Feds' changing tastes mark '98 surveys

This year’s GCN surveys resulted in power plays among some of government’s
big contractors.

IBM Corp. drew the highest overall ratings for quality in two GCN Product Preference
Survey hardware categories: notebook computers and PC Card modems.

Corel Corp. and Adobe Systems Inc. Corel’s WordPerfect and Adobe FrameMaker tied
for the top honors in desktop publishing software. Adobe Illustrator 7.0 and CorelDraw 7
were first and second, respectively, among six contenders in the graphics and illustration
software category.

CorelCAD aced the competition in the computer-aided design software survey, though
Corel has pulled the plug on its CAD business.

What a difference a year makes. In 1997, our survey of notebook brands found Compaq
Computer Corp. and Dell Computer Corp. notebooks sitting at the top of the heap in the
quality rankings, tied for No. 1. Gateway Inc. was No. 2 and Toshiba America Information
Systems Inc. took the third slot. IBM Corp. came in at No. 4.

This year was different. IBM jumped to the top spot while Dell and Compaq slipped to
fourth and fifth, respectively. Toshiba moved up to second place, followed by Gateway.

Toshiba notebooks held their lead in installed base, accounting for 19 percent of the
market GCN canvassed. Dell was a close second at 18 percent and Compaq was third at 13
percent. IBM’s notebooks were used by 10 percent of users in the survey.

Look for stepped up notebook use in coming years. In a poll accompanying our notebook
survey, we found that about half of notebook users expect to increase their notebook use.
And about 18 percent currently use notebooks as desktop replacements.

We ventured into new territory this year, taking a look at hardware and software we
hadn’t surveyed before: CD-ROM drives, keyboards, Web page authoring software, CAD
software and PC Card modems.

Reliability, speed and price, in that order, were the most important features for users
of CD-ROM drives. They ranked name brand last. “I don’t care about name
brand,” an Air Force user told us.

In the super-tight CD-ROM drive rankings, Sony Electronics Inc. edged Creative Labs
Inc. of Milpitas, Calif., and Toshiba. Teac America Inc. of Montebello, Calif., and
Itasca, Ill.’s NEC Technologies Inc., which had the highest installed base among feds
we canvassed, came in No. 4 and No. 5, just nine and 10 points behind Sony.

In the survey of keyboard brands, topped by Apple Computer Inc., users rated
responsiveness as the best quality. No mushy keys for feds we talked with—one user
remarked that he liked the snappy, clicky feel of Apple’s keys. Alps Electric USA
Inc. of San Jose, Calif., and Microsoft Corp. were No. 2 and No. 3 in the rankings.

In a related survey on mice, responsiveness also was the leading attribute for users,
followed by weight, feel and ergonomic design. Microsoft Corp. mice, the most widely
deployed in the survey (60 percent), drew the highest overall rating, with mice from
Logitech Inc. of Fremont, Calif., in the No. 2 position.

The Web page authoring software survey resulted in a duel between Microsoft’s
FrontPage and Netscape Composer, the editing module in Netscape Communicator. Feds rated
Composer No. 1 but more of them used FrontPage—40 percent compared to 18 percent for
Composer. HotMetal Pro 3.0 from SoftQuad International Inc. of Toronto was third with 9
percent of the market.

Most feds wanted creating a Web page to be as easy as using a
what-you-see-is-what-you-get word processing program, though a few Web page veterans still
liked working in Hypertext Markup Language.

Ease of use also was a priority for CAD users we surveyed. Louis Ackerman is an
electrical engineer at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in Parris Island, S.C. After more
than three decades of drafting the old-fashioned way—at a drawing table—he
turned to AutoCAD from AutoDesk Inc. of San Raphael, Calif. “If I can learn it,
anybody can,” Ackerman said.

AutoCAD, rated No. 2 in the survey, captured 67 percent of the market we canvassed.
Corel’s CorelCAD, used by just 6 percent of respondents, received the highest marks
but will eventually fade from the scene altogether. Corel last year sold its CAD product
line to International Microcomputer Software Inc. of San Raphael, Calif. IMSI’s
flagship CAD software, TurboCAD, was used by 3 percent of respondents and wasn’t
ranked in our survey.

In another new category, PC Card modems from IBM nosed out brands from Hayes
Microcomputer Products Inc., 3Com Corp./U.S. Robotics and Xircom Inc. of Thousand Oaks,
Calif. PC Card modems from 3Com of Santa Clara, Calif., represented 36 percent of the
installed base. Users looked for reliability, speed and ease of installation.

In a related poll, 59 percent of users thought their PC Card modems needed improvement.

This year’s surveys saw desktop scanners continue to make incursions into federal
offices. Our poll on trends in visual media peripherals found 69 percent of responding
feds either had a scanner or planned to buy one within six months.

One Agriculture Department researcher we talked with described his scanner as
practically indispensable.

In our product survey, scanners from Microtek Lab Inc. of Redondo Beach, Calif.,
collected the highest ratings, with brands from Visioneer Inc. of Fremont, Calif., and
Hewlett-Packard Co. coming in a distant second and third, respectively.

The most desirable attribute in a scanner? Image accuracy, without a doubt.

In a survey of removable media drives, Iomega Corp. ruled the roost. The Roy, Utah,
company’s Zip SCSI, Jaz, Zip Parallel and Bernoulli drives swept the top four spots.
Reliability, disk capacity and speed were the most-wanted attributes.

Our survey of desktop publishing software turned into a skirmish between today’s
feature-packed word processing programs and highly sophisticated publishing programs. The
result was a deadlock at the top between Corel’s WordPerfect word processing software
and Adobe’s FrameMaker publishing program. Microsoft Publisher, Adobe PageMaker and
Microsoft Word rounded out the top five.

Feds looked for product quality, ease of use, and easy import and export capabilities
in their desktop publishing software.

In graphics and illustration software, Adobe was king of the hill, with Illustrator
7.0, Photoshop 4.0 and Photoshop 3.x taking first, third and fourth. CorelDraw 7 slipped
into second place..

Interviews with users of graphics and illustration software found strong product

Jason Spradley, an illustrator for the Imagery Production Branch at Langley Air Force
Base in Hampton, Va., said of Illustrator 7.0: “I wouldn’t give it up for

Date Category Highest rated
Jan 12 Desktop scanners Microtek Lab Inc.
Feb 23 Removable media drives Iomega Corp.’s Zip SCSI
Mar 16 CD-ROM drives Sony Electronics Inc.
Apr 6 Keyboards Apple Computer Inc.
Apr 6 Mice Microsoft Corp.
May 4 Desktop publishing software Corel Corp.’s WordPerfect,
Adobe System Inc.’s
Adobe Framemaker
Jun 29 Graphics & illustration software Adobe Systems Inc.’s
Illustrator 7.0
Jul 20 Web page authoring software Netscape Composer
Aug 24 Computer-aided design software Corel Corp.’s CorelCAD
Oct 12 Notebook computers IBM Corp.
Oct 26 PC Card modems IBM Corp.

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