Lotus, Microsoft to lure feds with new 32-bit apps

The new generation of 32-bit office application suites from Lotus Development Corp. and Microsoft Corp. featured prominently at the Comdex computer trade show this week will take the federal market by storm according to the vendors and their resellers.

Lotus is using Comdex to introduce SmartSuite 97 which includes its much-anticipated 32-bit version of the Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheet software. Meanwhile Microsoft plans to give away hundreds of copies of the still-unannounced Office 97 the first version of its popular suite of software tailored for its 32-bit Windows 95 and Windows NT computing environments. Office 97 will be officially announced in January 1997.

In both cases the vendors have begun priming the pump to flood the federal market with the new software through technology refreshment of existing agency contracts and General Services Administration schedule contracts. However it already appears that Microsoft is maintaining its advantage lining up more vehicles in this market to date than Lotus.

Unlike the slow rollout experienced by Windows 95 in the federal market industry observers expect agencies to upgrade quickly to the new office suites. Microsoft for example has distributed more than 500 copies of the beta version of Office 97 to its federal customers.

"I expect there to be significant and growing demand for these [applications] " said Michael Pinckney research director at the Gartner Group a market research and consulting firm in Stamford Conn.

With Windows 95 and Windows NT now ubiquitous customers are anxious to take full advantage of the 32-bit platforms and will upgrade quickly Pinckney said. "Thirty-two-bit is just a more robust and stable environment particularly with NT. This is not one of those situations of `If it ain't broke don't fix it ' " he said.

In the case of SmartSuite 97 and Office 97 the basic appeal is the increased productivity that comes with the multithreading multitasking 32-bit environment. This architecture will make it much easier for users to have multiple applications running without taking a hit on performance.

`Far More Powerful'

The 32-bit applications "are far more powerful" than the older software said Martin Baer assistant deputy commission for systems at the Social Security Administration which is standardizing on the Windows NT platform and running Office applications as part of its Intelligent Workstation/Local-Area Network (IWS/LAN) program for automating field offices.

"The kinds of products coming out of the [commercial off-the-shelf] industry are far more user-friendly and [are] starting to take advantage of 32-bit technology " Baer said.

The Coast Guard the U.S. Postal Service and SSA will be among the early customers for Office 97 having already standardized on Microsoft's 32-bit operating systems.

Office 97 includes new versions of Word the Access database the Excel spreadsheet PowerPoint presentation software and Schedule+ as well as the new Outlook desktop information manager and FrontPage for publishing documents on the World Wide Web. It also includes Internet Explorer Microsoft's Web browser.

USPS which has standardized on Windows 95 will have access to Office 97 via its Micro Computer Software Acquisition Project through reseller General Technology Inc. which is participating in the beta-test program for the new software said Chip Greene director of federal sales at GTI.

Meanwhile the Coast Guard will buy components of Microsoft's suite through its Windows NT-based Standard Workstation III contract from Unisys.

Unisys will take the same approach on its Windows NT-based IWS/LAN contract said Joe Santamaria vice president and general manager of information technologies at the Unisys Federal Systems Division. "There is an advantage with the suite [in that] the packages integrate very nicely " Santamaria said.The Department of Housing and Urban Development meanwhile is beta testing Office 97 and plans to upgrade to the product later this fiscal year according to Steve Yohai HUD's chief information officer. HUD is standardizing on Office 95 Windows 95 and Windows NT. In January HUD will roll out these and other software components nationwide as part of its HUDware II suite of applications.

Lotus 1-2-3 a Draw

Meanwhile the new version of Lotus 1-2-3 will be a major draw for SmartSuite 97 because customers have been waiting for the upgraded spreadsheet program. Other applications include Lotus' Word Pro word processor Approach database manager Freelance graphics Organizer ScreenCam for on-screen movies and SmartCenter an application launcher. The product will be available in the first quarter of 1997.

A spokeswoman for Lotus said SmartSuite 97 would be offered on the GSA schedule through resellers currently carrying SmartSuite. The company's GSA partners include Government Technology Services Inc. The Presidio Corp. and GTI.

The product's addition to indefinite-delivery indefinite-quantity contracts appears to be moving more slowly however. BTG Inc. which carries SmartSuite on the Treasury Department Acquisition pact has no plans to add SmartSuite 97 according to Steve Baldwin vice president of business development. "We have no customer with a big demand for that " he said.

Electronic Data Systems Corp. offers SmartSuite on the National Institutes of Health's Electronic Computer Store and the Navy's PC LAN+ contracts. An EDS spokesman said the company has no immediate plans to add SmartSuite 97 to PC LAN+ but does plan to upgrade to SmartSuite 97 on its Electronic Computer Store and GSA schedule contracts.


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