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Lotus Tries Harder

I’ll give Lotus a lot of credit, it takes a beating and keep coming back for more. Unfortunately, like baseball’s New York Yankees, Lotus insists on trying to buy success, which works neither in baseball nor the computer industry. The latest free agent purchased by Lotus (remember Lotus buying Samna just a little while ago? And before that Lotus bought Sybase, a database company, and tried to merge with Novell) is cc:Mail, a company that makes the email package of the same name for Macs and PC clones. Ideally, Lotus wants to integrate cc:Mail and Notes, its mega-expensive groupware software. Lotus is modifying Notes so that it will integrate Macs as well, though I can’t imagine how popular it will be, considering that Notes runs about $60,000 dollars.

Here’s the first sporadic TidBITS quiz. How many Lotus products can you name? Well, there’s 1-2-3 of course and Improv for the NeXT machines. I just mentioned Notes and there’s a graphics program called FreeLance Plus and a word processor whose name I can’t remember, and then we have the products Lotus just bought, Ami, Ami Professional, and cc:Mail. I think Lotus also has a CD-search program called Bluefish, which it bought at some point and there’s a well-reviewed DOS shell and file viewer called Magellan. MarketPlace is dead, but Lotus has another (if not a whole line) CD-ROM containing banking information, but that’s about it. All of those products are strictly for PC clones, with the exception of a few versions of 1-2-3 for other platforms. Each time Lotus has tested the waters of the Mac market it has sunk miserably. A version of 1-2-3 for the Mac along with Macintosh support for Notes might last a little while, though I don’t give either much of a chance. Other than 1-2-3 (which most people simply call "Lotus" anyway), we’re not exactly talking about electronic household names here, nor are these products part of a coherent scheme.

I mention Lotus’s product line because it’s becoming more and more apparent that Lotus is trying to leverage itself into a position to compete with Microsoft. In comparison to Lotus’s hodgepodge of DOS products, compare Microsoft’s relatively well-integrated line for both the Mac and PC clones. Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Works, Mail, DOS, Windows 3.0, OS/2, LAN Manager, a whole slew of programming languages, and possibly a new low-end desktop publishing program as well. Especially now that Microsoft is designing its programs to share code (Excel 3.0 for the PC and the Mac share about 80% of the code), Lotus doesn’t stand a chance at competing unless it quickly whips all the acquisitions into shape. Lotus only has an advantage on the NeXT workstation, and despite its abilities, I doubt NeXT will become a major force for some time yet, if ever.

I think Lotus should stick with its current products and devote its money and attention to new niches and getting everything into a coherent framework. Lotus has lived and will die on 1-2-3 alone, unless it learns how to repeat 1-2-3’s success. Improv is certainly a good start, and its joint project with HP might help as well. HP and Lotus are developing a palmtop computer that will be an excuse to carry 1-2-3 around with you all the time, since the software will be coded into the firmware. It’s not my idea of an incredibly cool machine, but I’m sure some people are getting sweaty palms over the concept even as I write.

Related articles:
MacWEEK — 19-Feb-91, Vol. 5, #7, pg. 1, 93
InfoWorld — 18-Jan-91, Vol. 13, #7, pg. 1
COMMUNICATIONS WEEK — 18-Jan-91, pg. 2

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