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Lotus, MS roll suites in Vegas

Microsoft and Lotus Development will host coming-out parties for their desktop application suites at Comdex next week.

Microsoft (MSFT) and IBM (IBM) subsidiary Lotus Development will host coming-out parties for their desktop application suites at Comdex next week.

Microsoft hopes to show off the "gold," or master version of its Office 97 for Windows application suite at Comdex on Monday, but the demonstration of the year's most dissected product probably won't hold any surprises. The suite will include new versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Access, plus a new information manager called Outlook.

The company will announce pricing and availability on Tuesday, although it is acknowledged that corporate customers will begin to receive shipments next month while retail outlets won't get Office 97 until January.

Lotus will officially announce SmartSuite 97 for Windows 95 and NT on Sunday evening. Due in January, SmartSuite 97 will feature new 32-bit versions of the 1-2-3 spreadsheet, the Organizer PIM, the Approach database, and Freelance Graphics. Users will be able to share their Organizer files by a network file server or a Web server and use them through a Web browser. SmartSuite 97 will cost $399 or $149 for upgrades.

Neither SmartSuite 97 nor its rival, Corel Office Professional 7, is likely to crack MS Office's domination of the corporate Windows desktop. The two smaller competitors, however, are rewriting their suites in Java in hopes that early corporate adopters of thin-client network computers will also adopt slimmed-down, cross-platform application suites. It's a strategy that analysts see as viable in the longer term.

"Single-purpose terminal devices could add up to millions of potential units over time, but not right now," said Dan Lavin, senior industry analyst at Dataquest.

Corel's Office for Java is due to ship in the first quarter of 1997. Meanwhile, Lotus is working on an as-yet-unnamed Java version of SmartSuite for release some time next year. Lotus could conceivably write its components--small applets that open within the Lotus Notes environment--in Java. The company is currently shipping ActiveX-based Components.

Office 97 is countering with ActiveX to spread a common set of basic components, such as user interface and helper apps, across the entire suite. By sharing basic underlying code, Office 97 applications will require less hard drive space, or, if residing on a server, will take less bandwidth to download to the desktop.