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SmartSuite 97 ready to roll

Lotus next week will ship SmartSuite 97, the latest version of its office application suite.

IBM subsidiary Lotus Development announced SmartSuite 97, the latest version of its office application suite, will ship on February 28.

The suite, which should hit store shelves in a matter of weeks, will contain all-new 32-bit Windows 95 and Windows NT versions of the WordPro word processor, the 1-2-3 spreadsheet, Approach database, Organizer personal information manager, Freelance Graphics,the Screen Cam video utility, and SmartCenter, a new desktop tool that accesses contact information and gathers news from the Internet.

The suite, announced in November, was originally due to ship in January. A Lotus spokesman gave no reason for the delay, but said a limited number of pre-release copies were shipped to customers in January.

Lotus and its competitors, Microsoft and Corel, are all rolling out suites within months of each other in a year that some analysts see as a shift from bulky, feature-packed applications to slimmer packages that allow users to mix and match mini-applications, or components.

For example, WordPro 97 is a component "container" and will run Lotus Components within its documents. Components are currently written in ActiveX, but Lotus has said it is working on Java components as well. None of the other SmartSuite apps are containers, although Freelance Graphics and WordPro can also run embedded Java applets, a Lotus spokesman said.

With a minimum install of 82MB, however, SmartSuite 97 still exhibits so-called "software bloat." In comparison, the standard edition of Microsoft's Office 97 requires a minimum of 60 MB.

Meanwhile, Corel is demonstrating on its Web page a simple set of applications written entirely in Java that allows users to download only the functionality and interface elements they deem necessary.

At least one analyst isn't sure if users are willing to embrace the notion of completely componentized suites.

"Conceivably components allow for a lot of end user customization, but at the moment end users just don't do that," said Dan Lavin, industry analyst at Dataquest.

SmartSuite 97 will retail for $399. Upgrades from previous versions or from competitive products, either suites or standalones, will cost $149.

Lotus also announced that SmartSuite 97 for OS/2 Warp will be available in the fourth quarter of 1997.