The first fruit of Lotus' Kona project has arrived. Christened eSuite, it is designed to break up hulking business applications into small constituent applets written in Java. The overall aim is to deliver basic computing resources to a broad base of users. Among other things, eSuite offers an office suite of productivity applications written in 100% Pure Java. Office suites written in Java have been mooted for well over 18 months, with Corel and Oracle also trying to get in on the act. However, Corel's planned Java Office, or Joffice, never got off the ground, and Oracle's HatTrick of three productivity applets is still in development. Lotus now claims to have cracked the problem of squeezing genuinely useful office applications into small Java components, but has emphasised that the strategy is not a way of taking on Microsoft in the office suite market. The eSuite word processor supports standard functions such as formatting and editing. Text can be bold, italicised or underlined; paragraph styles, spacing, alignment, bullets, tables and headers/footers are also available. Images in GIF or JPEG format can be inserted into documents and there is support for HTML 3.2, ASCII and RTF document formats. The eSuite spreadsheet provides basic spreadsheet functionality including the @Function spreadsheet functions such as SUM, AVG, PMT and NPV. Cell formatting is available, as is import and export to HTML and the Lotus 1-2-3 WK1 format. A separate charting application supports 2D and 3D charting for bar graphs, pie charts, line, area and XY graphs. There is also a presentation graphics application which can import Freelance Graphics, BMP and GIF images and a project application which can import Microsoft Project files. eSuite essentially comprises two parts: the eSuite WorkPlace and the eSuite DevPack. WorkPlace is designed to provide what Lotus describes as a task-oriented desktop environment in which the office productivity applications run. DevPack provides the tools and architecture needed to extend the eSuite environment to suit specific business requirements. The two are two halves of the same pie. Gluing the whole eSuite together is the Lotus InfoBus, an architecture that allows data from different applications to be shared. The InfoBus acts as a universal middleware layer translating application specific data into a form that can be used by any eSuite application. According to Lotus, the spreadsheet applet could share its data with the chart applet. Or a calendar applet could pass on information to the eSuite project application. Another area where the InfoBus plays an important role, according to Lotus, is in terms of data access. Internet applications built around the InfoBus can connect applets from an HTML page with external data sources using special purpose "data access" applets. eSuite includes applets which use database SQL queries, the HTML Common Gateway Interface (CGI) or Sun's JDBC application programming interface to access databases from Oracle, IBM and Microsoft, among others. Using the eSuite data access applets, the spreadsheet applet could pull in data, format it and pass it on to the chart applet which could display the data as a graph on a web page. From an application development perspective, eSuite is being positioned by Lotus as a framework in which developers can build customised software based on the Lotus applets. This is where eSuite DevPack has an important part to play. DevPack includes a set of reusable JavaBeans components for data access and data presentation. The data access applets do not have a user interface. Instead, they are programmed by the developer to connect eSuite applications to a data source via the InfoBus. The data presentation applets work in conjunction with the data access applets to display data. The presentation applets also provide features for authoring content and manipulating information. Lotus said that new eSuite applets can be developed in any standard Java tool such as IBM VisualAge for Java or Borland JBuilder. Internet tools such as Domino.Designer and NetObjects Fusion can also be used. Standard eSuite applications and applications developed using DevPack run within the new eSuite desktop environment called WorkPlace. Lotus said that WorkPlace is designed to run on any device that supports a Java Virtual Machine (JVM) including network computers and PCs. The most significant feature of WorkPlace is that it is based on a completely new user interface called InfoCenter. It is functionally equivalent to the Windows GUI and offers action bars, popup menus, shortcut keys and other familiar elements of a menu-driven user interface. WorkPlace lives on a server and can be customised by system administrators in order to set up the desktop environments for individuals or groups from one place. The eSuite WorkPlace server administrator tool is designed to allow system administrators to add or delete user information and to define the set of tasks that each user can use. All the information created is stored on the server and can be managed by the eSuite registry applet. As with other components in eSuite, the server administration tool is written in Java so it can be run from any client machine with a JVM or the server. The eSuite server administration tool also provides a way to monitor system usage. With eSuite, Lotus is not trying to outsmart Microsoft in the office suite market. To do so would be to make the same mistake as Corel. Lotus claims it recognises that eSuite needs to co-exist with both Microsoft Office and Lotus' own SmartSuite product. As it develops eSuite, Lotus said it would continue to enhance and extend support for Microsoft Office and SmartSuite. "Our goal," said Jeff Papows, president of Lotus, "is to make computing easier, less expensive and more closely tied to an organisation's business objectives."
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