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December 1996 Reviews This Month

12/96 Reviews SW: Lotus SmartSuite 97

Internet Enlivens Ho-Hum Upgrade

By James E. Powell

Been wondering what Lotus has been doing while Microsoft and Corel were sprucing up their application suites? Internet, of course.

Although impressive new features are few, Lotus' integration of the Internet plus continued leadership in collaborative computing may keep SmartSuite afloat.

The Internet features closely match those in Microsoft Office 97 and Corel WordPerfect Office and Office Professional. For example, WordPro's Web Page Publisher can save your documents in HTML. New SmartMasters templates for creating home pages are included. You can publish spreadsheet ranges or create HTML tables from 1-2-3, create slides for Freelance Graphics presentations, and export an Approach report or form to an HTML document.

Throughout the suite is a new Open and Save to the Internet feature so you can easily work with HTML documents directly, minimizing the complexities of ftp.

Each application has buttons that log you onto Lotus Web sites. You can search the Internet, too: Type a word in a 1-2-3 cell, for example, highlight the cell and click on the Search the Internet SmartIcon (in the toolbar) to launch a search utility.

Lotus SmartCenter provides handy buttons along the top (or bottom) of your screen for quick access to your favorite Web sites, a calendar (standalone or one from Organizer), a shared thesaurus and dictionary definitions. The SmartCenter's address book lets you find an entry and send a fax or e-mail, or compose a letter, filling in the appropriate addressee information. Such integration between modules is typical of SmartSuite, and surpasses that of its competitors.

There are also improvements within the individual applications. WordPro 97 offers significant performance enhancements, including shorter load and file save times. You can link frames, flowing text from one to another, a feature generally found in desktop publishing programs but not in word processors.

There's nothing revolutionary about WordPro 97, in part because the program's existing features already do an exemplary job.

Of particular interest to me was 1-2-3 97, the long-awaited 32-bit version of the once-dominant spreadsheet package. The program is a mixed bag. It incorporates the shared features (the context-sensitive InfoBox is particularly welcome) and eliminates the tedious right-mouse-button clicks of Office 97. It provides outlining, maps and SmartMasters for building mortgage amortization tables to time sheets. You can also view a dynamically updated preview pane as you edit a document, but you can't edit data in the preview pane as in Excel 97.

But the only new feature that truly impressed me was AutoTotal. Just type the word "Total" as a col- umn or row heading, and 1-2-3 inserts summation formulas in the appropriate cells. Even so, its performance was somewhat flaky in the early beta I examined.

Lotus Chart, shared throughout the suite, is also improved. Click on any element and the pop-up InfoBox provides context-sensitive options such as font color, series ranges, chart type and bar pattern control.

The remaining SmartSuite applications have few new features worth noting. Freelance adds 14 new SmartMaster types, bringing the total to 134. You can now edit speaker notes from within a screen show, and screens can include Internet links.

Approach can serve as a front end to DB2 databases. ScreenCam 97 lets you create smaller clips, then append them together seamlessly, a feature I've wanted ever since I made a mistake in the third minute of a four-minute movie. We took an in-depth look at Organizer 97 last month, so I won't review it again here.

Lotus SmartSuite has always excelled at teamwork, and here it maintains its lead even compared with Office 97's improvements. TeamReview (for automating the distribution and review of files in whole or part), and TeamConsolidate (for drawing together the changes that everyone makes), are still the best of breed. TeamMail lets you send data and messages to groups simultaneously or route them sequentially through Lotus Notes or any VIM-, CMC-, or MAPI-compliant e-mail package. Furthermore, 1-2-3's Version Manager makes it easier to figure out how to manage multiple versions of a spreadsheet.

SmartSuite 97 doesn't offer any single new feature that screams, "Buy me!" It's still the best of the big three suites for document collaboration and has well-designed new Internet features. The new SmartCenter is infinitely customizable and a real treat. Consistent throughout, SmartSuite remains in the running. I hope to see more of the innovative features I've come to expect from Lotus in the next release.

-- Info File --
Lotus SmartSuite 97
$399; upgrade $149
Pros: Collaborative features
Cons: Few real innovations
Disk Space: 87MB (182MB recommended)
Platforms: Win95 and NT
Lotus Development Corp.
800-343-5414, 617-577-8500
WinMag Box Score 3.5

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