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Who's Winning the Suite Wars?

-- by Diganta Majumder

The suite market is getting very big-so big that Microsoft says it controls close to 90 percent while IBM/Lotus claims 25 percent and climbing, and Corel expects its 20 percent share to pass 30 percent within a year.

Those are the numbers the companies are throwing around. Oddly enough, though they don't add up, they're not wrong.

Microsoft still has a huge lead with its Office product. In 1996, research firm IDC reported that Microsoft ruled 89.4 percent of the market, while IBM/Lotus SmartSuite and Corel Office held 5.9 percent and 4.8 percent respectively. Dataquest, another research firm, said Microsoft had 85.3 percent, while the other two had a little over 7 percent each.

Apples to oranges

So how do IBM/Lotus and Corel come up with their numbers? First, there's a lot of duplication. Think of all the hardware IBM ships with SmartSuite preloaded. That technically counts as a sale, even though many of the corporations buying IBM PCs have standardized on Microsoft Office.

Second, retail sales are more competitive-but here, too, there are wrinkles. Research firm PC Data reports that in 1996, Corel chalked up 27.6 percent of unit sales at retail, while Microsoft was at 69.5 percent and IBM/Lotus was at 3.5 percent. But in revenue share Microsoft, whose offering is much more expensive, was back up to 83.6 percent. Besides, Microsoft claims that retail channels account for only 15 percent of all Office sales.

Finally, there are now many flavors of each suite. Some are aimed at rookies, some at lawyers and so on. In some cases, rivals zero in on segments in which their market share will compare favorably.

Analysts warn that the market is reaching saturation-most people already have a suite, and not everyone wants to upgrade. However, that prediction has been made before, and the market hasn't slowed down yet.

Windows Magazine, August 1997, page 66.

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