Computer firms are fighting to win a bigger slice of the office software market. Microsoft is preparing its updated version of Office, to be known as Microsoft Office 97. On top of this, Corel is bringing out an all-Java version of WordPerfect Office, perhaps as early as the beginning of next year. Lotus is the first to show what it is capable of and is pushing hard on several fronts. Firstly, the new SmartSuite is completely 32-bit ready. The six core applications all have new architecture, according to Lotus, so they are 32-bit clean and will run faster and smoother on available 32-bit operating systems such as IBM's OS/2 Warp and Microsoft's Windows NT and Windows 95. SmartSuite 97 will be launched in November and SmartSuite 98, presumably, will be launched a year from now. The product, however, will have core code and technology that is not likely to change for a while. Darren Reid, desktop products marketing manager for Lotus Development Software, Asia-Pacific, said: 'All the products will look, feel and act the same.' This meant that the consistency of the interface, help menus and other features would be easy for the user to understand. In tune with the times, SmartSuite 97 has all the hooks and helps one needs to put data on an intranet or the Internet. Mr Reid said: 'Half a year ago we had 32 people doing our Web page. Now, using our own products, we use only half a person.' The SmartSuite 97 package includes Word Pro, Lotus's word-processing package; Approach, a database package; a personal organiser; SmartCenter, a control application; ScreenCam, a multimedia tool; and Lotus 1-2-3, the spreadsheet application. Lotus is aware of the lead it had in spreadsheets several years ago, which it gave away to Microsoft. Now, however, it feels the tide is turning. Mr Reid said Lotus had a 27 per cent market share and it was growing. 'We are starting to see a turnaround to SmartSuite,' he said. The reason Microsoft Office had such a large market share, he said, was because of the 'lemming effect': people got the Microsoft operating system, so they often automatically assumed they should get Office as well. Mr Reid emphasised that SmartSuite 97 had been put together with the network environment in mind. The word processor, for example, had been created to allow for greater teamwork. A person who creates a document can allow others to make changes and can restrict where the document can be saved, if at all. It is possible to allow other users on the network to look at certain files without being able to print, copy them or even use the cut-and-paste facility to grab any portion of the document. These additions should make SmartSuite 97 popular in the modern networking environment that most people worked in, Mr Reid said. One new feature is that if you have a column of figures and write 'Total' at the top of a new column, Lotus 1-2-3 will automatically calculate the totals and put the results in the places. The network and 'team' aspect of the application is once again obvious with its ability to 'personalise' a spreadsheet. It is possible, with the click of a button, to do 'what if' tests without losing any of the original data. The user can create any number of possible sets of figures, but always be able to go back to the original examples.