Mix `N" Match Makes Suite Deals Sweeter

Microsoft Office, the top-selling computer software suite (including word processing, spreadsheet, and graphics programs in a single, heavily discounted package), comes on 29 floppy disks. On a CD-ROM, there would be room for all the disks, and 500 megabytes--enough for a reference library--left over. Small wonder that as CD-ROMs have increasingly become standard on new computers, software publishers are trying to figure out just what to do with all that space.

WordPerfect Corp. has an idea--one designed both to propel the Novell Inc. unit into the suite business and to overhaul the way office software is marketed. PerfectOffice Professional, which is scheduled to ship in the fourth quarter, will take up perhaps 40 floppy disks. Then, about six weeks later, the company plans to release a version on one CD.

PerfectOffice Select will have the eight major components of PerfectOffice Professional plus a variety of third-party products, such as specialized dictionaries for WordPerfect and templates for the Quattro Pro spreadsheet. After selecting components, buyers can fill out an on-line order form and then receive authorization "keys" to install the software. "It's about giving customers choice," says WordPerfect suite-marketing director Scott E. Nelson. "Our market research shows that users want the flexibility to build their own suites."

Many details of the arrangement remain to be worked out. WordPerfect plans to distribute Select through existing sales channels, and different users may see different packages. Corporate buyers might get the CD-ROM free and pay for copies of each program they order. For a single price--not yet set--an individual might get a choice of any three major applications on the disk.

Distributing software on CD is irresistible--for consumers and manufacturers. Installing from a single disk might help prevent repetitive stress injury from swapping all those floppies. And a CD-ROM costs only a bit more than $1 to produce in large quantities--far cheaper than floppies. Furthermore, printed documentation costs even more than disks and often ends up unused. WordPerfect plans to make the printed manuals an extra-cost option with Select, and most customers are expected to rely on enhanced on-line help files.

Still, competitors are skeptical of WordPerfect's plans. "Third-party distributors have tried this, and they haven't met a lot of success," says Paul McNulty, director of desktop product marketing for Lotus Development Corp. He predicts that WordPerfect will encounter problems with billing and order fulfillment. Still, Lotus isn't fighting the concept of distributing programs on CD-ROM and will make its new SmartSuite 3.0 available on CD-ROM. It will also offer a multimedia sampler, catalog, and test-drive disk called Lotus Gallery.

Robbie Bach, Microsoft Office group product manager, worries that including third-party software on a CD-ROM will make it difficult for publishers to maintain the consistency of their office suites. But, he says, Microsoft Corp. is considering how it might make an approach such as PerfectOffice Select work. Meanwhile, it, too, is making its suite available on CD.

The market for suites continues to heat up. A discounting scheme in which the customer gets three or more programs for the price of two, suites now account for 50% of spreadsheet, word processing, and graphics software sales. PerfectOffice is the first fruit of Novell's acquisition of WordPerfect and Quattro Pro, giving it a wide-ranging suite to compete with Lotus and Microsoft. Lotus is shipping the latest SmartSuite this summer and Microsoft has new editions of Office for Windows, Macintosh, and the new Power Mac coming this fall. But if WordPerfect's mix-and-match CD catches on, these prefab suites could be nearing the end of the line.


Major components of PerfectOffice Select


WORDPERFECT Word processor

QUATTRO PRO Spreadsheet

PRESENTATIONS Presentation graphics

INFOCENTRAL Personal information manager

ENVOY Document exchange


PARADOX Database management


Programming language


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