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Lotus SmartSuite release 3.

Suites are in. Every major publisher of productivity software has developed software bundles which are being marketed as "suites". Lotus Development Corporation, Microsoft Corporation and Novell (WordPerfect) Corporation have all been touting their software bundles under different euphemisms.

The concept is not new. About a decade ago an integrated bundle called Ability was being promoted, but failed to garner much support. The main reason for its failure, I suspect, was the fact that switching from one application to another (word processing, say, to spreadsheet) was no faster than performing the task directly from the DOS prompt. The only advantage was that the change could be accomplished with one or two keystrokes instead of a dozen or so. To add to the problem, none of the elements of the bundle were truly first-class performers, even by decade-old standards.

Today's bundles have picked up a lot of speed. Some of it is undoubtedly due to better code, but much of it is likely due to the fact that our computers are vastly faster today than they were. The addition of expanded memory has also speeded up operations and made larger programs possible. The advent of Windows introduced the concept of a graphical user interface (GUI) with a relatively common "feel" and appearance to all applications running under this GUI. This took the form of standardized menu bars and help formats for all applications designed to run under Windows. "Suites" go beyond this by implementing relatively standardized supplementary menu and short-cut bars that appear in the individual application's windows. Typically, one of the shortcuts offered is a button that activates another application, be it a member of the suite or not.

Another development which suites take advantage of is object linking and embedding (OLE) incorporated into the Windows platform. Objects created in programs which are OLE servers can be linked with objects created in programs which are OLE clients. In Windows this requires several keystrokes. Such linking and/or embedding is accomplished among suite-members with far less hassle.

Lotus SmartSuite consists of a bundle which contains Freelance Graphics (a presentation program), 1-2-3 (a spreadsheet program), SmartSuite (the integrating package), Approach (a database program), Ami Pro (for word processing) and Organizer (for calendaring). All of these are well-known and time tested productivity packages, each with its own distinguishing characteristics which sets it apart from direct substitutes published by competitors.

Thus, for example, 1-2-3 has incorporated a mapping feature which permits the presentation of geographically distributed data as a map, rather than a simple chart (pie or bar). Ami Pro has, probably, the most accessible style-formatting system among word processing programs, and Freelance Graphics is most user-friendly in how it transforms Ami Pro outlines into slides for a presentation. Organizer is unique in its emulation of the ubiquitous Day Runner system of keeping one's day from falling apart.

As a suite, the publishers have added additional differentiating features. Lotus SmartSuite is very much network aware. It is designed to work with Lotus Notes and Notes/FX, both of which are, essentially, e-mail and network conferencing packages. Much of the documentation is dedicated to using Lotus SmartSuite in a network, group tasking-oriented environment. This is not to say, however, that the stand-alone user cannot or should not consider using Lotus SmartSuite.

Lotus SmartSuite has been designed with the user in mind. Wherever one turns, one finds SmartIcons and SuiteAnswers intended to take the work out of creating applications for immediate implementation. In addition, 1-2-3 and Approach offer SmartMasters which assist the user in setting up such diverse tasks as computing loan amortization tables, evaluating direct marketing plans, invoicing, entering time sheets and creating financial statements, not to mention creating inventory lists for art collections, students, employees, recipes or organizational memberships. There is even a set-up for keeping track of one's workouts at the gym. Freelance offers a multitude of layout templates for presentations, while Ami Pro offers styles for everything from articles to reports and informal memos.

Consistent with the intent of making Lotus SmartSuite a contender for network implementation, the bundle includes ScreenCam. This is a program not unlike a "macro recorder" which is intended for use by network administrators, trainers and supervisors of workstation users to develop online tutorials that are similar in nature and execution to the tutorials typically supplied by the publishers for some, if not all, aspects of a software package. The intent here is to enable Lotus SmartSuite purchasers to develop custom applications and then train their employees and co-workers in using these applications in a company-specific environment.

Given that word processing and creating presentations have a lot in common, just as using a spreadsheet or a database do, it is not surprising that there is a greater degree of integration between the two word processing programs and between the two data processing programs than there is between word-oriented and data-oriented packages. Not that the word processors cannot import data from the data-oriented programs. They can and they do, but it is just not as seamless as one would like it to be.

The ideal suite, of course, would be one where the user would not even be aware of switching between programs. There would not be a floating SmartCenter icon bar with which to activate another member of the suite. There would be no need to say to oneself "Now I am in Ami Pro and no longer in Freelance ". Lotus SmartSuite is not there yet, but none of the competitive products are there, either. Still, we have a come long way since Ability back in dark 1984.

Getting started with Lotus SmartSuite is straightforward. It almost installs itself but, should you run into trouble, Lotus Development Corporation offers technical support in many forms. Introductory support is available over the telephone for 90 days free of charge, except for the cost of the telephone call. Unfortunately, there is the inevitable wait which chalks up long-distance charges, before a member of the very polite and competent staff assists the caller. Thereafter, assistance is available for a fee and there are several possible arrangements for both individual and company subscribers. Of course, there is also automated support: help documents may be obtained via touch-tone telephone and fax machine or retrieved from a corporate bulletin board service or a CompuServe forum.

Is Lotus SmartSuite for you? That depends on your computer use history and on what you do most often on your computer. All the elements of this suite are time-tested and well designed performers, but there may be other suites or stand-alone applications which may be better suited to what you do most in the course of your workday. If you are contemplating adopting Lotus SmartSuite for your local area network (LAN) you should bear in mind that it will not be complete without either Lotus Notes or Lotus Notes/FX to provide desirable data-sharing capabilities.

Lotus SmartSuite is available from: Lotus Development Corporation, 55 Cambridge Parkway, Cambridge, MA 02142, USA. Tel: 800 343 5414 (voice). Price: $295

Max Lupul California State University, Northridge
COPYRIGHT 1995 Emerald Group Publishing, Ltd.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1995 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Lupul, Max
Publication:Journal of Consumer Marketing
Article Type:Evaluation
Date:Mar 22, 1995
Words:1173
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