Do we need two open source office suites?

Summary:Do we really need two open source office suites?

IBM Symphony banner

Update: More on this story (and the strikeouts) here.

The good people at IBM are proud that their IBM Lotus Symphony has hit Version 1.0.

You can download it from here. It's free. There's free online support, and a host of fee-based services if you prefer. There's also a small business version of its collaboration product, dubbed IBM Lotus Foundations.

I should also add IBM has given a gloss of very nice marketing support to the launch. The graphics on the IBM Symphony are much more up-to-date than those on the OpenOffice.org site.

Yet my mind won't kill that nagging question. Do we really need two open source office suites?

If this were a standard business competition the obvious answer would be yes. Preferably more than two. In business, monopoly is a climax state which leads to laziness, high prices, and poor performance.

But is that true in open source? If you don't like a code base you can fork it. Any addition to the code base benefits every user. Open Office has gained enormous benefits from having many different sponsors.

I know from having lived this history that there are, in fact, the same number of office suites now as 20 years ago. The current Open Office is descended from Word Perfect. The great-grandparents of Symphony are Lotus 1-2-3 and the Ami word processor. Note: My bad. The current Open Office descends from Star Office, a product of Sun Microsystems, and not Word Perfect, which went to Corel.

Little of that code remains, but the rivalry does. Microsoft Office won the war, with the other two in a long-term fight for survival. Open Office saved WordPerfect. IBM inherited Symphony.

Isn't it time to talk merger, for the sake of both sponsors and the user base? Would open source be stronger with one office suite or two?

Topics: IBM, Collaboration, Open Source, Software

About

Dana Blankenhorn has been a business journalist since 1978, and has covered technology since 1982. He launched the Interactive Age Daily, the first daily coverage of the Internet to launch with a magazine, in September 1994.

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