers for sale beginning late this year, will allow consumers to do several things they can do now only if they spend hundreds of dollars on extra software:

* Send and receive e-mail.

* Operate a modem, to transmit words and images to other computers.

* Send and receive faxes by computer.

And now, because of the Wang alliance, users will be able to take those faxes (or scanned images) and edit them, "scribble" notes on them, and route them around an office the way an insurance claim might be done now on paper.

The Wang features will not be included in the August release of Windows 95 but will be available to customers late this year; people who have already bought Windows 95 by then will likely be given instructions for downloading the new features electronically.

According to last week's announcement, Microsoft will buy $90 million of Wang convertible preferred stock, equaling about 10 percent of the Lowell, Mass., company's common stock. In exchange, Wang will drop a 2-year-old lawsuit accusing Microsoft of infringing on two Wang patents.

The trend to build more and more features into operating systems -- something Microsoft is aggressively pursuing -- raises some questions. What else might be built in the future? Is there anything Microsoft doesn't want to include eventually in its Windows operating system, which is used on at least 70 percent of computers?

"That is a very broad question that requires a person to be a prophet," said Mike Maples, Microsoft's executive vice president for products.

"I think the general guideline ought to be if a very high percentage of users, 98 or 99 percent, use it, then it should be part of the operating system," Mr. Maples said.

Examples, he said, would include things like video drivers, which allow viewing of video clips on computers, along with any "common office functions" such as faxing.

As Microsoft makes its move to embellish its operating system, it would seem companies that exist to sell things like fax software would be worried. That's not always the case.

Executives at Delrina, the Canadian company that makes WinFax Pro fax software, said Microsoft's move to include fax capabilities in Windows 95 will only whet the appetite of the consumer, who will then, Delrina hopes, buy Delrina products.

Windows 95 will "expose more people to those features and functions," said Marc Camm, Delrina's general manager of desktop communications. "One of the biggest challenges we've faced is getting people to realize you can fax from your PC."

Mr. Camm said he expects the fax program to be a mini-version of what Delrina provides, much the way Paint and Write were mini-programs in Windows 3.1. Those, Mr. Camm said, piqued interest in drawing and word-processing, prompting many people to buy software such as CorelDraw and Microsoft Word.

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