US computer software companies do well overseas, despite the dollar's strength

While a strong dollar is knocking many United States companies out of the international market, a number of American personal-computer software publishers are discovering an offshore bonanza. Take the case of Microsoft, the Bellevue, Wash., company that produces the operating system for the IBM Personal Computer, the first and most popular commercial version of the BASIC programming language, and several productivity packages.

``Over 30 percent of our sales now come from overseas,'' says Microsoft's chairman and founder, William H. Gates.

Scott D. Oki, the company's vice-president of International Operations, says that in three years, overseas sales have grown from nothing to $50 million this year, the bulk in Japan and Europe.

A Culver City, Calif., company, Ashton-Tate, is another that is active overseas. Ashton-Tate rose to prominence with its sophisticated ``dBASE'' family of filing programs. Last year, the company added the heavily promoted ``Framework,'' a productivity package that integrates word processing, electronic spreadsheet, graphing, filing, and telecommunications functions.

Ron Posner, general manager of Ashton-Tate International, reports that last year overseas sales tallied $40 million, 17 percent of Ashton-Tate's total revenues. This year he expects this almost to double to between $75 million and $80 million, some 22 to 23 percent of total sales.

Dataquest Corporation estimates that about 10 percent of US software publishing industry income come from overseas.

Although numbers are hard to come by, US software companies with overseas operations appear well placed to tap an overseas market experiencing explosive growth as it catches up with the US.

William Coggshall of Software Access International, an industry analyst, estimates that in 1984 the US dominated the world software market with sales of 108 million out of 194 million units. But he projects that in five years the international market will have grown to parity with the US.

In Europe ``1984 was a momentous year for the . . . microcomputer industry -- record levels of software and hardware sales, . . . and increasing acceptance and sophistication among the business and home buying,'' reports Euronews, a newsletter specializing in the European microcomputer market. France, with an aggressive, government-backed computer-training program for schools, is expected to be the fastest growing software market on the continent: Demand for software in France grew 177 percent in 1983, says the newsletter. And much of this was American. European software best-seller lists read much as they do in the US.

``The international market is very appealing to us because sales of the IBM Personal Computer are just starting to take off overseas,'' explains Mr. Posner. This means that if US software titles can be translated, there is a rapidly growing installed base of computers overseas that will run them.

Japan, the other major overseas market, is considerably different from Europe.

According to Microsoft's Oki, it remains dominated by software developed indigenously.

Eventually, Microsoft sees growth in the international market flattening out, ``going from super-hyper-growth to ordinary hyper-growth,'' as Mr. Oki puts it. -- 30 --{et

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