If you can't beat the competition on price, quality, innovation or service, you can always fall back on the last resort: Hire a lawyer and go to court. That's what they teach in the business schools now, and that's the lesson Lotus remembered when it ran up against tough competition from Borland's admirable new spreadsheet, Quattro Pro.

For years now, Lotus has been getting fat off its famous 1-2-3 spreadsheet program. Lotus 1-2-3 is a wonderful piece of software with millions of devoted users. So devoted, in fact, that business people from coast to coast stuck with Lotus even as 1-2-3 was surpassed in several performance areas by newcomers to the spreadsheet wars, including Microsoft's Excel and Borland's Quattro.

Gradually, though, Excel earned itself a fairly good chunk of the mega-dollar DOS spreadsheet market. And this year, Borland came out with a new upgrade to Quattro known as Quattro Pro. That has given Lotus a bad case of corporate conniptions.

I liked Quattro when it first came out. I like Quattro Pro better. It has speed and power, striking graphics, extensive printing and presentation graphics features, a "linking" command to get at data from other spreadsheets, and a command structure so accessible I barely cracked the three big manuals Borland sends along. Quattro Pro will run on just about any MS-DOS machine, including ancient 8086 clunkers (like the original IBM-PC) with just 512 kilobytes of RAM memory. Both Excel and Lotus version 3.0 require more powerful hardware.

Businesses that already use Quattro might seem the most obvious candidates for the new Quattro Pro. In fact, though, Q-Pro is quite a different program. It will read and use spreadsheets you built using the original Quattro (for that matter, it can also import spreadsheets made with Lotus or read data from any DBase or ASCII file), but the command structure and many features are different from the earlier version.

Q-Pro lets you use a menu similar to the one that comes with Lotus, or one similar to the Quattro menu structure. But either of those alternatives is a dumb choice. It doesn't take long to learn your way around Quattro Pro's own menu system, and using that one offers the greatest control.

Some features that were conspicuously lacking in Quattro have been included in Quattro Pro. The new program has an Undo command, which saves time when you realize you just erased a crucial block of data. You can use a mouse with Q-Pro (working with a big spreadsheet is one of the few times when a mouse really helps).

Q-Pro has an on-screen preview feature so you can get your data or graphs just right before you start printing. It has a built-in "sideways" print feature for spreadsheets that are too big for a single page. An "auto-width" option lets a column expand automatically to accommodate whatever you put in it. The new Quattro makes it easier -- but still not as simple as in Excel -- to draw a grid of lines in your spreadsheet.

The "linking" feature in Q-Pro is not quite as flexible as that in Lucid, a spreadsheet program that has this linking business down. But it is not all that hard for a Quattro Pro user to make a cell of Spreadsheet A automatically pick up a value from Spreadsheet B. Automatic linking is one of the functions that has become a sine qua non of top-of-the-line spreadsheets, and Quattro Pro's implementation of the idea is okay.

In sum, Quattro Pro is an attractive, multi-featured and surprisingly easy-to-use entry in the major-league spreadsheet wars. For any office or individual user thinking of upgrading from an earlier spreadsheet -- Lotus or any other -- Q-Pro is a serious contender.

That would be true even at Borland's suggested price of $500, which is to say, a "street price" of about $300. But this summer, Borland is offering the program for just $100 as an "upgrade" for anybody who already owns a Lotus, Excel, SuperCalc or Quattro spreadsheet program. The offer comes with a no-questions-asked 60-day refund promise.

For a spreadsheet that can compete head-to-head with the biggest names in the business, this is a steal. And users know it. Borland's $100 Quattro Pro has broken into the Top-10 best-seller ranks on the software charts.

All of which makes Lotus nervous. Instead of trying to compete on price or features, though, Lotus has gone to court. It sued Borland for allegedly stealing design ideas from 1-2-3. Lotus won a similar "look-and-feel" lawsuit the other day against the makers of VP-Planner, a 1-2-3 clone. It's depressing, but not surprising, that Lotus would try to use that precedent to stomp Quattro Pro.

Our recommendation is to run out and buy Q-Pro now, before some judge has a chance to make it tougher for Borland to sell the program. Unless you're committed to a Lotus-pure shop, this alternative offers great spreadsheet power at a great price.