SmartSuite '98 targets webmasters, intranets

Lotus Development Corp.'s SmartSuite 98 Millennium Edition gives users more intranet and Internet functionality and introduces the first speech-enabled spreadsheet.

Users and analysts said they are generally pleased with the product, but they aren't sure they need the new features. "My view is that we have two nuclear-powered toasters in the marketplace" with SmartSuite and Microsoft's Office, said Suzanne Snygg, an analyst at Dataquest.

The new SmartSuite features have great gee-whiz appeal, Snygg said, but she isn't sure users will want or need them.

Snygg said the suite plays to its strength with Notes. She also said Lotus could see some limited success by marketing itself as the vendor that cares more about users than rival Microsoft.

Lotus officials this week said they added more than 100 features to the new version of SmartSuite, which they expect will be available in June.

Users said they liked some of the performance improvements.

"The big thing is that all my serious gripes about WordPro are now gone," said John Head, technical director at Artron Products, a software developer in Carol Stream, Illinois. "Performance features that were missing, plus programmability and customizability are there. I like it to work the way I want, not the way it wants."

The only new application in the suite helps end users convert and send Office documents to World Wide Web servers to alleviate the load on company webmasters.

The FastSite application, previously code-named Odyssey, lets users set up a corporate look and feel before sending documents in batches.

But it is this hammering away at intranet and Internet capabilities that has beta user Jon Spencer a little taken aback.

Spencer, president of Toronto-based marketer Abacus Circulation, said his small office doesn't need to publish to the Web. Still, he said, the suite seemed to polish up some applications he had problems with before.

"I thought [Lotus] 1-2-3 97 was somewhat buggy," he said. Spencer has been using an older version of Lotus' spreadsheet program but may finally upgrade to SmartSuite 98 because of the stability. Spencer said he would also like easier access to complex portions of the suite.

The Millennium Edition refers to year 2000 compliance and conforms to specifications set by parent company IBM. Dates are automatically set on an 80/20 window that assumes the date is either 80 years in the past or 20 years in the future.

Lotus 1-2-3, celebrating its 15th anniversary, has the distinction of being the first voice-enabled spreadsheet shipped from a major suite vendor.

Using IBM's ViaVoice Gold and natural-language processing, users can dictate information into a spreadsheet set up for expense reporting by saying such phrases as "lunch $US15."

Lotus officials said they worked on making the suite compatible with Office 97. They expect 100 per cent of data and 90 per cent of formatting will transfer between products.

Lotus has added an option in WordPro 98 that makes menus similar to Microsoft Word or Corel Corp.'s WordPerfect. Similar help has been added to Lotus 1-2-3 for Microsoft Excel users.