Lotus SmartSuite: All the software you need?

by Alan Zisman (c) 1994. First published in Our Computer Player, January 14, 2001

In the mid '80s, the coming thing was supposed to be high-powered
integrated software... one package that would do everything a user
could desire. Applications like Lotus Symphony, and Ashton-Tate
FrameWork tried hard to provide all the functionality of a full-
featured word processor and spreadsheet and database, all with a
single user interface, and the ability to share information between
the various parts of the program.

Each got its share of loyal users, but somehow, never became as
popular as the big-name stand-alone products... Word Perfect or
DBase or 1-2-3, which defined a generation of DOS software.
Integrated packages instead became something simple for new users,
or notebook owners with small hard drives.

Well, in a round-about way, we've come full circle. Suddenly,
software suites have emerged as a new, best-selling product
category. In this case, however, you get a collection of stand-
alone applications in a single box, for a low price. And with the
magical unifying power of Microsoft Windows, you get the
possibility of a standard interface, and data-sharing between the

And it's big business. Microsoft reportedly sells half its
applications as part of its Microsoft Office package, good for
about a billion dollars a year.

While it's only number two in suite sales, Lotus SmartSuite is
coming on strong with new and improved additions to its package,
and multipage ads in the popular PC magazines.

Here's what the SmartSuite has to offer:

-- AmiPro word processor version 3.0. Number three in sales among the 'big
three' Windows word processors, but felt by many to be the fastest
and easiest to learn of the bunch. It's got the best page layout
features of its class. (See the Sept. 18, 1992 COMPUTER PLAYER for
a full review). A recent front cover on a major computer magazine
teased readers with "Guess which word processor is the bext? You
won't believe it!" with the  results reported inside, AmiPro.

-- Lotus 1-2-3 release 4 spreadsheet. While 1-2-3 defined the DOS
spreadsheet, the Windows versions were slow and anemic. Until
release 4. Now, 1-2-3 holds its own against the competition from
Borland and Microsoft, with special strengths in workgroup
features. (See the June 18, 1993 COMPUTER PLAYER for more

-- Freelance presentation graphics program. Head to head
comparisons between these sorts of programs tend to rate Freelance
as simultaneously powerful, and the easiest in its class to get up
and running.

-- Approach database. Microsoft was adding its Access database to
the 'Professional' version of MS-Office; obviously Lotus needed a
database, too. So they bought the company that produced Approach,
and got a database for SmartSuite. Approach is, by design, less
powerful than the high-end relational databases like Access or
Paradox. It's also easier to use, both for designing new
databases, or as a front end to existing data on the network.

-- Organize personal information manager. Lotus picked this one up, too; this time from a
British company. Again, less powerful than Packrat or some other
products, but MUCH less confusing. It's graphically very
attractive, using a simple day-planner metaphor to keep you

-- cc:Mail network mail. Well, not really. Microsoft includes a
single-user copy of Microsoft Mail in its package, so Lotus,
producers of the well-regarded cc:Mail had to do something. In the
box, you don't get any mail software, but you do get a coupon for
a Administration software to group-enable Organizer to act as a
group scheduler on your network. As well, you can phone for a demo
version of cc:Mail. All the SmartSuite applications will link with
cc:Mail or Lotus Notes.


So there's a bunch of applications in a single box. What makes it
a 'suite'?

All the Lotus applications, even the late-comers to the Lotus
family, share a common interface, based on the SmartIcon toolbar
pioneered in AmiPro. Common toolbar icons, and common dialogue boxes make
it easy to move between applications.

Windows, of course, claims to encourage similarity between
applications. This is true up to a point, but Windows software
from different companies can still differ widely, enough to
confuse many users. For them, a standard suite of applications can
be a big plus.

Windows also gives users a set of tools making it easy to share
data between applications, whether they're part of a 'suite' or
not. The Clipboard, and OLE, for example, make it possible to
create a graph in a spreadsheet, and easily bring it into your word

SmartSuite takes that one step further. There's an optional 'Bonus
Pack' of integration tools. These are a collection of macros and
toolbar icons for AmiPro. Using AmiPro as home base, you can then,
with a single mouse click, perform a variety of functions using
the other applications. You can even use 1-2-3's calculation
engine to perform some pretty sophisticated math, right from your
word processor, without actually having to open the spreadsheet.

Lotus sees workgroup computing as an area for future growth... co-
workers, connected on a network, who share documents to work
together on a project. All these applications are designed to
enhance workgroup computing, both in themselves, and through their
links to Lotus Notes. SmartSuite is communication smart.

As well, it gives you a common set of tools, like spell-checker
and thesaurus, that can be used by various applications. I like
this; I;ve probably got half-a-sozen spell checkers cluttering my
hard drive right now, and would love to get it down to just one. I
can only use these with my Lotus applications, but it's a step in
the right direction.

(One area that's not well-integrated is installation. Each program
runs its own install; I'd have liked a single installation with
choices of what features to set up).


These are all classy applications, but they're starting to look
like they're half a step behind in the continuing game of software
catch-up. Both Word Perfect 6 and MS-Word 6 have new word
processor versions, designed to catch up and pass AmiPro in
features. A new version of AmiPro is expected, but not before
Spring. As well, there's a lot of interest in MS-Excel ver. 5, due
out very shortly. The Microsoft applications are all using OLE 2,
and feature drag and drop between applications, one step easier
than the older copy-and-paste.

You may choose to go with Lotus SmartSuite just because it's that
half-step behind... it'll make fewer hardware demands. Word
Perfect 6 requires up to 32 meg of hard drive space, Word 6
requires a mere 25; AmiPro, by comparison seems frugal with its
desire for only 16 meg for a full install. But remember, that's
just a single application. If you install everything in the
SmartSuite box, you're looking at over 62 megs (you can get by
with as little as 27 megs by choosing minimal options).

You might assume that if you've bought a box with five separate
applications, that you could use them on five different computers.
Maybe you prefer Excel to 1-2-3... can't you sell your copy of 1-2-
3, or let your co-worker run it on her machine? Well, not legally.
Buy a software suite, either this one or one of it's competitors,
and you're purchasing a single-user license for all the software.
If you'd rather use a competitor's version of one of these
products, you don't have to install the Lotus version, but it's
just a waste of disks and documentation.

In an ideal software world, we wouldn't need suites. Windows and
other graphical environments should provide the tools to let all
applications easily cooperate, along with a common interface. We
should be able to install single modules like spell checkers that could
be used by all our software.

We're not quite there yet. And until we get there, bargain-priced
products like Lotus SmartSuite can be a good deal.

(Note from the year 2003): The above article was originally published in 1994, as a review. A decade or so later, I've gotten a series of emails from  fans hoping that I could sell them a copy of this software or direct them to a place where it is still available. While I have reviewed software since 1991, I am not a vendor of r any products. I suggest to everyone looking for copies of older software to check at eBay or at OldSoftware.com.If you check on my Files webpages, you'll find links to a number of (mostly freeware) downloadable software, some of which may be good replacements for older programs.
-- AZ (September 15, 2003)

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan