Mini Office Suites

Plus, Dun & Bradstreet's credit evaluation software, and computer-theft prevention.

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Curing Compatibility Issues

In the wake of the backlash against Microsoft Office 97–considered too expensive and incompatible with earlier versions of Microsoft Word–Lotus and its parent, IBM Corp., have embarked on an ambitious strategy to attract new users. Their competitive offering is eSuite, an office suite written as Java applets.

ESuite would be bundled with a $500 network computer from IBM, providing a full suite of productivity software. ESuite could run on any other platform as well, because it’s written in Java. Compatibility issues would be resolved by using a common file standard, HTML (hypertext markup language), the same standard used to display pages on the Internet. Esuite will read and write only HTML files, which users can import or export from any other office suite.

The eSuite strategy is controversial be-cause it is not clear how many users will be satisfied with the product’s limited functionality. According to Paul Clark, a technical marketing manager at Lotus, it’s generally believed that most consumers don’t bother with about a quarter of Microsoft Word’s thousands of features. Microsoft counters that different people use different subsets, and a product must support them all.

If it’s going to take you more than two years to migrate to Microsoft 97, GartnerGroup research director Michael Pinkney recommends that you stay with Microsoft Office 95. In the meantime, users who have to exchange incompatible documents might consider KeyView Pro, from Verity Inc. ($49; 800-866-6539; www.verity.com). This product runs on Windows 3.1, 95, and NT, and can convert documents and graphics files to and from dozens of file formats.

J.J.X.

RISK MANAGEMENT

Credit Check

New this month from Dun & Bradstreet is the latest version of Risk Assessment Manager (RAM). This software product allows credit managers to perform easy credit evaluations by combining their own records and payment information with Dun & Bradstreet’s credit database (prices start at $5,000; 800-234-3867; www.dnb.com). “The software can assess a specific customer or your entire customer base,” says Dan Meder, assistant vice president of risk management software services at D&B. The latest version, 4.0, includes a new Windows 95 look, better search capabilities, and a more flexible format.

The Shell Chemical Co., in Houston, uses RAM to speed up turnaround time on new orders and reduce the amount of time required of the credit staff. Credit manager Neil Burns says he expects to save nearly a quarter of a work year of credit analysts’ time.

One of RAM’s best features is that it lets credit managers customize credit parameters, producing an automated scoring system that analyzes each customer. “It allows me to collect a large amount of data and analyze it based on what’s important to our company,” says C.M. Lawrence, CFO of Newcourt Inc., a laminated panels manufacturer in Texarkana, Tex. J.McC.

COMPUTER SECURITY

Armed and Alarmed

n January 1996, thieves stole two truckloads of notebook computers from a warehouse in Costa Mesa, Calif., worth $2.7 million, according to InformationWeek magazine. Certainly, computer theft, especially of notebook computers, has been a major problem for businesses (see “Stop, Thief!” CFO, October 1997). In fact, Safeware, a Columbus, Ohio, PC-insurance specialist, estimates that one of every 50 notebooks is stolen.

Now, a number of devices to deter thieves from snatching PCs, servers, and laptops have hit the market. One simple gadget is the Protect-All Alarm from Innovative Security Products ($14.95; 913-385-2002; www.wesecure.com). ISP’s device is actually cemented directly to your hardware and sounds a 130-decibel alarm if anyone tries to move your equipment without first disarming it. “Equipment and product theft is one of the fastest-growing [aspects] of the computer industry,” says Andrew Cameron, general manager of ISP. “Most thefts occur because, despite the best intentions, security procedures are inadequate or dysfunctional.”

Another device, also from ISP, is Secure Notebook ($19.95). It utilizes the security retention socket built into most laptops. (For those without, a metal plate that can be glued to the machine is included.) A second metal plate tightly secures the laptop to a desktop or other surface. The kit also comes with a carrying case. J.McC.

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