Lotus integrates voice, Internet in SmartSuite

Lotus Development Corp. has enhanced its SmartSuite office automation package with 100 new features and enhancements, including integrated Internet functionality and speech recognition as part of its spreadsheet.

The Millennium Edition— now in beta testing— combines the Word Pro word processor, Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheet, the time and contact manager Organizer and other desktop applications. Lotus has enhanced all the long-standing applications in SmartSuite and has added a new one designed to make it easier to convert and publish World Wide Web content.

Lotus has more than 22 million active users of its desktop applications, including SmartSuite and Lotus 1-2-3, Lotus officials said. The company's government users, including the Marine Corps, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Agriculture Department and the Naval Exchange Command, have standardized on SmartSuite, the company said.

But in the overall market, SmartSuite trails Microsoft Corp.'s Office, which has an estimated 85 percent share of the desktop productivity suite market, said Tim Sloane, director of research at Aberdeen Group, Boston.

"They really are coming from way, way behind," Sloane said. "But if you look at featured functions, I believe there is a strong case that SmartSuite is as capable as Microsoft Office. In some cases, I would say it excels beyond Office, and in some cases it comes up somewhat short."

The Millennium Edition's FastSite software enables the batch publishing of documents created in word processing, spreadsheet, database, presentation and other desktop applications directly to the Internet, intranets or extranets.

This will be useful to hundreds of government agencies that have to convert various documents from proprietary format to Hypertext Markup Language to maintain their Web sites, said Robert L. Norton Jr., director of product management for Lotus.

FastSite automatically converts the files to the Web format, helping nontechnical users post the content themselves and link other sites, the company said. The new application is aimed at alleviating the work of Webmasters, who normally must convert files to HTML manually one by one.

Lotus officials also said that while SmartSuite has been designed to interface with the unique requirements of the Lotus Domino server by converting links to Domino's naming methods, the suite is also compatible with Hypertext Transfer Protocol or File Transfer Protocol servers.

Enhanced speech-integration technology is another highlight of the new SmartSuite. Lotus integrated some of IBM Corp.'s speech-recognition technology into Word Pro in SmartSuite 97. But Millennium Edition gives users the full benefits of IBM's ViaVoice Gold technology, said Heidi Votaw, the SmartSuite product manager.

The speech-recognition technology is also integrated into Lotus 1-2-3 so that users can dictate information into the spreadsheet. For example, users can enter expenses by saying simple phrases such as "hotel, Friday, 120 dollars." Via-Voice Gold recognizes about 64,000 words, and it learns new words automatically.

Lotus also has improved SmartSuite's SmartCenter, which is the organizer in the productivity software that imitates a filing cabinet with drawers and folders to help people organize their work, Votaw said.

The change that Lotus made involves the SmartCenter view. A click on any of the files in the previous version of SmartSuite launched the browser over SmartCenter. In Millennium Edition, SmartCenter can be maximized, with the drawer appearing on the left and the browser on the right.

SmartSuite Millennium Edition has been released for beta testing and is expected to be available in June. Lotus has not announced a price.

The minimum hardware required includes a Windows 95 or Window NT 4 operating system, an Intel 486 processor and 8M of memory— 16M for Windows NT. More advanced hardware is necessary to run ViaVoice Gold and FastSite.

SmartSuite is available on many government contracts, including the National Institutes of Health's Electronic Computer Store II, through Government Technology Services Inc., and the Army's PC-2 contract, through Vanstar Government Systems Inc.

"It looks good. I'm sure existing SmartSuite users are going to be very pleased with the functionality they see," said Chris Le Tocq, an analyst at Dataquest, Santa Clara, Calif.

"The ability to share information via a local intranet is something that has certainly been promised by many of the advocates of the Web," Le Tocq said. "I think [that] while the promise has remained true, it has been a little bit difficult to make it happen, and I think anything that helps with that is a big plus."

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