Lotus SmartSuite 9.8 review
An improvement on the previous release, but still a poor showing from an overpriced product. SmartSuite is in need of some serious updating if it's to once again be a viable office suite option.
Review Date: 21 Oct 2004
Price when reviewed: (£198 inc VAT)
This would have been a dream ticket a decade ago. Word Pro, 1-2-3, Approach, Freelance Graphics and Organiser: it's a reunion of the best business tools of a time when the 286 ruled supreme. Sadly, Lotus seems to have lost interest in them since 1-2-3 was trumped by Excel.
The interface is ugly, and when you start to use it, it's illogical and hard to master, too. Many of the settings are controlled by a set of tabbed panels, which look like they were designed for Windows 95, and the menus are poorly organised.
In Word Pro, new styling applies only to existing text. Selecting 'all' and setting a half-line space below each paragraph adjusts what you've already written, but the moment you start a new paragraph, space below switches back to 'none'. With Microsoft, Corel, OpenOffice and the like, new paragraphs sensibly take existing settings along with them.
The toolbars have been split across the top and the bottom of the screen, for no discernable reason, with formatting below your document and file-keeping above. The formatting toolbar is particularly ugly, and is half the height of the rest of the toolbars - almost as though Lotus is embarrassed that it looks such a mess.
Compatibility with Microsoft Word is fair. It will read and write basic text-based files well, but when you introduce complex formatting, things can go awry. Some of the line-art in our standard text document was lost, although the images were properly embedded. It made a stab at the Word Art - something that has been improved since version 9.7 - but still it wasn't as accurate a rendition as that in OpenOffice, and it was rendered as an image, so couldn't be edited. Our second test document was poorly formatted: it was spread across six pages rather than three, and lost the bullets in its floating sidebars. Again, line-art was lost, but it assembled a multipart image organised in a table more accurately than Corel WordPerfect managed.
Lotus 1-2-3 hasn't moved with the times either. Hit either Enter or Return after typing a value and your cursor will stay where it is. We're so used to modern spreadsheets skipping into the next cell when we do this that we found ourselves typing over what we'd already entered. Its formulas are similar to those used by Excel, Ability and OpenOffice, but if you get them wrong it doesn't tell you why. Neither does it let you click out of the cell until you've either fixed it, or hit Escape and abandoned your efforts.
This is less serious than the fact that it uses 1 January 1900 rather than the same day four years later as its base for calculating dates, which is in conflict with Excel. While this isn't bad in itself, failing to update Excel files to compensate can be disastrous. Ability Spreadsheet was the only other application to falter here.
On a more positive note, 1-2-3 managed to import our Excel charts without difficulty and the range of bundled templates is excellent. Also good is the quick-formatting button at the bottom of the screen that gives you two-click access to common number types, such as currency, date or time. In both OpenOffice and Excel this is hidden away in a menu.
Conditional formatting is exceptionally difficult. It's controlled through LotusScript, Lotus' own programming language, and all conditional formatting in our test file was stripped out on import. Googling 'conditional formatting in 1-2-3' threw up 'it's not easy' in the first hit. It went on to detail 13 lines of code used to turn a negative number red. Searching for the same on Lotus' site brings up a document about Excel instead.
- Snowden: I was right to leak NSA data
- BBC revamps iPlayer for the "multiscreen world"
- Sony revives optical discs with 1TB Archival Disc
- Surface Power Cover finally arrives
- Mt Gox bankruptcy "leaves fox guarding the henhouse"
- iOS 7.1: what's new?
- All New HTC One: specs, release date and more
- Energy firms forced to use QR codes on bills
- Google to release "wearable" Android within a fortnight
- US cybersecurity official: What does ISP mean?
- CeBit 2014 diary: Cameron comes to town
- The 5 most interesting UK businesses at SXSW
- Quickest way to upload 1GB? Hop on a train
- Move over Delia: IBM Watson is cooking tonight
- Eric Schmidt on the double-edged smartphone: friend and foe
- Getty joins the race to the bottom
- Hour of Code: five steps to learn how to code
- Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet review: first look
- Sony Xperia Z2 review: first look
- Samsung Galaxy Gear 2 review: first look
- Make the most of your mobile data
- Old-school internet scams: five that just won't die
- Bitcoin believers not worried by Mt. Gox disarray
- How to hack your car
- Small server vs cloud: which is best for SMBs?
- Block party: why do millions play Minecraft?
- What to do if you’re still on Windows XP
- Microsoft Word: top 20 secret features
- Measuring me: is your body the future of security?
- The best mobile apps for business
- Headings vs headers: how to use both in Word
- Windows Server 2012 R2: how the Datacenter edition could change SMBs
- Invoices and VAT: how to set up your documents correctly
- Nexus 5 vs Samsung Galaxy S4 Active: the best phone for avoiding screen burn
- How much is a social user worth?
- The key to choosing a secure password
- Thunderbolt Bridge: a fast Mac migration tool
- Should you advertise on Twitter?
- How to track a lost smartphone
- Self-publishing success: the best way to sell your book