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A word on processing plans

Lotus Development and Microsoft appear to be moving along parallel tracks with upcoming versions of their word processors.

Lotus Development and Microsoft (MSFT) appear to be moving along parallel tracks with upcoming versions of their word processors.

Lotus demonstrated its Word Pro 96 product at today's launch of the OS/2 Warp 4 operating system from its corporate parent IBM (IBM). Word Pro will be part of the SmartSuite 96 for OS/2 Warp due before the end of the year.

Microsoft's Word 97 is scheduled to ship in its Office 97 suite in January.

Both companies are integrating Internet and intranet support across their product lines, such as adding features to the word processors to help users publish to the Net or to a company intranet.

Word Pro 96, which has been rebuilt as a native OS/2 application, incorporates a set of features referred to "Team Computing" that allows users to collaborate on documents across a network.

For example, "Team Review" lets users assign access privileges, editing rights, and attach meta-messages that accompany a document version as it travels from user to user. "TeamConsolidate" combines changes from several users into one file. The edits are indicated by author and can be accepted or rejected by the group leader.

Other collaboration features include the ability to store multiple versions of a document in a single file as well as a built-in email program that lets users send documents from within the Word Pro environment.

Lotus' version control features and integrated email hew closely to what Microsoft has been previewing all summer for Word 97.

In addition to these previously discussed features, Microsoft officials this week disclosed several more planned Word 97 features.

For example, Word 97 will add Letter Wizard, a guide to step users through preset letter template options, salutations, and other elements of correspondence. Like other Microsoft "wizards" in Office 97, Letter Wizard is prompted when the program senses the use of a letter convention such as "To whom it may concern" at the top of a page.

Word 97 will also include a Document Map feature that scans a document for natural headers and produces an outline of the text in a separate window. The outline automatically becomes "hot" so that clicking on a given line will take the user right to that spot in the main text window. If the document doesn't have obvious headers -- a text file in the form of one long paragraph, for example -- the Document Map runs an invisible "auto format" that produces an outline but doesn't change the original formatting.

Other new features include a table drawing tool that makes customized tables more complex than the standard grid format; rotating text; the capability to save directly to HTML; and support for Visual Basic for Applications.

SmartSuite 96 for OS/2 Warp will retail for $399. Microsoft has not yet announced a price for Office 97 or the individual applications.