LotusWorks 3.0. (integrated software) (Software Review) (Evaluation)
by Richard O. Mann
New computer owners, facing a confusing profusion of competing software products, often start with an inexpensive program that combines the basic productivity applications. An early contender in that market was AlphaWorks, which Lotus Development bought and renamed LotusWorks. Lotus recently improved, updated, and released LotusWorks as version 3.0 (there was no version 2.0, in case you're wondering).
LotusWorks features word-processing, spreadsheet, database, and communications programs. The first three are considerably stronger than those usually found in Works-style programs. (They also fill almost 8MB of hard disk space and require a full 640K RAM to run.)
The programs are tightly integrated; you can pull data from one program into another. You can, for instance, merge names and addresses from the database into a word-processing letter template to produce a series of personalized form letters. The powerful new interface is a character-based version of Windows, with individually resizable program windows. You can open several windows at once, clicking back and forth between them with the mouse.
The program has a modern, colorful look to it, and it's a pleasure to use. I have a few complaints about its slightly unusual interface, however. For instance, each basic program screen has a menu bar across the top, with the first letter of each pull-down menu item highlighted. In most programs, you access such menus by hitting the Alt key and the highlighted letter. It's that way in Windows, DOS 5.0, and zillions of other programs that support IBM's CUA (Common User Access) standard. Not so in LotusWorks. Here, you must hit F10 to activate the menu bar and then hit the highlighted key. (There are other programs that use F10 in this manner, but not many.) Five years ago, this wouldn't have raised an eyebrow, but today it's surprisingly nonstandard. I also found the system for typing values into fields in dialog boxes unusual and awkward.
The word processor can embed graphics or spreadsheets in documents, so when you change the source file, it changes the document. It has full support for text styling, including bold, italic, and underlining for a variety of fonts. It comes with a large set of downloadable Bitstream fonts that work with both dotmatrix and laser printers. There's a thesaurus, spelling checker, and print preview function.
The spreadsheet appears to be Lotus 1-2-3 release 2.01, slightly altered to fit the pull-down menu interface minus a few of the advanced functions. Need I say more? It's an outstanding spreadsheet for this kind of program.
The small relational database is surprisingly powerful. Its native file format is DBF, the dBASE standard. You can draw data input forms on screen (nine per database) and validate field data as you enter it. It has calculated fields and large memo fields. The only drawback is that it's not particularly easy to learn. The extensive tutorial helps.
The bare-bones communications program offers only four communications protocols and four terminal emulations, although they're the most common ones. Its simple learn-mode recording of log-on scripts is refreshing, but it doesn't have a built-in phone directory. (You can autodial from database records, however.)
The dialog box for opening files has a fast file viewer that peeks into the file highlighted on the directory list, if it's in the native LotusWorks format or ASCII. I found it to be an extremely handy feature.
LotusWorks comes with five hours of 5- to 15-minute tutorial lessons, teaching all aspects of the programs. The context-sensitive help is extensive and usually useful, although there were a few things I couldn't find. The manual is written for beginners, explaining such things as memory and hard disks. It's thorough and clearly written.
LotusWorks isn't without minor irritations, but on the whole, it's a powerful suite of basic applications that will handle anyone's ordinary daily home computing needs. Small businesses might find themselves limited, but only if someone on the staff turns out to be a computer nut. With all its features, it's no surprise that Lotus has sold a million and a half copies of LotusWorks.
IBM PC or compatible (80286 compatible), 640K RAM, EGA or VGA, hard disk; mouse supported--$149
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