SmartSuite's price and variety of features balance software bloat

Pros and cons:
+        Year 2000-ready
+        Good program integration and very good price
–        Word Pro short on features common in its
rivals
–        Speech recognition still not accurate


Real-life requirements:
Win9x or NT 4.0 or later; 16M of RAM; 150M free storage for default installation
or 250M for full installation; CD-ROM drive


Readers agreed with GCN’s Power User columnist John McCormick when he objected to
the ungainly bulk of modern office suites.


Personally, I don’t want a weak-kneed text editor masquerading as a word
processor. The features I dislike might be just fine for the next user, and there are
plenty of features in SmartSuite Millennium Edition, Version 9.0 of the office suite from
Lotus Development Corp.


Count the features: Lotus 1-2-3, Word Pro, Freelance Graphics, Presentations, Approach,
Lotus Organizer, Lotus Mail 4.52, FastSite for intranet publishing, ScreenCam, IBM
ViaVoice Gold for continuous speech recognition, and SmartCenter. The Internet-focused
suite includes both Microsoft Internet Explorer and Netscape Navigator browsers.


For all that, you pay just $399, or $149 for an upgrade. I may never use some of the
applications, but at that price, who cares?


SmartSuite, like all modern office suites, hogs the hard disk. I installed everything
in 10 minutes, except for the Web browsers, and it took up 246M.


The documentation had one pleasing twist. It came in Adobe Portable Document Format on
the program CD-ROM and, during installation, could be put on the hard drive, too. The
twist was the presence of Lotus SmartSuite Millennium Edition for Dummies, a funny and
helpful introduction to the suite.


For government users, perhaps the most interesting thing about the edition is its year
2000 awareness. If you carelessly enter year dates as two-digit numbers, SmartSuite
applications will convert and store them as four-digit years. A sliding window feature
fills in the missing digits.


Word Pro, 1-2-3, Approach and Freelance Graphics follow an 80/20 rule, meaning the
window slides open 80 years before and closes 19 years after the current year. For
example, the two-digit year 19 would be converted to 1919, whereas 17 would be converted
to 2017.


If necessary, you can change the default sliding window in the Microsoft Windows
Registry.


SmartCenter, the master control panel for all SmartSuite’s components, has
similarities to the Microsoft Office Shortcut bar, but it does much more. When it is
running, you can start any SmartSuite program with just two mouse clicks. You can even
open the address book, calendar, Internet reference sites and online help.


Customize SmartCenter by adding as many drawers as necessary to organize your work, and
maximize the SmartCenter folders to full-screen mode. SmartCenter’s browser will
print, copy and save Web pages, and it works with password-protected proxy servers.


The word processor is every suite’s most-used application. I favored Word
Pro’s predecessor, AmiPro, for years, but it began to lose its charm as its
competitors packed in new features. I also have used versions of Microsoft Word and Corel
WordPerfect with similar feature sets and minor differences. Generally speaking,
interoffice compatibility is the strongest reason for choosing over another.


When I first tried out speech recognition software, I was impressed by the ability to
control a computer without a mouse or keyboard, but I found discrete speech recognition
impractical for everyday writing. I thought continuous speech recognition would get easier
and more accurate, but that has turned out to be surprisingly hard to achieve.


In my tests, ViaVoice rendered the phrase, “Continuous speech recognition is the
new must-have feature common to all three word processing programs (period)” as
“Continuous speech recognition is too much debt feature called the telephony lake
word processing programs paid.” That’s not even close, even though I spent more
than an hour enrolling my speech patterns.


Practice and careful enunciation probably would improve accuracy, but I’m not
convinced it’s worth the effort.


Word Pro has some new goodies. A Header/Footer tool bar makes it simple to format,
insert fields and align their content. The GCN.com/tool bar does fast text searching.
TeamSecurity, SmartMasters and SmartCorrect are all improved and more efficient.


With the Hypertext Markup Language Export Assistant, Word Pro documents can be saved to
the Internet or an intranet. The addition of Net-It Software Corp.’s jDoc technology
produces print-quality Web output.


What I miss in this Word Pro is the ability to print a page of identical address
labels.


Lotus 1-2-3 has several interesting changes. Like Word Pro, it is voice-enabled, and so
are the SmartMaster templates. SmartSuite 97’s 1-2-3 introduced SmartLabels, which
let you simply type “total” to sum a range of numbers. Now you can also use
predefined terms such as subtotal, minimum and variance. If the SmartLabel you need
doesn’t exist, create it in the SmartLabel Setup dialog box. The SmartFill feature
fills a range of cells automatically with a sequence of text, dates or times.


Microsoft Excel compatibility has dictated many changes in 1-2-3. More than 50 new @
functions are present, and the number of rows allowed in each worksheet has expanded to
65,536. You can open and save files in different Excel formats, including Excel 97.


Not much has changed in Approach since SmartSuite 97 was released, but it is still my
favorite database. The Approach Find dialog box has a number of predefined conditions as
direct selections.


For example, say you want to count how many patrons have rented post office boxes if
some of the boxes receive mail for multiple persons.


Select the Find Distinct Records option in the Find/Sort Assistant, then design a
report with a Count function based on the Find results. I don’t know an easier or
faster way to solve this problem in any other database.


Like other components of SmartSuite, Freelance Graphics has extensive file import
capabilities, particularly for Microsoft applications. It can add transparent GIF images
to presentation pages. Among the Web page conversion features is the ability to optimize
for best quality or fastest download. A conversion assistant guides you through the
process.


My first attempt to use the Lotus Mail e-mail component failed miserably. I was unable
to log in as a new user. The only option was to log in using my Microsoft Outlook
settings. I could get the program to run, but it never allowed me to send or receive mail.


When I called Lotus technical support, I was surprised to learn that Lotus Mail would
not work because I also had Microsoft Outlook Express on the system. Tech support said the
only way to make it work was to uninstall Outlook and Outlook Express, then reinstall
Lotus Mail.


This introduced a second problem. Like Internet Explorer, Outlook and Outlook Express
are hard to eradicate. I finally gave up and installed Lotus Mail on a machine without
Microsoft Corp.’s programs. On the second machine, Lotus Mail ran without problems.


I don’t mind Microsoft adding functionality to its operating systems, but when its
programs interfere with competing programs, I get annoyed.


Lotus Mail is a basic Internet e-mail program that connects via LAN, modem or both.
Extensive rules options can automate many


e-mail tasks, such as storing predefined incoming addresses in a particular folder,
giving alerts and replying to received messages. When sending or receiving messages, Mail
gives status feedback. You can click on uniform resource locators to launch your browser.


Lotus Mail doesn’t support HTML e-mail or the ability to click on an embedded
e-mail address to initiate a new message, however.


FastSite is for novices who want to contribute content to an agency intranet or
Internet site. It converts SmartSuite documents such as word processing files,
spreadsheets, database data and presentation graphics into Web format.


FastSite also can convert Microsoft Word documents to HTML if Microsoft Word 97 is
installed on the computer.


FastSite includes a collection of 24 SmartMaster Looks—professionally designed
collections of backgrounds and navigation and link icons.


File Transfer Protocol software is included to upload items to an intranet or Internet
service provider’s site.


After uploading, it’s easy to keep a Web site up-to-date. FastSite detects a
source file that differs from the published file. You don’t have to convert the
entire site to update, just the one file that has changed.


Although FastSite makes Web publishing easy, it isn’t a full-fledged HTML creator.
You cannot add graphics on a whim or easily insert a simple Java routine. You must either
launch a text editor and edit the source code manually or create the page in a program
such as Adobe PageMill.


FastSite requires the presence of Microsoft Internet Explorer 3 or Internet Explorer 4
if you want to see how your pages will look on the Web. I found this a curious
requirement, considering that Outlook Express disables Lotus Mail.


Organizer does the group calendaring and scheduling for Lotus Notes and has personal
information manager features. Enhancements in Version 4.1 include EasyClip, which
simplifies copying diverse data into Organizer.


To use EasyClip, highlight the data to copy and click the EasyClip icon on the Windows
task bar. From the pop-up menu, select the type of data, such as an appointment, address
or task. The selected information will be captured, verified and copied into Organizer.


Organizer includes software for the Official Airline Guide Travel Information System so
you can find flights and build an itinerary to transfer into Organizer. SmartIcons connect
directly to ZIP2 Maps & Directions home page and ZIP2 Yellow Pages.


Overall, Lotus SmartSuite is a good collection of office productivity programs, all of
which are Internet-ready and capable of saving files in HTML. They store year dates in
four digits even if you forget.


I do find it irritating that a program would break because an incompatible program is
installed, or fail to work properly unless I install another program I wouldn’t
normally use. SmartSuite has both shortcomings. And ViaVoice will have to improve
considerably before I find it viable.


For my money, the best program in the suite is Approach, followed closely by Organizer
as a general-purpose PIM. Word Pro is a fine, full-featured word processor, but I miss
some features present in its competitors. 


William M. Frazier, a PC hobbyist, is the postmaster of Taholah, Wash.

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