If you own Warp 4, which is what you'd need to run SmartSuite anyway, you can have a look at the suite's word processor right now if you wish, since an early Beta version of it is available on the Application Sampler CD that came with the operating system. What ships with SmartSuite for Warp 4 is not much different except for a handful of extra features and a much more stable code base.
Word Pro's user interface hasn't evolved much, SmartIcons still represent the most visual part of the interface besides the document itself. There aren't any docking style palettes or clip art palettes like you'll find in StarOffice, but everything you need is reasonably within reach of the mouse or keyboard shortcut.
Down the bottom of the window you'll find a bar of sliding draws (.GIF, 15K) that house most of the text formatting options. Fonts, font sizes, color palettes, styles, document statistics and more are all available and tucked away here. Click once on the font and a draw opens up to list all others installed on the system, same goes for text styles, colors and so forth. Misspell a word and a little cyan dictionary lights up, click on it and a draw slides out with possible replacements.
The default single row of SmartIcons can look rather spartan when you start up Word Pro for the first time. It's not what you'd expect if you spent your word processing life in a program such as Microsoft Word - which uses a good third of the screen real-estate for buttons alone. But click on the blue handle of each toolbar and you can move it to a different part of the screen or dock it to any edge. Click on the tiny gray button above the handle and you can call up or hide other sets of SmartIcons. With a little arrangement you can make Word Pro fully Testosterone Compliant (.GIF, 17K).
But Word Pro also gives you broad power over viewing the document itself. Of course, various zoom levels are supported, but so are a couple of nifty navigator and page arrangement views. In the "Special Views" dialog (.GIF, 8K) you can switch on a number of split window views including the 'PageWalker', 'Doc Skimmer', 'Panorama' and 'Zoomer'. All are designed to manage large projects consisting of multiple pages and are especially useful if you need to get an overall idea of the document you're working on.
When all the widgets and gadgets that could possibly be assigned to a button on a toolbar had been invented, the obvious next step was to improve the typing and editing process itself with 'invisible' features that show themselves only when you make a typo or come to selecting and moving blocks of text. Since maybe 10 years ago, it's been standard in almost every editor to select multiple words by holding down the shift and control keys while navigating with the cursor keys, or select characters by holding down only the shift key. Word Pro's default is actually to select words by holding down only the shift key, and force it to select character-by-character when you hold down the control key too. This can be a pain in the butt to people who's "fingers know where to go" until you find out how to disable the SmartSelect feature in the Word Pro Preferences dialog.
This Love/Hate relationship can extend to a few other 'invisible' features, like the SmartCorrect which will fix typos on the fly. It's sure handy to have "Teh" changed to "The" seconds after you type it, but a bit annoying (especially to us technology writers) when typing acronyms in caps but seeing Word Pro change it to lower case instead. "NCs" (for "Network Computers") gets changed to "Ncs" and you must emphatically change it again before Word Pro gets the message. But common mixed-caps acronyms like "PCs" are already in its database to make the job a little easier.
SmartFill is another feature to be found, borrowed most likely from the Spreadsheet world where it's in common use all the time. Say you create a table 7 rows high and write "Monday" in the first cell. Grab the edge of that cell with the mouse and drag down to select the other 6 cells below it and Word Pro will fill them in with "Tuesday", "Wednesday", "Thursday" and so on. You can customize Word Pro's database with almost anything you please, such as the names of your family, the divisions of your company, your favorite rock bands or whatever. The SmartCorrect feature can be "kludged" to do something similar outside of tables too, programming it to replace "myaddress" with "231 North Epson Street, Sometown, NY,13582." But unfortunately it's not as sophisticated as Microsoft Word's similar feature, which can substitute not just words or phrases but images too.
Word Pro, like most modern word processors, is blurring the line that separates it from a conventional desktop publishing package. Since its earliest incarnations as AmiPro, Word Pro has had desktop publishing features like frames, drawing tools, and split columns. This new version adds the ability to flow text from one frame to another in the "continued on page 3" style of layout. It still doesn't have the ability to create alternate layouts such as tri-fold brochures, but it does have a "booklet" feature accessed from the print options.
For those creating lengthy reports or books, Word Pro has the ability to create Tables of Contents, Indexes, Tables of Authorities and Cross References, all built automatically by flags that you insert into the body text as you edit it.
One of the strengths Lotus is particularly proud of is SmartSuite's "Team" features, designed to make peer review and teamwork on a project easier. With Word Pro, a document can be examined by various members of a team, with some having permission to make editorial changes, marking and inserting comments into the body text with colored highlights, scribbles and whatever. Team members can then look at the different versions of the document as suggested by others and the original author (or approved editors) can approve or reject changes as he or she sees fit.
If all the writers covering Lotus SmartSuite are doing their jobs properly they should be writing their reviews in this program, if not just to submerge themselves in the SmartSuite environment and write an objective review. But this also raised a few questions: since we're an Internet publication, how good are its HTML and Web publishing capabilities?
Lotus has moved quickly to add considerable Internet functions to their programs, but haven't done very well in the implementation of all of them. In Word Pro and most of the other programs in the suite you can load and save files over the Internet, plus you can also export documents in HTML format ready to be published on the Web. It's nothing like the Internet integration seen in StarOffice, where the browser metaphor and URL location field are prevalent, but you can do things such as insert links into a document, embed images stored on remote servers and perform Internet searches on selected text (something that defaults to opening a Netscape session and searching Yahoo!).
The HTML code that Word Pro generates is good as long as you stay between the lines of plain text, but we don't think it's the ideal tool to use if you're a professional, HTML purist, or plan to get adventurous.
Often when I think I'll be reviewing a word processor or text editor I'll switch to it and use it for all my editorial work, same goes for mail clients and other programs that I use on regular basis. Since a couple of months ago when Lotus first sent us copies of SmartSuite I've been doing all of my editing work in it, changing only to the OS/2 System Editor to clean up it's near-perfect HTML code before it gets sent to Trevor for publishing. Don't consider this an endorsement though, because like a nomad I'll probably be using something else in a few weeks or months.
To me, the word processor is the most important part of any office suite. It's the first I try out and it's the one I'll spend the most hours in. Word Pro feels comfortable, a Cadillac of word processors, but it doesn't feel like the best it could be, especially in the realm of Internet features. Word Pro could be more like StarOffice and put the document's URL somewhere much more visible, letting me load documents off the web without going through a dialog box first. It could also give me the power to customize the HTML code it generates, so it prefers <STRONG> emphasis over <B>old case.
Sand these problems over and I, a stickler for perfection, will be happy.
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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