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The Software Industry Gives Its Own ‘Oscars’

LAWRENCE J. MAGID is a Silicon Valley-based computer analyst and writer

The day after the motion picture industry celebrated its Academy Awards, the software industry followed suit with a similar event. Although not nationally televised, the Software Publishers Assn. Awards was also a black-tie event, held at the Hotel del Coronado in San Diego and hosted by Saturday Night Live’s newscaster, Dennis Miller.

Three honors--best simulation program, best entertainment program and best curricular program--went to SimCity, the City Simulator. The program lets you create and run a modern city and solve problems related to taxes, crime, disasters and monsters. It’s available for the Macintosh, IBM PC, Amiga and Commodore 64. List price is $49.95 for all versions except Commodore, which sells for $29.95. A color version for the Mac II sells for $79.95. It’s published by Maxis Software of Moraga at (415) 376-6434.

Hewlett-Packard’s NewWave won for the categories of best business application: graphic or display orientation and best design achievement. NewWave is a “software applications environment” that works in conjunction with Microsoft Windows to help automate tasks. Programs, which must be written to take advantage of NewWave, are able to easily exchange data and, in some cases, tasks.

With NewWave, for example, it would be possible to use a spreadsheet program to create a chart, display that chart in a word-processing document and have the word-processing document instantly updated as soon as the spreadsheet numbers change. The program costs $295 and requires an IBM compatible with at least a graphics display, a 286 central-processing unit, a copy of Microsoft Windows and special application software designed to take advantage of the NewWave environment.

Eye Relief Large Type Word Processor from SkiSoft Publishing also won two awards, including best special needs program. The program displays extra-large characters that can be viewed by visually impaired users who might not otherwise be able to use a PC. The program is also helpful on laptops with hard-to-read displays. I’ve used it to display my notes while speaking. Katherine, my almost-6-year-old daughter, recommends it to kindergartners and first-graders because she finds large type to be more exciting. The program comes with a 180-page large-type manual, costs $295 and is available from SkiSoft Publishing Corp., 1644 Massachusetts Ave., Suite 79, Lexington, Mass. 02173. Phone: (800) 662-3622 or (617) 863-1876.

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The awards for best new use of a computer and best school productivity/creativity program went to Compton’s MultiMedia Encyclopedia from Britannica Software. This program, which I find extremely impressive, includes color graphics, animation and sound as well as text. Delivered on a single compact disc, it contains nearly 9 million words, 5,200 articles, 15,000 photographs, charts and diagrams, 60 minutes of audio and 45 separate animation sequences. It also includes the 65,000-word Merriam-Webster Intermediate Dictionary. Its suggested price of $895 along with the required computer CD drive put it out of the range of many consumers, but it would be an excellent addition to a school or library and is cost competitive with printed encyclopedias. Britannica Software can be reached at (800) 533-0130.

The Software Publishers Assn. gave separate awards for early, elementary and secondary education programs. The early education award went to Broderbund Software for Playroom, a delightful learning game where children use a mouse to navigate between rooms full of interesting objects and activities. My two children, by the way, concurred with the judges.

The best elementary education award went to Scholastic Software for Math Shop Jr. while honors for best secondary education program went to Davidson & Associates for Math Blaster Mystery.

This year’s best personal productivity/creativity award went to Quicken 3.0 from Intuit. The program, which runs on IBM compatibles, is a personal finance program that lets you enter your checks, credit card expenses, income and other financial data. It keeps track of an unlimited number of accounts and can exchange data with other programs, including Lotus 1-2-3, most tax preparation software and the CheckFree bill-paying service. The program has a suggested price of $59.95. Intuit is located at 155 Linfield Ave., Menlo Park, Calif. 94025, and can be reached at (415) 322-0573.

Quattro Pro from Borland International was recognized for best business application: numeric or data orientation. The spreadsheet program, which works on just about any hard-disk-equipped IBM PC, is able to manipulate up to 32 spreadsheets at a time, each in its own window.

It has outstanding graphics, is extremely memory efficient and its data files are highly compatible with the industry standard, Lotus 1-2-3. The program has a suggested price of $495 but, as are most programs, is often discounted.

Lotus Magellan was honored as best utility/communications program. This easy-to-use hard-disk manager comes with a “viewer” that allows you to see the contents of your files without having to use the programs that created them. The program has a suggested price of $195.

Other winners included Accolade’s HardBall II as best sports program, Electronic Arts’ Populous as best strategy program and Welltris from Spectrum Holobyte as best action/arcade program.

Welltris, as was its predecessor Tetris, was written by Soviet programmer Alexey Pajitnov.

The awards celebration highlighted four days of meetings where executives from software companies heard from each other and analysts about the state of their industry. Analyst Jeff Tarter, publisher of Soft*letter, a newsletter regarding trends and strategies in software publishing, reported that the software industry continues to thrive. The 100 top companies, according to Tarter, “achieved average sales increases of 56% during 1989,” generating more than $4 billion in revenue.

Other conference sessions focused on strategies for software development. A number of developers reported plans to create new programs to run under Microsoft Windows--an “environment” that employs graphics, windows and the use of a mouse to make IBM-compatible computers easier to use.

As always, there was plenty of discussion about software piracy, a practice that, according to Software Publishers Assn. Executive Director Ken Wasch, costs the industry about $1.5 billion in lost revenue in the United States alone. The association is encouraging users--especially businesses--to police themselves to be sure that there are no illegal copies of programs on their hard disks. To facilitate the process, the group offers a free self-audit kit to anyone who writes on company letterhead (SPA, 1101 Connecticut Ave, N.W., Suite 901, Washington 20036). SPA also encourages individuals to report corporate piracy via its toll-free hot line (800) 388-7478. You can also write to the SPA for a complete list of this year’s winners.

Software Awards

Times Computer File columnist Lawrence J. Magid won this year’s Software Publishers Assn. award for best news reporting in recognition of his journalistic contributions to the PC software industry. Michael Miller of InfoWorld and Keith Ferrell of Compute! tied for best software reviewer and Stewart Alsop of PC Letter won for best industry analysis/editorial.


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