At long last, just when it seemed our only other option would (and did) enter yet another phase of perpetual beta testing, Lotus Development released SmartSuite for Warp 4 - a real office suite with real applications and real features on par with its Windows counterpart. In this issue we'll have our first looks at the suite, and in a later issue we'll offer a complete, in-depth review of all components.
SmartSuite's five components, WordPro, Freelance Graphics, 1-2-3, Approach and Organizer are all well integrated with a common look and feel, scripting language and data sharing. For example; you can paste a Freelance presentation into a WordPro document, and update cells in a 1-2-3 spreadsheet with values from an Approach database.
Installation from the CD-ROM takes just under 20 minutes from start to finish, depending on how many options you select in the customization process (an easy, default install is available too) and takes about 165 megs of hard drive space. An interesting addition that wasn't in the beta is a registration and survey program that looks suspiciously like the old "Dancing Elephant" that came with Warp 4. Similar to the elephant's behavior, SmartSuite will add the program to your Startup folder to sit and wait for a few months, when it will pop up again and try to ask you a few more questions. This can be deleted safely, however.
The printed documentation, 7 booklets in all, is little more than an introduction to each program's features. The real documentation is contained online in the help files. In addition, SmartSuite also installs a copy of the Adobe Acrobat reader for OS/2 (the full package, including Netscape plug-ins) so that you may read the manuals in Acrobat PDF format.
Phone support is free for a 60 day period (beginning when you like, so as soon as you pick up the phone and dial their number - that's when the clock starts ticking), after that you'll have to start paying for every incident. Apparently we must have been the first to get a copy of SmartSuite for Warp 4, as when we called with a question the support technician didn't have a copy installed on his computer, and actually had to install the beta while we waited on the phone. Follow-up was very good, however, and the technician called us back some days later to make sure we'd resolved our problem.
If there's one thing that can be noticed about all the programs in the suite, it's that they're considerably faster than they were during the beta period. WordPro (.GIF, 29K) snaps open quickly, presenting a list of recent documents or SmartMasters to begin with. It doesn't look much different from earlier versions, but some of the newer features have added a bit more Desktop Publishing power to the program, such as booklet printing and the ability to flow text from one linked frame to another.
Internet support is still a little weak, with the ability to FTP documents to and fro, saving in HTML and copying in-lined images if necessary.
As introduced in earlier versions of WordPro, the "Ask the Expert" option in the help file is extremely useful for learning new features and figuring everything out. Type in a plain-English question such as "How do I publish to the Internet?" or "How do I change the background color?" and the Expert will locate the correct page in the help file, as well as related subjects, that tell you exactly how to do what you want.
The classic spreadsheet (.GIF, 29K) just keeps getting better. Some of the most significant new additions are the Assistants, used for stepping through complex tasks, improved graphing, and an outlining mode that makes it easy to collapse and thus simplify parts of the spreadsheet.
Old DOS 1-2-3 fans will appreciate the presence of the "Classic" 1-2-3 menu structure, accessed the traditional way with a tap of the forward slash key ("/"), but will be disappointed to find that no printed manual of the spreadsheet's function library made it into the package.
The database of the suite, Approach (.GIF, 21K), is in many ways similar to Microsoft Access, but definitely not a "clone" thereof. If you are used to the "Access" method of working with databases, copied by DBExpert for OS/2, then you might not like the way Approach hides a lot of details such as the underlying table and query structure. Once you've defined the fields of a database, you need to sniff around a few non-obvious menu options before you finally find the right dialog to edit and add more fields later.
Advertised as needing no programming, Approach is a relational database based on the dBase IV format and is flexible enough to put together quite complex and powerful applications with it. You can of course "program" it if you're familiar with LotusScript or SQL. It can call several databases together into one application, giving you tools to design input forms, reports, and all the other things you'd expect from a database.
But like the rest of the suite, it isn't very powerful in regards to internet publishing. You can export any particular view to an HTML file, send and retrieve files over FTP, but has no features in place for establishing a serious database-driven web site.
This presentation graphics package has long been popular for it's "Click here to enter headline" simplicity (.GIF, 26K). While it's possible to create a presentation from a blank template, Freelance's main power is clearly in its huge stock of SmartMasters - designed to tackle everything from boring annual sales reports to involved competitor analysis and quality improvement tasks.
This version introduces some enhancements in the text support, such as new effects, greater control over spacing, and the ability to globally change the font across an entire presentation. Freelance also comes with an improved drawing palette, with predefined shapes to complement its large clip-art collection.
Out of the printed documentation that comes with SmartSuite, Organizer (.GIF, 32K) claims two of the booklets. One is a normal introduction and user guide, another is a print layout guide, showing examples of printed schedules and address books that fit a number of Avery, Day Runner, Day Timer and Franklin blanks.
The PIM's performance has improved some since we reviewed its beta back in December, but is still not quite the thing I'd want to leave running all the time without another RAM upgrade. Otherwise it does an excellent job of keeping track of your calendar, address book, ToDo notes and whatever else. Disappointing is a lack of utilities to connect with any of the popular handheld devices like the Palm Pilot or IBM WorkPad, even though Lotus is now shipping these in the Windows version of Organizer.
One of the first concerns you may find, as you wander through the customization options during the install process, is that there's a high degree of redundancy and spotty consistency. Each application has its own spell checker files, for example, and while one component will support 4 or 5 languages, another will support only two. There's also a disparity in regards to features you'd expect to see in all components, such as WordPro's applaudable "Ask the Expert" which only appears in one. It leads me to suspect that the developers of each component are a little more isolated from each other than it may seem.
But not to be unfair, SmartSuite is a stellar package. Perhaps while the suite itself, taken as a whole, is a little immature, each of its separate components stand as veteran masters of their niches.
SmartSuite for Warp 4
Chris Wenham is the Senior Editor of OS/2 e-Zine! -- a promotion from Assistant Editor which means his parking spot will now be wide enough to keep his bicycle and a trailer.
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