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New 1-2-3 tests Web waters

Lotus will offer a free peek at the new Web version of the mother of all spreadsheet programs, Lotus 1-2-3.

    IBM (IBM) subsidiary Lotus Development will offer a free peek next week at the new Web version of the mother of all spreadsheet programs, Lotus 1-2-3.

    Anyone interested in a 45-day test drive can order a CD-ROM preview disc from the company's Web site starting on Tuesday. Be prepared to wait about three weeks for the disc to arrive in the mail, though.

    Lotus 1-2-3's accounting software, part of an integrated applications package, revolutionized the idea of business applications and put Lotus on the map when it was first released in 1983. Yet, the new version, called 1-2-3/97, is the first upgrade since August 1994 and one that many of its 20 million users have been "clamoring" for, according to Pamela Sullivan, production market manager for the company.

    She described the prereleased version as "beyond beta but pregold code," indicating that the company will continue to tweak the software before it begins the commercial rollout in mid-February.

    After more than two years awaiting an upgrade, "there is obviously quite a bit of pent-up demand for this product" among users, Sullivan added. "We are giving our customers a jump start on the product."

    The version has been updated with a slew of Web features, yet it remains to be seen how many new customers it will attract since both Microsoft and Corel have moved to Web-enable their "full-service" productivity suites, which include spreadsheet programs. The software giant unveiled similar enhancements to its Excel spreadsheet program during a product launch yesterday. Corel, which is getting ready to launch its WordPerfect suit this spring, has announced plans to Web-enable its software through a bundling deal with Netscape.

    Lotus has added features to let users open and save documents written in HTML and FTP Internet standards inside the spreadsheet program without requiring additional client software. Users may also publish spreadsheet pages in HTML onto public Web sites and corporate intranets, and insert hypertext links in documents. A search engine can also be deployed within the spreadsheet program.

    Looking beyond 1-2-3's large installed base, Sullivan said the company will woo customers using other Lotus products. Another selling point is tight integration with Lotus's flagship Notes groupware and its new Domino Web Server software. Users can access and use Notes databases and collaborate with others while working in the spreadsheet program, for instance.

    Sullivan attributed the long development time to the travails of rebuilding the program "from the ground up" to take best advantage of the new 32-bit platform. The version was written to run on Windows 95 and NT operating systems, and requires a minimum of 8MB of RAM and 16MB of RAM, respectively, she said.

    While the emphasis is on 1-2-3, participants will also get to try out the entire Lotus SmartSuite 97 application. The spreadsheet is one of several tools in SmartSuite 97.

    Lotus estimates the retail price for the spreadsheet software at $329 apiece, or about $105 for upgrades. SmartSuite 97 will cost in the ballpark of $399, with upgrades for $149 apiece.