At the beginning of the year we ran a comparison review of two office suites still in testing phase: Lotus SmartSuite for Warp 4 versus StarDivision's StarOffice 4.0. The review showed that each had began to focus on two distinct strengths: Lotus continued on its usual course of adding more and more power to a suite of very mature and well developed applications, while StarDivision made the move of choosing smoother integration and advanced user interface over sheer mass of features.
This is interesting, as up until now most office productivity apps were quickly reaching commodity status where there's little to differentiate one from another. Nobody, not even Microsoft, has been able to do anything particularly exciting with the common word processor or spreadsheet these days. The feeling goes that the book is about ready to be closed, everything that could be invented has been invented, the job is done and it's time to go home. On-the-fly spell checking? Done. Internet connectivity? Done. Autofilling of cell ranges? Done. But while the attention is slowly moving away from the individual components, it's been focusing instead on the suite as a whole. How well does each component interact with its siblings? How can each program leverage the power of another in the same suite?
With integration and data sharing an office suite is worth more than just the sum of its parts. A spreadsheet that can trade information with a database is worth more than just a database and a spreadsheet bundled together. If your database kept track of inventory and sales, and your spreadsheet calculated your budget, wouldn't it be far more useful if your database could feed its sales report figures directly into your spreadsheet right next to your expenses and payroll, than if you had to key those values in manually?
This is one of the most important criteria that we tested SmartSuite on. While we reviewed each component based on its own merits, we also sought to see where they could exchange data with other parts of the suite. We weren't disappointed.
Since OLE (Object Linking and Embedding) is not supported under OS/2, nor does SmartSuite support OpenDoc, the primary method of sharing data in the suite's components is to use DDE (Dynamic Data Exchange) with a link usually initiated through the clipboard. With DDE we were able to perform several feats of data linking between SmartSuite components. For example, after highlighting a range of cells in 1-2-3 and copying them to the clipboard, we pasted a link into a Word Pro document (using the "Paste Special" menu option). Whenever we went back to 1-2-3 to change the data in the cells, the data pasted into Word Pro changed with it. This link is one-way, so if you edit the data while in Word Pro, the changes don't appear in 1-2-3 and any changes in 1-2-3 will override the ones you made in Word Pro.
Much more data sharing is possible between the SmartSuite components by the fact that most can read the file formats saved by their siblings. Word Pro can read an Approach database file or Organizer file and mail merge a document with the addresses it finds there, Approach can read a 1-2-3 spreadsheet file and use it to start a new database with, and Freelance Graphics can read a 1-2-3 spreadsheet file too for building tables and graphs.
Finally, for Word Pro, ODBC (Object DataBase Connectivity) drivers are supplied as an optional item to install. These allow Word Pro to open databases from programs such as DB2, Oracle and Sybase.
The rest of the suite's integration features come in the form of common elements, such as the SmartIcon toolbars that adorn the user interface, the LotusScript language that lets you write macros and small programs to automate your daily work, and the similarity Lotus has tried to keep with menu structures and keyboard shortcuts.
LotusScript itself is a powerful language that Lotus has extended on the OS/2 platform, with access to Rexx functions (such as the many third party Rexx libraries) and SOM for cross-application scripting. But apart from this Rexx function interface and the ability to call a Rexx script from a LotusScript program, there isn't a way that you can use Rexx instead of LotusScript. LotusScript is the "glue" that binds the two of them together.
So a huge office suite like SmartSuite must have a pretty complex install sequence, right? Yes, actually it does, although there is an easy install available you might find yourself compelled to choose the custom install method instead. Why? Well even with the easy install, SmartSuite's defaults are all set to exclude quite a lot of features and extras in order to keep it's hard drive footprint down. A lot of file import and export filters are excluded from a default install and must be switched on by the user if he/she needs them. A default install will take about 163 megs of hard drive space, which rises and falls as you enable or disable features in the custom install.
Before you do install you may want to check what FixPack level your computer is at. SmartSuite's reliance on Open32 (described below) needs the enhancements introduced by IBM in FixPack 5 SE (special edition) and later. SmartSuite comes with a copy of FixPack 5 SE on the CD though, so you won't need to spend hours downloading it if you haven't already.
The stack of printed manuals that come with SmartSuite is thick, but really only serve as introductions. The real documentation is in the help files, which are well written and indexed. All of the applications have a visual, animated tour too, which uses Freelance's media player (you don't have to install the Freelance component to use them though). Next are the online manuals stored in Adobe Acrobat format. SmartSuite comes with the Acrobat reader (the full package, including Netscape plugin) for this purpose.
Free phone support is available for 90 days (this 90 day period starts when you like, beginning with your first call, and ends 90 days later even if you don't make any more calls) and switches to pay-per-incident thereafter. We found this support to be nothing short of excellent. Calls were answered promptly, we were able to leave problem files on IBM's Testcase FTP site for their representative to examine, and they even called us back to make sure the problem was resolved to our satisfaction.
Double-click on a document and it opens its associated application as you'd expect. But if you double click on a document and the associated program is already running then a DDE link is established and that current session loads the document you clicked on (this doesn't work with Approach or Freelance, though). Plus, if you open the properties notebook of any document, you'll find a new tab with information about the file such as its author, description and other statistics. Even better, Word Pro documents have a preview picture displayed in the Properties Notebook too.
Printing is integrated nicely as well. Choose "Print" from the file's right-click menu, or drag-n-drop it to a printer object, and the document will be printed properly without having to start up the host application first.
SmartSuite's performance and stability isn't all we expected it to be, but it's considerably better than the beta version we used during its testing phase. We noticed that some of the Suite's components do tend to crash once in a while, but not frequently enough to make it unusable or uncomfortable. Performance was the key disappointment, and may be due partly to the fact that Lotus ported the Windows version over to OS/2 using Open32 -- a set of 'aliases' that map common Windows functions over to native OS/2 ones. While Open32 itself doesn't add significant overhead, we suspect programming methods learned under Windows don't always translate efficiently to OS/2.
In our testing we ran SmartSuite on a number of hardware platforms, the lowest of which was a 486/80 with 20 megs of RAM. On this machine it was quite unusable and even failed to print under 1-2-3. A Pentium 120 with 16 megs and a faster hard drive yielded bearable performance when running one application at a time, and a 24-meg laptop with Pentium was comfortable running two of the Suite's applications simultaneously. Our minimum recommended system would then be a Pentium 120 with 24 megs of RAM and a 1.6 gigabyte hard drive or higher. The sweet spot begins to occur at 32 megs and higher.
In testing we found that Lotus SmartSuite for Warp 4 is excellent in almost every facet of its design, but its chrome finish is marred and scratched in a few visible and not-so-visible places. This is disappointing because we felt most of the flaws were trivial and easily fixed. So when we talked to Lotus we were pleasantly surprised to hear that they do have plans for another version of SmartSuite for OS/2 to be released sometime in the future.
We think SmartSuite is the best office suite out there for professionals using OS/2 and needing strong compatibility with file formats they might exchange with their colleagues. But we think its expense and heavy requirements make it inappropriate for casual users or those only interested in one particular component (none of the SmartSuite programs are sold separately, even though Organizer for Windows is)
On the whole, our hats off and much gratitude go to Lotus for their superb effort. We wish it had arrived earlier, but we're mighty glad that it arrived at all.
Lotus SmartSuite For Warp 4
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