Suites obsolete? You wouldn't know it by Lotus SmartSuite97

The Roman Empire survived for years beyond its prime on sheer inertia. The same can be
said of office suite software but, as with Rome, it has reached its peak before its fall.

I tested Release 2 of the SmartSuite 97 beta, which was stable and full-featured enough
to give a good preview of the commercial release due in January.

Lotus 1-2-3, the granddaddy of spreadsheets, has played second fiddle to Microsoft
Excel in recent years. Microsoft should watch its back now. The Windows 95 version of
1-2-3 in SmartSuite 96 was just a place-keeper for 1-2-3 97.

Like all the SmartSuite 97 programs, 1-2-3 can open and save documents in the File
menu, straight from any World Wide Web or File Transfer Protocol server. You set Web
search criteria by selecting data and then clicking on Search the Internet. Results come
back to your default browser.

In addition, 1-2-3 can publish part of a spreadsheet or the whole thing as a Hypertext
Markup Language table.

Leveraging approaches used in Lotus Notes, all the SmartSuite applications have tools
for team computing and workflow management. Version management was introduced in
SmartSuite 96 for dealing with multiple versions of a single spreadsheet. A Lotus
Assistant wizard takes you through the creation of versions, and when that's done, you can
track almost every aspect of a version and what happens to it.

Freelance Graphics 97 still creates presentations, but it now with a lot more flash.
Its SmartMasters, seen throughout the suite, make presentations look good without a
serious time investment. You can modify SmartMasters to give all presentations a
consistent look. New to Freelance 97 is good support for Internet or intranet publishing,
including HTML frame creation.

You can even offer up Freelance presentations live on the Internet--a cheap and easy
way to get information to remote offices.

The Organizer personal information manager, first released in 1992, takes the daybook
approach. Scheduling is much easier in this release, with outstanding time management and
a Calls section for rolling over calls to the next day if you haven't marked them as done.
The Notepad portion gives you full Object Linking and Embedding support and text
formatting of OLE objects.

Ever noticed how the best products often aren't the best sellers? That's true of Lotus'
Word Pro word processor, formerly AmiPro. There were performance complaints about Word Pro
96, but Word Pro 97 is better. With added Internet support, SmartMasters and integration
with other applications, this is the best word processing application available today.

Also, system requirements have been reduced, broadening the base of computers this
software can run well on.

Internet support in Word Pro is exceptional, not just limited to saving documents in
HTML format. The Web Page Publisher has all you need to make and administer Internet and
intranet documents. Word Pro supports HTML 2.0 and 3.0 extensions, tables, graphics and
wallpaper. You can even embed Java applications into Web pages.

Approach, Lotus' relational database manager, has enjoyed a reputation for easy use but
was considered less powerful than Microsoft Access. Approach 97 can't be beat for ease and
Internet connectivity. It's well-integrated with IBM's DB2 and Notes, but it also can
access dBase and Oracle databases. Building an Approach database app isn't daunting with
the ubiquitous SmartMasters and customization tools.

A suite should be more than the sum of its parts. SmartSuite 97 delivers excellent
integration among applications and continues Windows 95's task-oriented approach to
computing. Lotus SmartCenter, a task bar similar to the Win95 task bar, can be placed at
the top or bottom of your screen. It's a collection of drawers designed around certain

Clicking on a drawer opens it, revealing customizable folders. The Internet drawer, for
instance, contains default folders for Headlines, Area Weather, Web Reference, Stock
Quotes and Favorites. Actual Web content for those topics can be displayed and refreshed
as often as you want.

Like 1950s cars coming out of Detroit, this is a well-engineered product. And like
those huge pieces of rolling iron, SmartSuite and other office productivity products are
falling out of fashion for their hard-drive guzzling and code-bloated performance. The
focus now is on leaner, meaner Java apps and ActiveX controls.

If you installed everything in SmartSuite, it would top the scales at 220M on your hard
drive. A typical installation takes up 182M, a minimum configuration 87M.

SmartSuite 97 is like a big old Chevy with tail fins and a flashy hood ornament. It
moves fast, it does everything you could ever ask, and it does it with style. Lotus has
the most technically advanced office suite of the moment.

Lotus Development Corp., Cambridge, Mass.; tel. 800-426-7682  

Price: $399 estimated retail, $149 upgrade

Overall grade: A[-]

[+] Superior application integration

[+] Seamless connectivity to Internet and intranets

[-] Big disk appetite

Real-life requirements:

Windows 95 or Windows NT PC with at least 87M free on hard drive and 16M RAM

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