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ISSUE 525: The high-tech office- Nov 16 1999


SmartSuite from Lotus is solid office software

Microsoft Office seems untouchable, controlling by some accounts as much as 90 per cent of the market for business word processor + spreadsheet + kitchen sink software. And with Corel's WordPerfect Office in the role of also-ran, it would seem like there was nothing more to say on the topic.

But still more contenders have to be heard from.

Lotus (owned by IBM) has remained in the Office suite business, pretty much from the beginning. In fact, the word processor AmiPro was the original Windows word processor -- released at a time when there was no Microsoft Word. AmiPro morphed into Word Pro, the cornerstone of Lotus's SmartSuite.

"Never heard of it," I hear you say. And that's the problem. Despite having a long history and despite providing a solid collec-
tion of usable applications, SmartSuite has proven un-
able to hold onto much mind share in the marketplace. And it's too bad, because it's a pretty good package that deserves better than it's re-
ceived. Lotus sent me a copy of its current release -- SmartSuite 9.5 Millennium Edition. In the box, you'll find Lotus's take on the classic office suite application collection:

* Lotus 1-2-3 Spreadsheet ("Oh yeah. I've heard of that. I didn't know they made it anymore"). The new version promises compatibility with Excel, along with 60 new functions and a host of Web features.

* Word Pro word processor, arguably the best of the bunch at page layout. The new version can be customized to mimic Word's toolbars and to automatically translate Word macro commands, along with the ability to open and save in Word and WordPerfect format. Like its competitors, it does a reasonable job of saving directly to Web HTML format.

* Freelance Graphics, the presentation graphics program that pioneered templates to simplify the creation of attractive and consistent slideshows. Save and Go allows presentations to be sent to people that don't have a copy of Freelance, or to publish slideshows to the Web.

* Approach database, one of the few office suite databases that is simultaneously powerful and, well, approachable. Does anyone other than a database professional really use Microsoft Access or Corel's Paradox? This version of Approach allows creation of database reports for the Web and makes it easy to create reports from Lotus Notes information.

* Organizer R5, the latest version of the calendar and phone book that successfully mimics a classic print-daybook's look and feel. This version adds scheduling across the Internet and beefed up contact management.

All of these are solid competitors, with several components arguably the best in their class. Even die-hard Micro-
soft Office users might want, for example, to try out Approach or Organizer.

As the telemarketers like to say, "Wait, that's not all!"

The package also contains a copy of IBM's ViaVoice, allowing users to train their computer to recognize their voice and take dictation, right into Word Pro or 1-2-3. ViaVoice can
be used to "take dictation" or to control the programs' menus and commands.

FastSite is a Web document publisher, aimed at the exploding number of businesses using Web tools on their internal network. It automates conversion of bunches of documents -- whether from SmartSuite, Microsoft Office or Word Perfect -- into HTML Web format and sends them to your chosen Web or FTP server on the Internet or the office Intranet, ready for viewing. FastSite spruces up the documents, generates a home page, adding navigation buttons and links between the documents -- all without needing to open the documents themselves.

SmartCenter bills itself as an Internet Information Manager offering a single screen that can be customized to show frequently accessed Web pages such as stock quotes
and weather information along
with easy access to the SmartSuite

Previous versions of SmartSuite featured strong integration with Lotus Notes, a popular way for businesses to share information across a network. The copy I received goes one step further, including an actual copy of Lotus Notes R5 client in the box. The suite's applications all include the ability to open or save files directly from a Notes Domino server.

In addition to the standard print-
ed documentation, Lotus has tossed a copy of SmartSuite for Dummies into the tightly packed box.

Installation requires 100 to 150 megs of drive space, but will run on a several-generations-old 486 or better (though you'll need at least a Pentium 166 and an additional 100 megs of space to use speech recog-
nition). The program retails for about $600, with a $225 upgrade for current users. Purchasers of IBM computers, including the popular ThinkPad notebooks, may find SmartSuite pre-installed.

SmartSuite offers lots of value and deserves more attention than it's received. Next week, we'll take a peek at the office suite that Sun wants you to use -- and is giving away free. *

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