Microsoft's data base debuts with low price

LAS VEGAS — LAS VEGAS -- Microsoft Corp. introduced its long-awaited Access data base management program here last week, filling one of the last major gaps in the software giant's product line.

In a bold attempt to pre-empt its probable main rival (the Windows version of Borland International Inc.'s popular Paradox program, not expected until early next year), Microsoft will sell Access for $99 until Jan. 31, 1993, when the list price of $695 will take effect.


As a relative newcomer to the data base arena, Microsoft is essentially giving away Access in order to gain a share of the market now in the possession of Borland's Paradox and other more expensive data base programs, like Oracle.

Some analysts at the introduction said the low-price strategy is risky.


"Data bases are a different market from word processors and spreadsheets, and I'm not sure how well Microsoft understands it," said Mary Conti Loffredo, senior software analyst for the International Data Corp. of Framingham, Mass. "It's not a market where someone switches to another data base just because they got it at an advantageous price. There's a longer evaluation process."

On the other hand, $99 is an especially attractive price for a program that is both powerful and relatively easy to use. The Windows command structure makes Access easier to use than many other data bases with similar capabilities, and Microsoft has added handy features called Cue Cards and Wizards that help new users take full advantage of the program.

Working with an early test version of Access, I was able to construct a modest but useful data base within a couple of hours of installing the software.

Microsoft unveiled Access on the first day of the annual Comdex/Fall computer trade show here. Data bases have two (( roles. The first is to store all the information that allows a company to operate, including customer names and addresses, product information, sales figures, and so on. The other is to give users access to that data in the easiest and most useful way, along with tools for making data entry forms and attractive reports.

Both Access and Paradox are so-called programmable, relational data bases, the kind that are of most interest to corporations and businesses that need to mine large amounts of information. But the two programs have fundamental differences in the way they grab data from other data base files on a network, and a major battle was shaping up as other computer companies took sides.

The debate is over an arcane area called drivers, and it will cause all but most technical users to run screaming for the exits. Microsoft favors a driver standard called Open Database Connectivity (ODBC), which is supported by an alliance of some 40 software companies.

Borland, meanwhile, proposed an alternative standard called IDAPI, for Integrated Database Application Programming Interface. As might be expected, Microsoft's bitterest rivals, including International Business Machines Corp., the Novell Corp. and the WordPerfect Corp., lined up to support IDAPI.

For those of us with simple data base needs, including those who reach for the wolf bane whenever someone starts drooling computer acronyms like ODBC and ODAPI, Filemaker Pro 2.0 for Macintosh and Filemaker Pro 2.0 for Windows are highly recommended. Both products are from the Claris Corp. of Santa Clara, Calif., both are a delight to use, and both have a suggested price of $399.


(Peter Lewis works out of the New York Times' Austin, Texas, bureau: [512] 328-8258.)