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Monday, October 19, 1992 < Prev Next >

Drawing Software To Be Released

Where Flight Simulator and PageMaker put cockpits and newspaper layouts on a computer screen, a well-financed Seattle start-up company is putting the familiar office and classroom "white board" on computers in hopes of bringing computerized drawing capabilities to the masses.

"For about 90 percent of people, drawing software is totally useless," said Jeremy Jaech, president of Shapeware Corp., a 2-year-old Seattle venture, which today introduced its first product, Visio. "We heard it time and again during our market research."

Visio, due to begin reaching stores in early November at $199, puts commonly used sets of drawings - or "stencils" - on Microsoft's Windows 3.1 IBM-compatible interface for use in making flow charts, project-management timelines, organizational charts, network diagrams and other business and academic drawings.

Illustration programs traditionally have allowed computer users to compose such drawings on the screen. But they required a graphics artist's talent and expertise. Visio uses a "clip art" approach, providing scores of commonly used shapes ready to be dragged and dropped into documents with the computer mouse.

Boxes and arrows can be linked, reshaped and moved about on the screen for putting together flow charts. The same can be done with chairs and tables for setting up an office. Or plumbing fixtures in a bathroom.

Shapeware, which began life as Axon Corp. but changed names because of trademark conflicts, has pedigreed origins. Jaech, vice president Ted Johnson and chief software architect Dave Walter all were Aldus pioneers involved with PageMaker and other inventive software projects.

Former Microsoft executive Scott Oki; John Johnston, a partner with early Microsoft backer Technology Venture Investors in California; and Doug MacKenzie, associate partner with Kleiner Perkins, also sit on the board. Shapeware augmented Jaech's and Johnson's original $200,000 investment with two rounds of venture financing from TVI and Kleiner Perkins totaling $4.3 million.

Ironically, Shapeware's chief competition comes from Aldus Corp. in Pioneer Square. A recent Aldus product, IntelliDraw, features similar "smart" capabilities to make illustration on a computer easier.

But Jaech said the two programs differ in their approach. IntelliDraw is aimed more at making the graphics artist's life easier, while Visio provides the novice or non-artist with ready-made tools.

Shapeware has 28 employees in eighth-floor offices at the Westlake Center. It plans to roll out Visio (named following a search with a leading marketing consultant) on Nov. 2 and show off the new product in Microsoft's booth at the annual industry trade show, Comdex, Nov. 16 through 20 in Las Vegas.

Shapeware will distribute Visio through normal channels, including Egghead Software and computer superstore outlets.

The recession, combined with a particularly soft demand for graphics products, might daunt other start-up companies. But Johnson said Shapeware has had the advantage of "not having to worry about sales" for the previous two years.

"We've been in a position to devote all our resources to R&D at a time when other companies are cutting back," he said.

At the same time, Jaech added optimistically, Shapeware's rent and other costs of doing business have fallen with the economy. "In a way, the recession has been good for us," he said, acknowledging nonetheless that the acid test has arrived.

"It will be slow growth for them," said analyst Bill Kesserling of Dataquest, a trade research company in San Jose, Calif. Kesserling said sales of 5,000 to 6,000 a month "would be a phenomenal run rate for them."

No defined market exists for Visio, Kesserling said: "What will sell the program is word of mouth."

The Seattle Times

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