Over the long haul, the vendor's vision gains importance

GCN Lab staff held discussions with vendors of each of the three reviewed office suites
to find out about their future directions.

They told us that the Internet, thin clients and easier administration will be
hallmarks of future suites. Here's how we graded their product vision.

Vision grade for Corel WordPerfect Suite: B

About this time next year, Corel plans to release Version 9 of WordPerfect Suite. The
yearlong development cycle will allow emerging technologies and market changes to figure
into the strategy.

Version 8 was a big leap for Corel, and Version 9 will move in the same direction with
more shared application code, greater Internet and intranet sophistication, and tighter
focus on accomplishing tasks rather than running a specific piece of software.

The company might deliver a special enterprise edition, an enterprise implementation
manager, or more business-focused standard and professional versions. You can expect to
see more in the way of collaboration tools. Integration with third-party applications is
also a stated goal.

Corel is moving in the right direction but needs a viable product for the Java market.
It's unclear whether Corel will rely on third-party integration or develop more in house.

Lotus has firm plans for SmartSuite. Rather than try to meet all needs with one
product, Lotus proposes a spectrum of applications. On the thin client side, it will
release applets developed using its Kona JavaBeans technology.

SmartSuite 98 will be a continuation of the typical office suite of applications. The
entire spectrum will be able to use Java and ActiveX component applets for individual or
enterprise computing. Lotus calls it a hybrid suite.

Look for speech recognition capability and better compatibility with Microsoft Word and
Excel files. Enterprise integration will be essential, as will better integration with
Lotus Domino and the leading human resources and database applications. Naturally, no
enterprise strategy is complete without a commitment to lowering total cost of ownership.

Lotus is firing on all cylinders with these plans for SmartSuite98. It can leverage
IBM's resources, too, so this could well become the suite of choice for enterprise

When Microsoft's product managers briefed us on what to expect from the as-yet-untitled
next release of Microsoft Office, we didn't hear about the new whiz-bang features. We
heard about total cost of ownership.

The product managers detailed the savings available by adopting Office 97. However,
these savings were based on environments that had mostly Office 4.x installations, not
Office 95.

What you can expect to see in the next version of Office will be support for roaming
users, true operation from a server, and self-repairing and automatic update features.
There was no mention of performance enhancements or open-standards Java components.

Microsoft obviously is playing its cards close to the vest. Total cost of ownership is
a hot-button issue for many organizations, and Microsoft's plans will focus on that.
However, in the GCN Lab staff's judgment, Office suffers from serious performance and
stability problems.

Ownership and administration costs become important only after users are able to work
with an application productively.

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