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Suite Dreams

Office suite upgrades: Do we need them? Are they worth it? Which one do we want?
November 1, 1999

Do I have to upgrade? Should I? It's hard to miss Microsoft's full bore marketing campaign in support of its new Office 2000 suite, so you've got to be wondering if this is software you need. And the answer is: It depends. Most software reviews are of a "gee-whiz; it's new; it's great" variety, but that doesn't always work for homebased entrepreneurs who want reliable no fuss software that doesn't necessitate huge expenditures for new hardware just to run the stuff. With that caution in mind, let's dissect not only Office 2000, but also its chief rivals, Corel WordPerfect Office 2000 and Lotus SmartSuite Millennium Edition.

For starters, how old is your computer? On anything slower than a 200MHz CPU with 64MB RAM, these suites are plain pokey. They're also big. A full installation of the premium edition of Office 2000, for instance, gobbles up well over a half gigabyte of hard drive real estate. The others aren't as greedy--probably 200MB will do for loading most of the features--but with any of these suites, you need a reasonably powerful box with a spacious hard drive before even thinking about upgrading.

Another determining factor is how old the suite you're now using is. If it's Office '97, or Corel WordPerfect 8.0 or Lotus SmartSuite '97, you probably have all the power you need, because those programs are plenty slick. The latest editions of the suites are mainly tweaks. However, if you depend heavily on the Web, take note that the new breed suites are thoroughly "Webcentric," meaning they're designed to make it easy to import and export information (documents, spreadsheets and so forth) to the Web. So if you spend a lot of time converting documents into HTML, an upgrade might be in order. All three of the suites make it fast and simple to edit Web documents and to put up almost anything you create on the Web, without much (if any) loss of features or formatting.

Expect to pay street prices of about $200 for the standard MS Office upgrade, about $100 for the Corel upgrade and about $100 for the SmartSuite upgrade. Here's what they offer:

Want more definitive answers? The happy fact is all these suites get an "A" on any report card. While you're thinking about that, chew on this: In '84, I bought WordStar Professional, a word processing program that included a (revolutionary) spelling checker and a couple of other neat features. The price? About $500--five times what a full suite can be bought for today. So know whatever you buy counts as a bargain, a very suite deal indeed.

Robert McGarvey works out of his home office in Santa Rosa, CA. Visit his website at: