Just In Time, Microsoft Is On Time

Richard Buck
The Seattle Times

October 1, 1985

In a major push to regain its credibility with dealers and writers, Microsoft Corp. has succeeded in launching an important new computer program on time.

And to emphasize its point, the Bellevue software giant says it will spend several million dollars on its biggest marketing campaign ever for a single product.

The product is called Excel, and it's a ``super-spreadsheet'' for crunching numbers and making charts on Apple's Macintosh computer.

When Microsoft announced Excel last May, the company said it would have the program ready for delivery in September. Yesterday, the company met that deadline, though just barely.

``We're very excited to be getting Excel out in September as we said we would,'' Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates told a gathering of about 100 Pacific Northwest Apple computer dealers yesterday.

His remark was greeted with hearty laughter, for everyone in the room knew the embarrassment that Microsoft suffered for 14 months while its much-anticipated Windows software product was delayed.

When it announced Windows in 1983, Microsoft promised delivery by May 1984. The final product was not shipped until last July. In the meantime, two competing products were launched and Microsoft was thoroughly criticized for promising more than it could deliver.

In fact, Windows' delay prompted trade magazines to coin a new term, ``vaporware,'' to describe software that has been promised but not delivered.

``It was a big weekend at Microsoft,'' Gates said yesterday in describing the down-to-the-wire efforts to have Excel ready as promised.

``We spent over two years on this product and put absolutely the best people at Microsoft on it,'' Gates said.

With a $395 list price, Excel lets users link several worksheets full of numbers, easily create complex series of steps that can be recalled with a single command and exchange files both ways with Lotus 1-2-3, the best-selling business software program for IBM personal computers.

The program, which Microsoft says is faster than any spreadsheet program available for the IBM PC, also can be used to instantly transform numerical data into charts.

Apple dealers have seen such functions before, but they applauded yesterday when the company demonstrated how Excel can reformat a spreadsheet to look like a regular printed financial report.

Excel emphasizes the number-crunching capability of personal computers, and Gates said future Microsoft programs will similarly focus on single applications such as word processing and data filing.

Gates said the company has decided against combining all applications into a single product.

``Once you throw it all together'' in powerful programs, you force computer users to pay for and deal with a lot of computing power and features that they don't need, Gates said.

``We're only willing to have our manual be so thick,'' he said, ``and the time someone will take learning a product is only so great.''

Instead, Microsoft intends to focus separately on programs to work with numbers, words and data, offering the most powerful application in each area.

``We will push the state of the art forward in each of these areas,'' Gates said. ``We have ambitious enhancement plans in progress for each of these applications.''

The company has indicated it intends to follow the same general strategy in software for other computers, including those made by IBM.

Speaking later with reporters, Gates laughed off speculation that he could find himself separated from Microsoft, the company he helped found, as Steven Jobs did at Apple.

Last month, Jobs resigned as Apple chairman and announced he would start a new company and hire five key Apple employees. Last week, Apple, the company Jobs co-founded and of which he remains a major owner, filed a lawsuit charging him with misappropriating company information.

Like Apple, Microsoft has hired a chief executive officer, Jon Shirley, to whom everyone in the company reports except the chairman. And like Jobs, Bill Gates also is a co-founder.

``My role at Microsoft is a little different from Steve's,'' Gates said yesterday. ``Steve made it very difficult (for Apple employees) to be part of a team approach that a company of Apple's size really needs to have. I mix those skills somewhat better than Steve.''

Gates said Microsoft plans to announce later this week that it will sponsor a conference for computer manufacturers on using laser technology, similar to that used in audio compact discs, for computer memory.

``It's a technology that Microsoft is very excited about and we're investing a lot of research and development in it,'' he said. Gates said it will be more than two years before such technology is widely available for computer use.

At yesterday's dealer conference, which will be duplicated in two dozen cities by the end of this week, Apple introduced several new products aimed at the Christmas market.

These include a color monitor for the Apple IIe and IIc models, the company's first expandable printer, a 3.5-inch floppy disk that stores 800,000 bytes of information and a hard disk for the Macintosh that stores 20 million bytes of memory.

Copyright 1985