Calc battle looming

by Dan Lavin

Redwood City, CA By anyone's calculation, the number of spreadsheets on the NeXT is about to multiply.

Appsoft purchased rights in late June to the PowerStep spreadsheet from Borland International, Athena Design's Mesa spreadsheet has gone into beta testing, and Informix Software has renewed marketing of Wingz. All three products are poised to do battle with Improv, the modeling-based spreadsheet from Lotus that has dominated the market since its introduction in 1990.

PowerStep was developed by Ashton-Tate, which beta-tested the software but never brought it to market. Borland, which acquired Ashton-Tate late last year, sold rights to the product to Appsoft for undisclosed terms. Appsoft plans to make significant revisions to the product, tentatively renamed Appsoft Solution, and release it in the fourth quarter for $495.

Meanwhile, Athena Design put Mesa into beta testing on July 4 and is hoping for a third-quarter release of the $499 product. Dave Pollak, Athena's president, had once talked with Appsoft about publishing Mesa. Instead, Pollak decided to publish the spread-sheet through his own company, and Appsoft decided to go with PowerStep.

If preliminary statements by Pollak and Appsoft President Randy Adams are any indication, there promises to be a lively but friendly competition between the two companies.

"We think we're going to take the most market share because we're the best engineered and putting the most behind it," said Adams. "Solution represents nearly five person-years of effort." He stressed the size of Appsoft's sales and support organization, its venture-capital funding, and line of eight products.

Pollak, who predicts that Mesa will beat Solution to market by six months, contrasts Appsoft's purchase of a complex, older piece of code written by others with his own compact, fast, highly object-oriented solution.

"We find that customers have as much confidence in Athena Design as in Appsoft," said Pollak, touting Athena's free permanent unlimited technical support and floating license manager. Appsoft had a yearly service contract policy that is being modified to one year of free support.

Both Appsoft and Athena plan to have standard spreadsheets in the mold of Microsoft Excel and Lotus 1-2-3. Both will import existing 1-2-3 spreadsheets and run 1-2-3 macros unlike Lotus Improv. Wingz is also a standard spreadsheet, but the effect of Informix's new marketing push is yet to be seen.